Blue Scholars
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Blue Scholars

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"The Stranger Album Review - Blue Scholars "Bayani""

Here's a situation described by former Mobb Deep MC Prodigy on his new CD, Return of the Mac: "I sit alone in a dirty-ass room/staring at candles, alone with my hand on a MAC-10 handle/scheming on you niggas...."

Most people rarely find themselves in such a situation—high, alone in a room lit John Woo–like by candles, thinking about how to commit not one but several murders. Despite its real-world rarity, in the rap world, to have problems that can only be solved with automatic weapons is to have real problems. If you are shooting someone, or being shot at, that's keeping it real. And keeping it real has become a billion-dollar industry.

But what about the situations described by a rapper such as Geologic of Blue Scholars, a local and very popular crew? Being in the situation of bagging groceries, or trying to pay your electric bill, or drinking cheap booze to ease domestic strife? Those circumstances, according to the rap standard of our day, are not about reality. Even Russell Simmons, the cofounder of Def Jam, holds this opinion. During the recent media storm that fell on the rap industry due to Don Imus's racist/sexist comment ("nappy-headed hos"), Simmons stated on CNN that gangster rap is a clear mirror of reality.

That idea, of course, is utter rubbish. The mirror that would reflect reality as a man sitting around with a MAC-10 on his lap is not found in a house, but in a funhouse. What's more real, what you are most likely to experience as a human being in the world today, are the social and personal situations described on Bayani, Blue Scholars' second full-length album.

But before devoting this review to Geologic's politics and aesthetics of the Real (as opposed to the gangster real), let me state right away that Bayani stands as Blue Scholars' most impressive achievement. Though continuous with the duo's eponymous debut and 2005's The Long March EP, it has a sound design (form) and production (feel) that's much bolder, heavier, denser, and distinct. The influences on Sabzi's hiphop imagination can still be heard everywhere on the CD—Pete Rock and Vitamin D are in "Xenophobia," J Dilla is in the beat of the exquisitely beautiful "Joe Metro," and in the sound design of "Opening Salvo" we can see the richness of Jumbo the Garbageman. But the main part of what we hear on Bayani is downright original. For example, only Sabzi has the particular type of nerve (indeed, audacity) that's needed to push the vocoder into the operatic territory of "Loyalty," the third best track on Bayani. (The 15-track CD has a remarkable total of seven jewels and only one failure: "Morning of America.")

Also, Sabzi frequently begins his songs with a recognizable rhythm, but then gradually transforms it into something unrecognizable. The beat of "Joe Metro" has a great example of this approach: It opens with a J Dilla–like drop on the weakest beat, but by the 10th measure the rhythm has morphed into something that has no clear reference or influence.

Now back to Geologic. His raps for Bayani are much more serious than his raps on the debut, and less melancholy than the raps on The Long March. However, the one thing that has remained the same throughout is his socialist brand of the Real. Every track on the new and earlier CD is dedicated to one agenda: capture and communicate the substance of a consciousness shaped by an oppressive economic system. As the gangster rapper tries to get at the fantastic essence of being a gangster (waiting in a room with a MAC-10 in your hand and thinking about murder), Geologic works to get at the essence of being poor, working class, an immigrant, a person of color. He describes this type of paycheck-to-paycheck (or no-paycheck) existence in great detail, and then transforms these ordinary experiences into a spectacular political image and mission. And it is precisely this leap—from street realities to a political program—that the gangster rapper never makes.

With Blue Scholars, as with so many underground rappers in Seattle (Beyond Reality, dREDi, RA Scion), the realities of poverty or globalization are raised to the condition of a historical project that's on a long march to democratic socialism: utopia. - The Stranger

"HipHopDX Review - Blue Scholars"

The West Coast has a long list of representatives, but many view throwing up the ‘W’ as a distinctly-Californian phenomenon. Proudly waving the flag for the less-renowned Northwest, Seattle duo Blue Scholars are bringing some much-needed shine to the rain-soaked streets that they call home. In 2004, Blue Scholars emerged from the birthplace of grunge music with a jazzy and progressive self-titled debut. With the release of Bayani, their more ambitious and advanced sophomore effort, MC Geologic and producer Sabzi are once again calling attention to the left-coast’s northern sector.

Bayani exhibits vibrant hip-hop drawn from the Blue Scholars’ hometown and colored by the pressing influence of their heritage. Both members have immigrant parents -- Geologic’s Filipino, Sabzi’s Iranian -- and those ethnic ties remain strong. In fact, Bayani is a tribute to worldly sounds, working-class empowerment and post-colonial plight. It relays downtrodden sensibilities through refined and noble channels. Over the electronic hum of Opening Salvo, Geologic sends a dedication to his Third World kin by rhyming, “Now this here’s for those who chose fights whose fruits might never not ripen until after their life.”

Expressing empathy with oppressed people is a constant theme of Bayani, both lyrically and musically. From the protest cry of 50,000 Deep to the title track’s wrenching instruments, the album plays as a continuous song of struggle. Common once rapped that “if revolution had a movie, I’d be theme music.” Well, Sabzi’s keen use of dynamic melodies and drums could serve as a fitting soundtrack to the sequel. His bass-brimming rhythms and soul-strumming music set an exotic, highly-emotional tone on several songs. Loyalty benefits from a lush mix of vocoder effects, harmonic singing, fragile piano keys and reverberating drums. Geologic pens the script to another rich-sounding epic on Fire For the People. The MC’s relaxed but compelling delivery flourishes over the upbeat musical backing. Ambient sounds come and go at opportune points, allowing him to rap, “No flagwavin’, celebratin’ your invasion/You call it Thanksgiving, we call it things taken.”

