Eugene Weekly : Music : 1.31.08

No Rest for the Weary
The Blue Scholars keep spitting theirclass-conscious message

The members of Seattle hip hop duo the Blue Scholars met by virtue of the same grassroots activism they endorse now: in a successful campaign to revive a struggling movement. At the beginning of this decade, Seattle’s hip hop scene seemed to be gurgling its death rattle. To resurrect it, a small group of University of Washington students formed the Student Hip Hop Organization of Washington, or SHOW. Unfortunately, SHOW no longer exists. But before the organization dissolved, it provided a venue for Sabzi, a jazz pianist turned DJ, and Geologic, a talented poet, to meet and eventually form the Blue Scholars. Two full-length albums and two EPs later, including last year’s full-length Bayani and their most recent release, the digital-only EP Joe Metro, the Blue Scholars have made their indelible mark on Northwest music.

But while the Scholars have spent five years revitalizing Seattle hip hop, their lyrics take on a more arduous task: inspiring young American progressives, a disaffected group paralyzed at the sheer volume of G.W. Bush’s legacy of death and debt, to get out and do something about the sorry state of the world. It’s a hefty undertaking, but the Blue Scholars are up to the challenge. Because while Sabzi’s got the dance-party beat down to a science, Geo’s eloquent rhymes have both compassion and conviction enough to re-energize a political movement by themselves. Unlike other MCs who spit fatalistic doomsday prophecies to throngs of apathetic hedonists, Geo manages to express fury at the current state of affairs and hope for the future in the same three-minute track. Whether he’s discussing the Iraq war or the unfinished revolution that left the Philippines suspended in colonialist limbo, Geo draws from his own heritage as the son of blue-collar Filipino immigrants to write rhymes that turn global issues from abstract discussion topics into real conflicts that affect other human beings.

That’s not to diminish Sabzi’s role. Like any successful DJ, his compositions are intricately woven tapestries of sound. Whether he’s writing beats for the Blue Scholars or Common Market, his other project, Sabzi’s beats inspire physical motion with the same playful dexterity Geo exhibits as an MC. They’re so masterfully composed that it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint the origin of individual samples. From retro funk to salsa music, vocoders to Hall & Oates (vocoders, by the way, are voice distortion tools memorialized in pop music by ’80s powerhouse Zapp & Roger), Sabzi juxtaposes different sounds in tantalizing arrangements that complement Geo’s complex wordplay. And even though Geo’s Marxist politics might keep the Blue Scholars off the mainstream airwaves, don’t be surprised if they manage to override the status quo and make it there anyway.

Blue Scholars, Animal Farm, The Garden. 9 pm Saturday, Feb. 2. WOW Hall. $10 adv., $12 door.