Seattle hip-hop group Common Market, made up of RA Scion and Sabzi (the DJ from the Blue Scholars) release their sophomore album, "Tobacco Road," on Sept. 9, with a CD release party Sept. 11 at Neumo's.
Seattle hip-hop group Common Market is all about the fight for change. With songs that focus on social issues, a performance for protesters at the recent Democratic National Convention and an appreciation for the common struggles of American life, rapper Ryan Abeo lives out his rhymes.
“I must be able to make music in the trenches,” said Abeo, who works as a janitor by day. “If I can’t stay in connection with people, I lose my target audience. And if I lose that, there’s no point in making music.”
Abeo, 34, better know as RA Scion in Common Market, has a need to tell it as it is, which shines through his latest album, “Tobacco Road,” coming out Tuesday, with a CD release party Thursday at Neumo’s. On the title track he raps: “Who said life is what you make it / Really, life is what makes you.“
“The labor [on the tobacco field] serves as a metaphor for the work that needs to be done in the community,” said Abeo. “Community organizations are the crops and the seeds. You can’t plant seeds and leave it. It’s a long process. You have to stay active in the community to reap the harvest.”
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The name Common Market also comes from humble roots, taken from a corner mom-and-pop store that used to be on Capitol Hill, called the European Common Market.
“Common means ‘of the people,’ ” said Abeo. “And we compete in a marketplace.”
Members Abeo and Sabzi (the DJ behind Blue Scholar’s beats) met while following the Bahá’í religion, a faith that teaches spiritual unity. A mutual friend introduced the two, because they were both into music. They started Common Market in 2005.
“It was supposed to be a one-time thing, a side project,” said Abeo. “I had no idea it would become as successful, and I say successful loosely.”
How’d they define “success”? One album and a few shows.
“But whatever comes along, we’ll take it,” said Abeo.
“Tobacco Road” is their second full-length album together and Abeo’s third. Abeo takes on the operations side while Sabzi makes the beats. But with Blue Scholars as Sabzi’s first priority, Common Market will use two other DJs for the group’s upcoming 2 ½-week tour of the West Coast, starting Sept. 19.
“The role I’m in, Common Market is essentially me,” said Abeo.
And his need to make music is cultivated by that need for change. This urgency came early for Abeo, around eighth grade, growing up in Kentucky.
“I realized that the educational institution was counterproductive and harmful for somebody like me,” said Abeo, who started listening to rap groups that preached rebellion, like Public Enemy and X-Clan, at the time. His school “allowed for very little variance or deviance from the institution.”
So as a senior, he started voicing his opinions, choosing to rap about how he disagreed with his principal’s policies at the school’s homecoming dance. As a result he got banned from extracurricular activities. So he left, leaving behind a friend he used to rap the halls with.
After that, he bounced from place to place: He attended Northern Kentucky University briefly before his girlfriend (now his wife) got pregnant, and he shuttled back to Louisville to have the baby, then worked in hotels in Tampa, Fla., and Greece. Later he moved to Zambia to work in agriculture and finally settled in Seattle, his wife’s hometown.
Abeo picked up musical influences from all these locations, expanding the appreciation for diverse genres that he grew up with. You can see that breadth in his choice of supporting bands at Thursday’s album-release show — which includes gospel and bluegrass.
“It was time to mix it up a little,” said Abeo. “People will pay attention if you pay attention to their interests. At festivals and shows, it was always hip-hop this, and hip-hop that, that hip-hop will change the world, and I still believe it can, but that doesn’t appeal to everybody. Now, we need to integrate and work together. For hip-hop to be effective, you don’t talk about it, you just do it.”
Plus, his fans are the KEXP-FM (90.3) demographic — listeners who don’t settle on a single genre of music.
“So why not put a bill together that reflects them,” said Abeo.
And he aims on mirroring their drive as well — “people who are tuned in but who haven’t figured out everything and are still looking for something … people who are hungry to learn more and change society, but don’t necessarily know how.”
But instead of seeing himself as an activist, his goal is to “educate and enlighten.”
This difference came clear when he performed for protesters last month at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Caught between the Denver police spraying tear gas and a quasi-anarchist uprising, he realized he didn’t belong to either group.
“It’s a strange realization that over the past several years. I tried to be an activist. I always thought and considered myself an activist,” said Abeo. “I could dress in all black, wear a bandanna on my face and march in Washington, but once part of it, I realized it was not all that effective.”
There was not a single cause Abeo played for at the convention, nor a singular cause he fights for, rather, he sees himself as a “rebel without a cause.”
“In this age, it’s hard to be hard-lined, we’re so interconnected,” said Abeo. “It no longer us versus them, it’s just us. It’s what policies and agendas help all of us.”
But his frankness has turned off folks from his music. So his struggle now is to find balance.
“It’s a process of maturity,” said Abeo. “How can I express a message, stay true to myself and not turn people off?”
Marian Liu: 206-464-3825 or firstname.lastname@example.org