Bayani, in Tagalog, roughly translates into `hero.’ The Bayani are also a group of followers in the Baha’i faith, those who follow Bayán. I’m not sure whether one is the intended meaning of the album’s title, or both or, for that matter, neither. That’s why Blue Scholars are so great; they keep you guessing. But for me, it would have to be the first meaning. After 9/11, the word `hero’ got thrown around rather casually. I agree that the firefighters, policemen and other civil servants who tried to rescue people from that tragedy were indeed heroes, but then the praising term tended to be overused. Case in point, putting a sticker on your car doesn’t make you a hero, it just makes you someone with a sticker on your car. The music world has defined lots of people as different kinds of heroes, from guitar heroes to oh-so sick drummers and superstar bassists. Okay, except for Carlos D, the last doesn’t really happen all that often, but when you really look at it, heroes in the music world are hard to come by. What I mean by that is, there are few people who stand by strong convictions. Bono, Rage Against the Machine and, to a certain extent, the Dixie Chicks have all stood up for something under the risk of losing big careers. When they can still stand up and make their music more popular than ever? Well, that’s something special.
This is where Seattle’s Blue Scholars come in. MC Geologic and DJ Sabzi have one other previous release, the stellar debut, aptly titled, Blue Scholars. Sabzi also deejays for another stellar hip-hop duo, Common Market. These two groups alone have put Seattle back on the map for being a hotbed of hip-hop, and with Bayani, their second full-length release, that hotbed just got a lot hotter. After a Baha’i healing prayer and a brief thank you note to those waiting for the second album, called “Second Chapter,” the album proper begins with “Opening Salvo,” a track that has the duo claiming that they “struggle with love.” The album’s cover depicts this struggle beautifully, with a collage made of paradoxical ideas of love and war. There are two pairs of hands, one pair reaching out, open palm, and one pair made into fists. There are flowers and doves (though they look an awful lot more like pigeons) but also automatic rifles, machetes and bones. At the centerpiece are megaphones, which is highly appropriate as Geologic claims that their solution to all of the political injustices is `to speak.’ And speak they do.
Seattle residents will certainly love the shout-outs in “North By Northwest,” including drops of the Stranger, as well as some more universal references, more of which are to come, such as mentioning “The Decepticons.” All the while, Sabzi provides beats and music that are better than anything else out there. They make preppy hip-hop mogul Kanye West look like a junior high school dropout. “Ordinary Guys” is somewhat a mini biography of the duo, letting their fans know that they are the men of the title, merely reacting to living in extraordinary times. I beg to differ, the times are indeed extraordinary, but so are these two guys. Khingz, of local hip-hop collective Abyssinian Creole, guests on “Still Got Love,” with a ’70s soul groove provided by Sabzi. The title track again gives more insight into Blue Scholars’ lives, including their university beginnings.
“Loyalty” begins the political portion of the album, though it was touched on briefly in previous tracks. “Stand up or fall down” is the message of the track, “Loyalty,” a song that rocks the vocoder, making one think of “California Love.” “Xenophobia” and its sister song, “The Distance” are two of the best tracks on the album, musically and lyrically. The music Sabzi chooses easily sounds like it could be a Jewish celebration song, an Italian `Godfather’ like dirge or possibly even a Greek wedding dance. This is why, when the lyrics about racism and immigration kick in the second part, it seems so fitting. “50K Deep” has Geologic recalling the day of the Seattle WTO riots in stark and vivid imagery, mentioning that it `sounds like thunder when our feet pound streets.’ It’s somewhat the peaceful, grass roots political version of Public Enemy’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos.” As Geologic raps, “and they call this a riot? Nah, I call it an uprising.”
There are two opposing pieces of evidence on the meaning of Bayani in the album’s packaging. For one, the opening song is called “Baha’i Healing Prayer.” The evidence for the `hero’ theory comes with a quote from Jose Maria Sison, exiled Filipino Communist Party reviver, who said, “A hero serves the people to his very last breath.” Could Bayani represent both? Sure, it can. Just like Communism doesn’t necessarily mean terrorism. Just like advocating peace doesn’t necessarily mean being anti-American. Just like being anti-war doesn’t mean anti-troops. After all, anyone can just put a sticker on a car. That’s easy. What’s hard is speaking the truth, and Blue Scholars fit that bill.
Sage Francis- Human the Death Dance
Kanye West- The College Dropout
Gabriel Teodoros- Lovework