Alright, welcome me back from my week-long vacation out West. The irony of me traveling to Seattle (from my now more-than-temporary home of New York City) is that I don’t actually get any blogging done when I’m out there. Too busy drinking coffee, eating the best sandwich in the country, and splattering pho broth all over my shirt front.
Oh yeah, I’m also busy talking my way into sold-out Blue Scholars shows (thanks, Hollis!) whilst trying to avoid every drop of torrential rainfall the Pacific Northwest has to offer. (The U-Dub stadium parking lot was a river on Friday night. Sheets of water, I’m telling you!)
Anyway, BS kicked off their #TownAllDay Tour jaunt around the country on Friday with a sold-out performance at the Showbox Market. Geo and Sabzi have tightened up their live set (as if that were even possible) by interspersing a totally engaging series of video shorts throughout their rap songs. If you’re lucky enough to live in one of the cities on the tour docket and have tickets, you’ll see what I mean.
The vignettes act as a narrative stitching the hyper-local focus of Blue Scholars together. It’s fun playing guess-the-Seattle-sights while watching the clips, but perhaps more importantly the sequences serve to eliminate that bit of regular hip-hop show fatigue — you know the one that starts settling in right around the 45 minute mark.
On Friday the group also debuted a new song, “The Decisive Moment,” which finds Geo getting back to MC basics. There’s no hook here and just enough of a groove by Sabzi to help impart the autobiographical, self-revelatory sentiments of one of the Town’s most beloved artists.
Also fresh: the video for “Anna Karina” (directed by Matt Jay) which has an interesting origin story and subtle provocativeness that speaks volumes without being bombastic. Blue Scholars continue to age like a fine wine.
The Town-anticipated clip for Brothers From Another’s “Molly Moon” (off their Taco Tuesday EP). Geo and Thig Nat make conspicuous cameos in the jam.
Blue Scholars’ new video for “Slick Watts” is a pantheon of northwest hip-hop cameos — the food and Townfolk variety. Jordan Nicholson helmed the high-def for this one. Chances are good you’ve seen dude’s lens work on other local music sites. I implore you to Google further.
Hopefully by now you’ve seen Pro Brown’s spoken word commentary in the Seattle Times on the recent (and not so recent) gun violence plaguing Seattle.
It’s unsettling to see how regional (cough! *socioeconomic* cough! cough! *racial*) delineations in the city contribute to the imbalance in news coverage of identical acts of violence. But I don’t have to tell you that ’cause you already know, right? RIGHT? Here’s Geo acting as the much-needed voice of reason over a Sabzi beat you might find familiar. And if you have an extra moment in your day, make sure to check the Comments section of the Times piece. Some of the shit on there is abhorrent. These are our neighbors, fam. SMH.
When Cinemetropolis dropped last year I spent more than a few good minutes of my time trying to figure out the context of Geo’s second verse in “Seijun Suzuki.” That was because there didn’t seem to be any. Ah, but there’s the rub, fam: There is always context for the man’s lyrics. I eventually got the chance to ask him about it and for that see, here. In the meantime, just enjoy the entertaining video for the track, directed by SEA rap video extraordinaire Jon Augustavo.
It’s fairly clear from this clip that Sabzi should be the (un)official third host of The Untitled Kondabolu Brothers Project, a semi-regular comedic freestyle session that occasionally features prominent guests (like Blue Scholars, for example).
For the uninitiated: Hari Kondabolu is an up-and-coming (sorry, I hate that term) comedian who has roots and connections in Seattle. Check out his steez, here. His brother, Ashok, is the third member of Das Racist; and if you don’t know who that is, well then why are you even reading this? Get out of here. Now. I’m serious.
(Via Blue Scholars’ tumblr.)
Former Huskies offensive lineman Gregory “Preach” Christine (of SEA/Cali crew Bent Twig) just posted this clip on Facebook. The penultimate University of Washington Stan track? Probably. Like the four area artists on the song, I live in 1991. #GoDawgs
Fresh from his Brownouts blog, Prometheus Brown (you know him also as Geo) just posted for your downloading pleasure, a compilation of “calabs, b-sides, rough drafts, photos.” For the rarities aficionados there are also some unreleased Blue Scholars tracks. Click on over for a tracklist and to download, here.
DLRN (as in “Delorean”) is Sacramento duo 5th Ave (MC) and Jon Reyes (beats). The 206UP.COM staff has been checking for them for a minute now and you should too. “Reset” is the duo’s latest video and it features Prometheus Brown rocking familiar Seattle snapback.
If I were a rapper who appeared in many music videos (which I’m not and I don’t), I’d have trouble finding ways to bide my time in the background while waiting for my turn to spit. What do I do with my hands? Do they give lessons on proper rap posturing? Is it uncool to make bunny ears behind the dude who’s letting me guest shot on his track? These are the questions that would keep me up at night. Neither Geo nor Logics have these problems and this is why they are rappers and I’m not.
(By the way, “Focused” is one of my favorite local tracks of the year and I featured it on the 206UP.COM Town Movement mixtape that you have already downloaded and shared with all of your friends. Right?)
The second week of June was the center of the hometown promotional storm for Blue Scholars. In support of the group’s third LP, Cinemetropolis, Geo and Sabzi did no less than play three shows (two back-to-back album release parties at Neumos and one invitation-only Kickstarter appreciation show), dropped the album’s first music video for the track “Fou Lee,” appeared at an in-store special edition t-shirt signing at Seattle Stüssy, and played an on-air KEXP studio session with DJ Kevin Cole.
The group has remained steadfast in its musical independence, both in sound and from a business standpoint. And though Blue Scholars didn’t have the industry weight or promotional heft of a record label behind them with this album, its release felt no less important to the city of Seattle and its burgeoning hip-hop scene. This crew carries a lot of capital, creative and otherwise. It remains one of the most visible faces of Seattle rap on a national level and, judging from the overwhelming response to its Cinemetropolis Kickstarter campaign, continues to resonate with the entity that matters most: the fans.
I caught up with Geo and Sabzi backstage at Neumos, a few minutes before they played the second of two sold out shows at the venue.
You guys seem really relaxed, almost in like a Zen state, with the release of Cinemetropolis. Are you guys at a place in your careers where you’re relaxed when putting out new material?
Geo: Yeah, definitely. That’s an interesting observation. I’d say it varies from one project to the next. But when it comes to the full length albums, we wouldn’t [normally] release it unless we were 100% cool with what we had. Not super perfectionist type shit, but just something that we feel represents where we’re at at that given point. We’ve always had the philosophy that we want our music to be a time capsule of where both me and Saba are at individually, at the time of creation of that album. I guess we do kinda exude a Zen approach because so much [tension] gets released by the time the record is presented to the public that we’re just like, “Hey it’s out there, man.”
Sabzi: [That’s] definitely how this record has gone.
Cinemetropolis sounds totally different than anything you’ve done before it. There was no fear of alienating your fan base?
Geo: No, if we did we would never release it. We are very aware of how different this record sounds from the last. If we took even, like, five minutes to sit and think about that and be worried about it, I would go fucking crazy. So maybe it’s like a defense mechanism to be like, “Hey man, whatever happens, happens.” When it comes time to release something, all those moments [of questioning] have already happened. I think what we’re always doing is trying to navigate through both our personal lives and our collective lives and then making sure the music is at the intersection of where we’re at. That’s why there’s a cinema influence. That’s why we didn’t go with a label. All of that is part of the story. If things are fucked up, we want it to be our fault and nobody else’s.
Speaking of navigating your personal lives, how have you dealt with being on opposite coasts? (Geo lives in Seattle and Sabzi has been splitting time between Seattle and New York.)
Sabzi: [The recording] was done here. It’s really not that different. When we first started making music in like 2001, I would make beats, upload it to FTP and Geo would download it.
Geo: We lived a five minute walk away from each other and we still made the first album mostly over the internet.
But New York has a different kind of energy. Sabzi, did you make the beats there or in Seattle? Was there a different type of creative process in the two cities?
Sabzi: I didn’t make them all out there. I made “Fin” in New York. I made “Oskar Barnack ∞ Oscar Grant” there. Half of it was Seattle and half of it was New York. I’d say tracks like “Hussein” and “Fou Lee” were template cuts for making the rest of the record, so we were already heading in that direction. When I moved to New York I didn’t have my record collection with me so that was a concrete factor that influenced the creative process. I didn’t have them to sample from, so every time I sat down to work it was all synth-based. I just don’t really think like that [about the recording environment]. I’m not saying there’s no influence, like I’m somehow above my environment which isn’t true at all, but it’s nothing I’m conscious of. As long as I have the same computer and, like, the distance between my chair and my computer and keyboard, it’s the same. And whatever I experienced that day will feed into it. There’s a lot more dancehall being played [in New York]. People have commented this record has a lot of island rhythms on it.
And what about from a writing standpoint? Does your environment affect how you write rhymes?
Geo: I mean, I’d like to think I have a visceral writing style and so that the experience of traveling and coming home, going out, jogging at Seward Park, riding the subways through Manhattan, I think I’m conscious of that. I’m thinking of rhymes as I’m going. And then you go into the lab to execute those ideas. If I’m on the train I can pull out my phone and record the thought and then that makes it onto the record. So for me, I’d have to say that influence [of being in New York and other locations] is definitely on the record more than any of the other stuff we’ve done before.
I wanted to ask you about two tracks, specifically. The first one is “Hussein.” Is it about Barack Obama?
Geo: It could be. [Laughs]
There’s a line, “What happens when you think patience always means wait,” which resonates because of the shift in optimism from his election in 2008, when so many folks thought it meant instant change for the better, to today when everyone is impatient, still waiting.
Geo: I was one of the people that, on one hand, was very critical of Barack and his message of hope and very idealistic things, knowing that he’s just one dude who’s talking all this good game, knowing that the system is set up so that he can’t change it overnight or even in four years. But then you can’t discount the fact that it is a historical moment for this country, at least symbolically. “Hussein” was the first song completed for the album. It was probably done by early ‘09.
The fact that this country even elected someone with that middle name spoke volumes, symbolically.
Geo: There were a lot of conversations about his middle name, man. It was a lightning rod. A carry-over from anti-Muslim hysteria, anti-Middle Eastern hysteria. In this country that name is so politicized. It evokes a reaction from everyone, whereas you go to other parts of the world and “Hussein” is just another name.
Sabzi: I think it spoke volumes to like, “Yo, this is how we’re gonna fix it. Like, we’re down! All done!” Electing him is not much different than adopting a Korean baby. It’s kinda like, “We’re hella ‘about the world!’”
I’m Korean and adopted. [Laughter]
Sabzi: Oh, for real? Yeah, but your parents aren’t celebrities.
No, they’re not. They’re definitely not celebrities.
Sabzi: You know what I mean though, right?
Geo: That’s exactly what the song is about. One thing that probably triggered the song the most, more than all the political stuff we’re talking about now that people in coffee shops everywhere talk about, is on Facebook that year  people were changing their middle names to “Hussein” and in the “Political Views” people were writing, “Obama.” It’s somewhat of a triumph over Bush and [the] Neo-Conservatism that has dominated America for most of the last decade. It was like, we know who the enemy is and maybe it took that long to realize it. Maybe it’s just gonna take a little longer to realize who the people [are] that are gonna do something about it. For a brief moment people really gambled on the Democratic Party, via one dude, to be that. I think it’s very obvious that the “patience means wait” approach to politics is bankrupt, man.
Sabzi: For the record, I personally am really glad Barack Obama is the President. And I don’t give a shit if he changes anything ‘cause that’s not what he’s supposed to do. The President doesn’t really matter. You might as well just have him be tight. Like, let’s just have a cool-ass dude as the President. That makes a huge difference. If you travel internationally now, they’re like, “Whattup, man? You’re from America? Swag!” And it’s way more about “swag” than anything else. Just to be clear: thumbs up Obama, from me at least.
The other track I wanted to ask you about is “Seijun Suzuki.” I perceived the song to be about the Seattle hip-hop scene — not so much a shot at The Town, but more of a challenge, like: Who’s really trying to “make it?” What’s your general take on what’s going on in the Seattle rap scene right now?
Sabzi: Better than ever before.
Geo: Yeah, it is. It’s interesting you mentioned that. I would say it’s actually more of a statement on rap in general. I’ve developed a reputation of being that dude that every song I write is “about some shit.” I’m a Lil’ Wayne fan, man, as well as a Mos Def fan. So there’s the element that, on one hand, I am tired of “rap about rap” but I’m also a fan of “rap about rap” when it’s done in a manner that moves me. It’s not necessarily about a super-conceptual idea. I was thinking about this while I was watching [Seijun Suzuki’s] films. There’s a lot of criticism about Seijun Suzuki in his day about like, “This dude’s films ain’t about shit.” On the other hand there are people really over-analyzing his films when they were just low-budget Yakuza flicks. I thought that was interesting because they’re both right and they’re both wrong. But at the end of the day it was just the artist doing him. And I think this [track] is where I wanted to put the foot down and be like, “You know what, I don’t wanna rap about anything in particular on this song. We’re gonna pull a Seijun Suzuki up in this ma’fucka, man. I’m gonna touch upon a subject in one bar and then I’m just gonna rap about nonsense.”
But there’s that line, “The day we decided to make it like Jake and Vita,” that specifically references the two, arguably, most well-known industry dudes in the Seattle rap scene.
Geo: I’m glad you caught “Jake and Vita.” A lot of people thought I was saying “Che Guevara.” I threw Jake and Vita in there because, to me, I feel like there’s a perception of what success is and should be, and here are two dudes that have molded a sound and a scene, and a lot of the [artists] that we look up to know these cats. But to a lot of people, if you’re not out in front of the crowd or all up on TV, then you haven’t “made it.” To me, there are people who have “made it” [that aren’t like that]. And that’s connected to the hook, “Ain’t nobody winnin’ everybody’s scared of losin.’” I think there are a lot of people that want it but are afraid to really put themselves out there because they’re afraid who they really are is not gonna translate. So they do really well at emulating what’s out there. And that’s not just a hip-hop thing, that’s a music thing, a film thing, a life thing. We’re in a phase where everybody’s half winning.
You’re going on tour to promote Cinemetropolis soon, right?
Geo: Yes, the details I can give right now are it’s gonna be in September, October and November, give or take 30 dates. It’s our first headlining tour that’s longer than a regional run.
Will there be a New York date? The last show you played, at the Bowery Ballroom last September, felt triumphant not only for you guys but Seattle hip-hop in general.
Geo: Yeah, it was. It’s a moment that I don’t think can ever be captured again. It was crazy because we hadn’t put out a full length album in almost four years. All signs pointed to that show doing moderately well or even failing. Bowery is supposed to be one of the spots. You have to build your way up to it or you have to really be on some super hype shit, and we were neither. Everything fell into place. Half the crowd was from Seattle or had roots in the area. I’m grateful. That was probably one of my top five favorite shows.
Sabzi: I thought it was great. I’ve been to a lot of different events in New York from like Highline [Ballroom] to little parties at CV [an exclusive club on the Lower East Side of Manhattan] and we sold out Bowery and there were no scenesters there. So I think that’s really interesting. There are so many different sides to New York City and one of them is definitely like a town, like ours here. It was like the New York version of the fans that come here, who are real people, with real jobs, who live in the boroughs, who listen to music and good stuff, came through. And I don’t hate scenesters, I actually think they’re really tight ‘cause I am one [laughs]. But I liked how we could sell that [show] out without needing that.
What’s up with the side projects? Geo, you have a new EP, Walk Into A Bar, coming out soon with Bambu.
Geo: It’s nine tracks, ten with the bonus track. Beatrock Music, who puts out Bambu’s stuff, took interest and is actually making it an official Beatrock Music release. [Bambu] is gonna be our main support on the fall tour. This is like our BFF Hawaii record. It’s like OOF two [laughs]. On one of our trips to Hawaii we had planned to do one or two songs with a Hawaii-based producer and give it to In4mation to throw on their blog, and we ended up doing three and did the rest over the internet. A lot of Seattle producers got involved and it became an actual project. It happened all because we literally walked into a bar our first night in Hawaii and decided to do a few songs.
Sabzi, you released a side project, Made In Heights, with singer Kelsey Bulkin last winter. Is there more to come from that collaboration?
Sabzi: We have another collection that’s already recorded. That’s what I’m doing in New York. If everything works out then I’d like to do one or maybe two more things with Made In Heights, perhaps like a full record and get a lot of New York people involved. Really take it in the opposite direction of everything I’ve done before. And then I plan to do plenty of solo stuff. Forever. For the rest of my life!
The first drop from Prometheus Brown and Bambu’s Beatrock collab, Walk Into A Bar. This partnership feels as natural as that organic sh-t growing in your backyard. Project hits pavement, beach sand and forest floor on July 6.
