The last thing people think of when it comes to Seattle is music. The Pacific city is known for high suicide rates, Ray Allen and the Space Needle. But in the early ’90s, they introduced the world to grunge music with Nirvana’s explosion/anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Around that same time, Seattle introduced its first taste of hip hop with Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”
That’s right. Seattle hip hop.
Sadly, Kurt Cobain killed himself and Sir Mix-A-Lot is more known for VH1’s “I Love the ’90s” than rapping. This left Seattle with a few indie-rock bands and some kids in thick flannel shirts trying to keep grunge alive. But through the smells of teen spirit and love of big butts emerges a storm of socially conscious hip hop unexpected from Seattle. Where the hustle and the struggle coincide, enter the Blue Scholars.
Consisting of an exuberant Indian DJ named Sabzi and a visual Filipino MC named Geologic, Blue Scholars resurrect a style of socially conscious hip hop introduced by originators such as Pete Rock and De La Soul. Representing all who struggle through manual labor and the blue-collar world, they speak with earnest, real affirmations on their self-titled nationwide debut.
After putting out Blue Scholars only within Seattle proper, they’ve received their long-desired nationwide appreciation, and re-release the album with new songs added to an already hearty disc. The album takes Sabzi’s eclectic beats and rhythms of blaring horns and strumming guitars, lacing them with Geologic’s revolutionary, captivating rhymes.
It contains a true variety of struggles, trying to make the come-up, injustice, the future, conspiracy, politics and even a love song without having to talk about jewelry, hoes, rims or grills. At times, though, Geologic’s voice doesn’t completely fit the raw, turntable beats. But it’s still a voice that totally fits the subject material, and does this well.
Throughout the album you can see the immense pressures of political apathy. In “Blink,” Geologic speaks of youths with no direction who join the military to fight a war in a place half of them can’t even find on the map.
Sometimes the knowledge comes out directly, “No Rest For The Weary,” with the lines, “Hold your head high soldier / It ain’t over yet / That’s why we call it a struggle / You’re supposed to sweat.”
At a time like this, when contemporary hip hop has been overtaken by the dirty South (see Three 6 Mafia at the Oscars) and production and beats are beginning to overshadow lyricism, this album is a breath of fresh air. It’s a humble style showing that they’re aware of their bona fide talent, but then never descent into braggadocio.
Taking an alternate route from today’s hip-hop groups, Blue Scholars keeps socially conscious rap alive with one DJ and one MC, and that’s enough.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars