BLUE SCHOLARS / “Loyalty”
It’s a south side revival
Put your hands high
Let your arms be the pillars
That be holding up the sky
I heard a few heads say hip hop is dead
No it’s not. It’s just malnourished and underfed
I’m down with this. Big time. This duo of second-generation immigrants hailing out of Seattle, Washington is rap’s biggest northwest news since Sir Mix-a-Lot.
But even if they weren’t selling, couldn’t even attract flies, I would still be on a Blue Scholars tip. Why? Because I think their sound is sound, their noize makes sense. I understand their aesthetic—I dig their approach of putting together beats and lyrics after sitting together and reasoning for weeks.
is their second full length. This one is a concept album.
The story behind the title “Bayani” is interesting. “Bayan,” as Baha’is know, in Arabic/Farsi translates to “speech” or “utterance,” and the Holy Book from The Bab carries this name as well. In Tagalog, the language of the Philippines, the origin of Geo’s heritage, “Bayan” means “the people” and it carries a certain political connotation to it as well. When woven together as Bayani, the title of our record, it becomes a nod to both of our heritages and translates to “voice of the people.” The tracks on the album are also a collection of stories told from a grassroots level.
I believe that I’ll always be inspired to make music from aesthetic level. The influence that world affairs and politics have on our music relates more to what we do with it; how we engage our listeners with the art we create. We want it to have content that inspires young minds to think critically.
* * *
The emcee is Geologic. The deejay is Sabzi.
Geologic (George Quibuyen) – Filipino American. At ten moved to the Northwest from Hawaii. First time living in a place where brown was a minority color/reality.
Sabzi (Alexei Saba Mohajerjasbi) — Iranian American born and reared in the Northwest. Took 10 years of piano lessons before he was sixteen.
Blue Scholars (from “blue collar”) started in 2002 when Geo and Sabzi were students at the University of Washington. They were both working with S.H.O.W. (Student Hip-Hop Organization of Washington).
Fast forward five years and the group has signed a distribution deal with Rawkus Records and are receiving national attention. They were offered the opportunity to go commercial but decided to stay independent.
"Geo and I have been approached by different major labels, and we've had meetings with different folks in L.A. and here in Seattle," says Sabzi. "We were sort of thinking about the do-it-yourself method we've taken with everything, staying independent, and all the kind of activities that created the environment of the conditions that the music was born in, i.e., community work, service, and protection to youth. So, we decided as artists to join together, form a label, and basically create a business structure that can secure the integrity of the music, y'know, so our records didn't get shelved, and they don't put our music on particular ads or license them to things that might have a negative effect on the youth community that we're trying to have a positive effect on."
"Artists have the potential to be the cultural leaders of their community," says Sabzi. "We can use that power to give to the community instead of being a group that selfishly takes from the community to fatten our bank accounts."
"As an individual, I could have a pamphlet about some initiative and go knock on a thousand doors," says Sabzi. "But that's not gonna be nearly as effective as writing one really good song that creates a consciousness of the political climate locally, nationally, and internationally."
* * *
"The purpose of our music is to be socially relevant to our communities."
DJ Sabzi is not a silent partner. Although Geo is the emcee and the lead voice we hear on the tracks, Sabzi is equally articulate and thoughtful. The strength of this partnership is that it is truly a partnership.
Geo is more than a word wizard. He is an organizer with Isangmahal Arts Kollective and a political and youth empowerment activist.
In November 2007 Sabzi won The Redbull Big Tune Beat Battle National Championships. 12 individuals from Houston, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, and Chicago went head to head, battling beats for the title of the country’s best beatmaker.
* * *
Ultimately, if you’re an artist it’s comes down to how upful are your creations.
Dig the density of sound ideas in the feature track “Loyalty.”
Almost picked “Commencement Day.”
I teach high school on the daily. This is the best song I have heard snap-shotting the experience of being a senior about to move on to…
Move on to the “Proletariat Blues”
of unskilled/entry-level labor. That time when public transport (“Joe Metro”
) is the major means of mobility.
Or the story of “Ordinary Guys.”
The everyday hustle and grind. The need to “Talk Story”
the lives of those whose reality is seldom shown.
Oh, “The Distance”
between the promise and the proffered, the dream and the daze, the effort and the result.
This is music coming from the heart. Seeing a sister (“Sagaba – Remix”
) while walking down the street, really seeing her, not just the beauty of her body but also the beasts (external & internal) threatening her survival. Or “Southbound”
—the lady you get with in the mist of struggle.
Music made by voting with your feet in the street, your fist in the air (“50 Thousand Deep”
and “Back Home”
). Or repping what is usually unacknowledged (“North by Northwest”
and “Southside Revival”
Yes, I dig the range of Blue Scholar concerns, the artfulness of how they cross the territory, the deeptitude of their analysis, their understanding of how capitalism undermines everything while they do not ignore the reality of race on the day-to-day; how they are hip to the need for love (“Still Got Love”
) as we keep on keeping on.
What we get besides beats we can bump to, ideas we can groove with, what we get is global thinking acted out on a local stage. We get the insight of the marginal, the outsider who realizes that assimilation is not the end all be all of existence. A reminder to all of us that people of color means more than one color, even as dealing with the economic conundrums of color in America ultimately and simultaneously means one struggle.
This is music I like to listen to. These are ideas I can appreciate and reflect upon. I know I’m not the target audience but that doesn’t stop me from being a fan. I’m not a hip hop head but this hip hop appeals to both my head and my heart.
* * *
Except for “Southbound”
from the Joe Metro
digital-only maxi-single, all these tracks are from Bayani
or The Long March EP
. Get to it.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
I gotta pass
Wow. This type of thing is hard for me. I do like what these cats are about. But musically.... Let's just say I was bored a lot. Kalamu and I have been through this type of thing before. Once it was Brother Ali and another time it was H.K. Finn. There's a similar thing going on here. All of these rappers are very sincere, politically conscious people. As community organizers or social activists, I'm right there with them. But as musicians, I sure hope for their sake that there are a lot of people out there with different tastes than mine 'cause this stuff bores me near to death.
I did like some of the beats, but after a while, the lack of dynamics caused me to lose interest even in the beats. And I'm sorry, I'd like to be able to say something good about the MC, but I got nothing. He raps in a very vanilla, straight monotone and he seems utterly devoid of anything resembling a sense of humor or even any sort of lyrical dexterity or wit. I put all of these songs on my iPod and listened to them while I headed to the grocery store to get ready for the Super Bowl. (And thank goodness the Giants pulled it out. I don't think I could stand another year of Bellicheck the Genius and Brady the Man-God.) By the time I left Albertsons, I felt like I'd listened to an entire Sociology 101 class. And not in a good way. Good luck to these dudes, but I gotta pass.
—Mtume ya Salaam
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