Amidst the massive amount of success Blue Scholars has experienced since its formation in 2002, MC Geo (aka. Prometheus Brown) and DJ/producer Sabzi have remained stubbornly — defiantly even — proletariat in their musical aims. It’s a testament to the duo’s acute devotion to the rank-and-file they prefer to serve that there have been no Clear Channel radio-ready singles, no flirtations with major labels and their “fucked-up” (as Geo once put it) three-sixty deals, no appearances on late night television, and no wavering from the Socialist underpinnings that have provided the ballast for the group’s lyrical content since its inception.
In fact, in support of the crew’s third LP, Cinemetropolis, Geo and Sabzi asked “the people” to subsidize the album’s production via the Kickstarter platform, a move that could have been dismissed as rap hubris run amok if it had been made by any other group without a history as communally-oriented as this one. Fans replied to the tune of about $62,000 in donations in 45 days, a response that indicates Blue Scholars has become a sort of mini-movement in addition to just being a rap group. This particular album cycle is literally being powered by a loyal fan base that asks for little in return other than the group’s best efforts at dopeness on wax, which is exactly what Cinemetropolis represents thus far in Blue Scholars’ discography.
The group was unofficially knighted the de facto leader of Seattle’s underground hip-hop movement in the mid aughts, all of it due to the crew’s self-titled debut album, an accessible collection of Golden Era-styled boom-bap with a revolutionary spirit and anti-establishment bent. The group’s sophomore LP, Bayani, featured complex layers of rhythm and dense sonic textures that were darker in comparison. It was a dynamic listen on the headphones but didn’t translate nearly as well live. The album felt a little like growing pains with respect to the group’s sound, with fewer samples at the forefront of the production and more distinct musicality that provided unique description for the group’s identity.
With Cinemetropolis, Geo and Sabzi have separated themselves musically from every hip-hop group in Seattle’s now bustling scene and arguably from most acts nationally. Sabzi’s evolution as a producer over the last year or so has seen him shed the sample-heavy boom-bap skin of the group’s prior work in favor of more colorful compositions comprised of heavy synth and deep reverberating drum and bass that often sounds tropical. Tracks like the rolling, low end-heavy “Slick Watts” and “Seijun Suzuki” fall in line with the producer’s ride-friendly work for Das Racist (“All Tan Everything” and “Who’s That Brown?”), while the beautiful, sweeping synth waves of the epic “George Jackson” is akin to the arrangements of Made In Heights, his electro-pop side project with singer Kelsey Bulkin (who also lends vocals on Cinemetropolis’ title track).
It’s impossible to determine whether Blue Scholars has officially found its particular “sound” or if this is just one paragraph in the group’s musical narrative, which seems more likely. It’s unlikely, however, that a similar lyrical concept will ever pervade future albums. Cinemetropolis was intentionally engineered as a “reverse soundtrack,” whereby each of the album’s fifteen tracks will inspire accompanying short films and/or music videos. The group is interested in how film informs our perception of real life and vice versa, a conceit that generally holds the LP’s wide spectrum of subject matter together. The idea is especially interesting when you factor in the group’s reputation as a socially conscious outfit, a regard that has made both group members shift uncomfortably in their seats during interviews. Blue Scholars has appealed equally to rap heads that keep themselves in-the-political-know, and those less informed folks who might find themselves Googling Geo’s many references to revolutionary factions in colonized locations across the globe. Many of Cinemetropolis’ song titles are great fodder for the Wikipedia machine and there’s much to be learned strictly from that search button exercise.
Listen more intently to the lyrics, however, and a greater depth is revealed. Geo is one of the best lyricists at extrapolating big ideas from simple concepts. “Fou Lee” is named after a Vietnamese grocery store on Beacon Hill where Blue Scholars and other members of their team would stock up on food during the Bayani recording sessions, thus the track becomes an emblem for both creative and physical sustenance. “Hussein” may or may not be a specific reference to the 44th President of the United States, but it’s definitely about the MC’s desire for change much greater than what has occurred in the last three and a half years. Even a track like “Slick Watts,” which isn’t much more than a glorified interlude, might contain a reference to gentrification when, after a comprehensive Seattle neighborhood roll-call, Geo says, “Got some folks leavin’ / Got other folks comin’ / Somebody had to go and say somethin’.” The analysis might be a stretch but it’s not out of bounds given the MC’s point of view.
