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How can a hip-hop duo, known in underground circles and the Pacific Northwest as an extremely intelligent combination, manage to remove an entire sentence from my vocabulary? Shouldn’t it be just the opposite? The answer to this riddle will appear at the end of this review, but for now, I simply want to introduce you to Geologic and Sabzi, otherwise known as Blue Scholars. They are, as they put it, “one dj and one emcee and that’s it.” In the tradition of Eric B. and Rakim, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, and Gang Starr, Blue Scholars refine hip-hop down to its two main elements and create fluid, smart, wicked, sharp and incisive songs that move both the brain and the feet.
The blue is for the color of the collar
Of my mother and my father plus the scholars that we be
The blue is for the nighttime mood swinging tune
Of every bluesman singing what it’s like to not be free
This is why they call themselves Blue Scholars, and it is just this type of intelligent and referential rhyming that exists throughout their re-released first album. What once were eleven tracks with a journal-like cover now has three more tracks and a plain brown wrapper with the skyline of Seattle. More and more people have begun to hear, or will eventually hear Blue Scholars as they have begun to play large festivals such as Washington’s Sasquatch. What will break them into the big time though is their pure refined talent. Geologic is Filipino, with a voice like Rakim’s, whimsy like Q-Tip, and the verbalizing styles of Chuck D., KRS-One, and X-Clan’s Grand Verbalizer Funkin’ Lesson Brother J. Sabzi is Persian, and along with the driving beats he provides, he throws in jazz, swing, baroque and salsa and somehow makes it all work. Let me be clear, Blue Scholars are downright mind-blowing.
I must admit, I haven’t been impressed with hip-hop in a long time. It all fell apart somewhere around the last Tribe Called Quest record. Sure, I respected the work of Tupac, Jay-Z and Dr. Dre, but it didn’t move me like the hip-hop I listened to in high school and college. I missed the danceable jazz tunes of Digable Planets, the aforementioned Tribe, Black Sheep, De La Soul, and Pharcyde. I missed the political truths of Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy, and Spearhead. I even liked the old school gangster rap of Ice-T, N.W.A., and Cypress Hill. Somewhere along the line, however, I grew disinterested. Was it merely a symptom of growing older? Did I not connect with the rebellion inherit in rap? Or was it that everything was something I had heard before? Was I looking for something challenging?
I can chalk up my return to the fold of being a hip-hop fan to Sage Francis and Astronautalis, but I have to give props to Blue Scholars for making me believe in the power of the genre again. Whether they’re holding court about the University District in “The Ave,” turning gray northwestern skies into an “Inkwell,” or reminiscing about the early days of hip-hop, Blue Scholars both hold the past in reverence and turn it on its head. Who else could get away with referencing both Nirvana and Sir Mix-A-Lot in the same line?
In a city that’s been waiting to blow since big butts and teen spirit
Many make music, few hear it
So, back to my original statement; Blue Scholars have removed an entire sentence from my vocabulary. What’s that sentence? “I used to like hip-hop.”
Eric B. & Rakim- Paid in Full
Digable Planets- Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space)
Sage Francis- Personal Journals