Geologic’s emotive lyrics and Sabzi’s lavish compositions form a clever team. Their musical pick-and-roll proves to be a winning act on the slow-moving The Distance. Similar results occur on Back Home, which features Geo condemning the Iraq War and commenting, “Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy is looking like the street we named after him.” This natural chemistry between lyricist and beatsmith rarely falters. Aside from the uneventful Ordinary Guys, a track that is a bit too serene, the Scholars mostly deliver quality results on all fronts. The duo brings classic blue-collar ethics, spiked with a proud Third World slant, and combines them with the intelligence supposedly reserved for a white-collar education.

Blue Scholars fashion themselves as champions of the disadvantaged, and this album is an apt platform to prove that point. According to the group, the word “bayani” means both “heroes of the people” in Tagalog (Filipino) and “the word” in Farsi. Regardless of the language spoken, Bayani is a collection sure to speak to anyone in search of music with substance. -

"SPIN Review - Blue Scholars "BUTTER&GUN$""

As proponents of a style that blends dense lyricism, West Coast jeep beats, and progressive politics, Blue Scholars are one of underground hip-hop's most challenging voices. Their third EP includes "Loyalty," a standout track from last year's inspiring Bayani album, two new songs (including the anthemic antiwar, pro-democracy title track), plus three instrumentals. "Others grip the gun / My weapon is my tongue," raps Geologic on "27," criticizing the military for dangling college scholarships in front of poor youth and enticing them to "exchange their bodies for knowledge." Like the Coup and dead prez, Blue Scholars believe in the revolutionary power of words. - SPIN


The Blue Scholars - LP (2005)
The Long March - EP (2006)
Bayani - LP (2007)
Joe Metro - Digital EP (2007)
BUTTER&GUN$ - Digital EP (2008)



Blue Scholars have emerged out of the erupting Northwest hip-hop scene with soulful beats, poetic yet political rhymes and a reputation for dynamic live performances. With two full length albums and 3 EPs, the group has become one of the top West Coast independent hip hop acts, known for their energetic and always entertaining live shows and a world view that blends the personal and the political, but unafraid to party in the process.

Emcee Geologic and DJ/producer Sabzi come from vastly different musical approaches to experiment with a unique, new sound that still echoes the classic boom-bap of a bygone era (see: A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets). Prior to their collision, Geo had already begun making local rounds as a battle emcee and spoken-word poet, while Sabzi honed his skills as a classical and jazz-trained pianist while attending indie ska and punk shows. This unlikely partnership set the precedent for what distinguishes the group from the vast sea of independent hip-hop artists - the ability to strike a balance between worlds usually seen distant from one another. Poetic lyricism with beats you can dance to. Marxist theory mixed with Baha'i spirituality. Musical influences ranging from Thelonius Monk and Aphex Twin to Marvin Gaye and J Dilla.

However, the bridge between the two artists goes far beyond musical interests. Blue Scholars is as much rooted in the music as it is in serving the people. Their experiences as college students provide an intellectual dimension to their craft, while their backgrounds as second-generation sons of working-class immigrants keep the music grounded. Armed with a purpose beyond creating music for music's sake, Blue Scholars take the classic form of the emcee/DJ duo (Gangstarr, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Eric B. & Rakim) while carrying the essence of militant, yet personal struggle shown by hip-hop luminaries such as Public Enemy and KRS-One.

There is no mistaking that Bayani , released in 2007 on the legendary Rawkus Records, marks a creative and emotional leap forward for Blue Scholars. The four years since recording their first full length album were marked by four years of war and uncertainty. People everywhere are now looking for answers, growing tired of the banality and repetitiveness of the music and culture that currently dominates the airwaves. Similar to the wave of protest music that emerged during the Vietnam war, Bayani is a statement record stamped with the anger, depression and the slowly emerging hope of these uncertain times.

Less sloganeering and more storytelling, Bayani showcases a more focused Geologic and a polished Sabzi coming into their own as a premier DJ-emcee duo. “The Distance” tells the story of a working-class immigrant, accompanied by a dark melodic soundscape that recalls a Philippine dance song. Geo also flexes his narrating skills on “Joe Metro,” an ode to Seattle’s lone form of public transportation and “50 Thousand Deep,” recalling the 1999 “Battle in Seattle” at the historic WTO protests. The album's title is also a nod to Geologic and Sabzi's communities, as the word Bayani can be found in both the Tagalog (Filipino) and Farsi (Persian) languages. In Tagalog (Filipino), the word translates to "heroes (of the people)" and in Farsi, "the divine word."

Since 2002, the duo has become renowned live show veterans, rocking over 300 shows with the likes of Kanye West, De La Soul, Immortal Technique, Q-Tip, and supporting such acts on tour Matisyahu, Zion-I, Gym Class Heroes, Flobots and the Coup on tour, labor organizing conferences and youth-run community center shows to playing the main stage at Sasquatch! (2006 & ‘08) and Bumbershoot (2006), and in 2007 their own Northwest Hip Hop festival “The Program” which sold out 5 nights in a row. In June 2006, Blue Scholars joined forces with Common Market (emcee RA Scion and DJ Sabzi) and emcee Gabriel Teodros (of Abyssinian Creole) to launch MASSLINE, a new artist-run independent record label. Partnering with Rawkus Records to release Bayani to a larger audience, Blue Scholars' aim to mobilize more minds and bodies towards liberation while keeping their mission the same as it ever was: to serve the people.