If you think "proletariat" is a professional "letariat" player ... well, you might need to crack a few books before crackin' a Blue Scholars...
If you think “proletariat” is a professional “letariat” player … well, you might need to crack a few books before crackin’ a Blue Scholars CD.
If you have lower back pain from rockin’ too many gold chains … move on, because Blue Scholars probably isn’t hype enough for your style.
But if you’re fed up with hip-hop being hijacked by same-olds robotically rhyming about pimps and hos and thugs and drugs … well, Blue Scholars just might be a vocabulary ride and socio-political trip you want to hop on.
This hip-hop duo is a local phenomenon, having taken rock-dominated Seattle by storm in the last few years. Airplay on KEXP, an appearance at Bumbershoot (winning over the crowd while opening for Kanye West) and heavily promoted local shows have helped the Scholars build a huge Puget Sound following — they regularly sell out club concerts, most recently at Neumos, the last two nights of 2006.
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Since then, the Blue Scholars finished a second full-length and inked a distribution deal with the nationally respected Rawkus Records, known for releasing the likes of Company Flow, Talib Kweli and Mos Def.
The official release of the “Bayani” album is June 12, but copies will be sold at the Showbox, where the Blue Scholars rise up tonight and Saturday.
George “Geologic” Quibuyen and Alexei “Sabzi” Mohajerjasbi recently sat down at Café Allegro in the University District, reflecting on their past, feeling the excitement of the present and conjecturing on the future.
As Geo attacked a soy mocha, a sleepy-eyed Sabzi sipped at a chai. During the interview, they took turns answering questions, occasionally finishing each other’s sentences.
Blue Scholars, Black Anger and Kidz in the Hall, doors open at 8 p.m. today and Saturday, the Showbox, 1426 First Ave., Seattle; $15 (all ages; information 206-628-3151 or www.showboxonline.com).
So what’s the album title, “Bayani,” mean? Says Geo: “It’s a word we found is a common word in Tagalog and Farsi.” Geo, whose parents are Filipino immigrants, and Sabzi, of Persian descent, says the word has several meanings for them, including “utterance of the people.”
Frizzy-haired Sabzi, 25, is the DJ/producer — and the emotional one. He says he prefers to let his music express his feelings, but get him talking and a rush of words comes out, sometimes exploding in frustrations, sometimes patiently trying to explain complex issues.
Wearing a cap with graffiti-style artwork over steel-rimmed glasses, Geo — 27, married and father of a 2-year-old — seems to be more detached, looking at things intellectually. He is the word man, a sharp lyricist who delivers his deep-voiced raps with precise articulation.
These two are at a fascinating junction of their career. They have gone just about as far as they can, locally, becoming perhaps the biggest Seattle hip-hop act since Sir Mix-A-Lot.
With success comes backlash, or “haters,” as hip-hoppers say.
Upon the announcement of the Rawkus deal, Blue Scholars haters popped up in cyberspace. One anonymous poster on a local music blog critiqued them as “just boring music for white people who usually don’t like rap.”Bringing up comments like that to the Scholars is like dangling a pork chop in front of a pit bull.
“People who say ‘Oh they’re soft’ or ‘Oh, they’re only talking to white kids,’ are usually soft white kids,” Sabzi snaps.
“I’m deeply offended by folks who make that blanket judgment,” Geo follows up, checking his growl to attack the issue rationally. “When I look out into the crowd, it is predominately white, but not 100 percent. There’s probably 20 percent people of color out there … It’s almost like they don’t matter … ” To haters, at least.
While they might grumble in person, on the new album they shrug off disrepecters and focus on moving forward with their big vision.
“Bayani” kicks off with Middle Eastern beats and a chanted “Healing Prayer.”
From there, Sabzi kicks out beats dippin’ deep into the slow funk of the ’70s, biting on horn sections and piano as Geo rolls up his sleeves to wrestle with the struggles. Minority and immigrant issues. Urban violence. Militancy. Economic oppression.
The struggle mentality comes to dramatic climax with “50K Deep,” a thundering ode to the WTO protest: “They called it a riot/I call it a uprising.”
Though Blue Scholars might make a push nationally, their subject matter remains local: The song “North By Northwest” comes “live from occupied Duwamish territory”; they have references to South Seattle/Beacon Hill, where Geo and Sabzi are neighbors; the lyric “it’s gonna take more than just some rain to change this” is in the title cut; and the excellent slice-of-life “Joe Metro.”
The strongest, most challenging cut is probably “Back Home,” with Geo slow-rhyming over a hypnotic piano-drum beat:
Somewhere a soldier kissed his family goodbye
he was walkin like a warrior the water in his eye
he left in late September said he’ll be back in July
Now the child is asking mommy
why did daddy have to die
she said he fought for freedom
but she knows it’s just a lie
At Café Allegro, Geo talks about how his own father and brother are military veterans; his older brother recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. Geo and Sabzi stress they wanted this album to reflect the minority experience in America, in peace and in war.
Sitting around a U District cafe philosophizing is nothing new to these two, who spent much time in their early days as UW students debating world politics, and figuring out their goals.
“We decided we wanted to make unique music,” Geo says, “to educate and entertain.”
“To somehow serve the people around you,” Sabzi adds.
While they have a release deal with Rawkus, Blue Scholars remains an integral part of Massline, a Seattle hip-hop collective that includes Common Market (with Sabzi making beats for visionary rapper RA Scion) and word slinger Gabriel Teodros.
A Blue Scholars-led Massline tour of the West Coast begins Wednesday night in Portland.
As Geo raps on “North By Northwest,” the Scholars have no illusions about national fame: “Ain’t no urban radio stations about to play us/unless you sign the dotted to make your songs brainless.”
Similarly, they don’t really believe they can change society. Says Sabzi, “We don’t think we’re going to save this town.”
Then again, someone has to save hip-hop, right?
For samples from “Bayani”: www.myspace.com/bluescholars.
Tom Scanlon: email@example.com