Certainly less ambiguous is “Oskar Barnack ∞ Oscar Grant,” a track that encourages the public documentation of police brutality in order to maintain some semblance of accountability of the boys in blue. It’s a far cry from “Fuck Tha Police” but far more militant than any other Blue Scholars track that exists in public. The choral chant of, “Shoot the cops / Shoot the cops / Shoot the cops / Take your cameras out your pocket people,” is blatant enough to be incendiary and enigmatic enough to remain halcyon. It’s a noble attempt at reminding the public of how powerful we are when maintaining a united front against injustice. It also perfectly captures the ethos of this group. The men of Blue Scholars have an amiability that immediately places them on a level relatable to most. It’s a combination of focused ire and off-the-charts creative acumen, however, that allows them to craft a hip-hop auteur’s monument like Cinemetropolis.
At Saturday’s sold-out Cinemetropolis Album Release Party, the second of a two-night run at Neumos, Blue Scholars had Seattle hip-hop fans eating out of their proverbial hands, as has been the case at all of the duo’s local shows for the last six years or so. The energetic all ages crowd followed Geo and Sabzi’s lead for nearly an hour and a half as the crew marched through a set list heavy on new material with a few select older favorites.
Geo is one of the best lyricists at taking simple ideas and extrapolating them into something larger and more complex. On “Fou Lee” one of the best cuts from Cinemetropolis, the name of the venerable Beacon Hill Vietnamese grocery store is used as an emblem for the source of Blue Scholars’ inspiration and sustenance, literally and figuratively. This is an intimate Town jam, in which the best reference is the MC Foods corner store at Alaskan and Columbian. I always get a laugh when I pass that spot. Directed by Canh Solo.
Cinemetropolis officially drops tomorrow, but if you ain’t got it already, then you probably aren’t a fan. The live jump-off is this Friday and Saturday.
After a week of listening to far too much Odd Future than is healthy for one human’s conscience to bear, it was incredibly mollifying on the dome to come across this gem, the 10.4 Rog and The Good Sin collaboration, Late.
Renton’s 10.4 Rog has built a steady rep for creating a diverse array of soundscapes that are influenced in equal parts by J. Dilla’s complex boom-bap and the electronic wanderings of Radiohead. The result of Rog’s genre amalgam trips are progressive, visceral renderings of hip-hop that feel more instinctual than intentionally crafted. Very few producers possess this aptitude which, in the end, isn’t about how nice someone is with Fruity Loops. Folks like 10.4 Rog and oc Notes do this sh-t based on hunches and less on the basis of study.
If Rog’s nine tracks on Late are the result of a naturally occurring head-in-the-hip-hop-clouds faculty, then emcee The Good Sin’s rich baritone is the anchor that keeps the songs tethered to the ground. There’s a brilliant dualism at work here: while the stark contrast in tone between Rog’s atmospheric instrumentals and Sin’s heavy voice is readily apparent, the two also work in perfect unison when Sin occasionally lets his mind and words wander inside the producer’s compositions.
For the most part, Sin is a cat still trying to find his voice, at least contextually. Dude can rap on most anything as his past drops and mixtape (Ready or Not) have shown, but listeners still don’t really know who he is. Late reveals the emcee to be a true poet who is equally comfortable exploring spoken-word’s ambiguous nebula (the album’s opening and closing, “Wake Up” and “Endpiece”) as he is rapping on concrete subjects like getting money and getting over (“Pages & Wages”). The Stranger’s Charles Mudede recently compared Sin’s rap ethos to that of Geo of Blue Scholars because of their similar working-class bearings. The comparison is appropriate in that vein, but Sin also possess a certain poetic now-ness to his style; a lyrical method that blends the esoteric and the concrete. It’s exciting to find that type of complexity in The Good Sin, who was previously most notable for his strong delivery.
Hip-hop is not typically something I listen to when laying in bed trying to go to sleep. While it’s by far my preferred musical genre, most of it is too immediate and glaring to be relaxing. Late is something much different, however. The album can be explored with a full ear attuned to the beats and rhymes, or it can be put on in the background and allowed to seep in little by little. It’s one of those rare pieces of music where my mind didn’t have to make the conscious decision to LIKE or DISLIKE. It just knew from the moment it filtered through.
Late is available for FREE download. Click on the album cover above or the Bandcamp link below.
Malice and Mario Sweet’s Happy 2 Year EP is a giant leap forward for Seattle R&B/soul music.
R&B is a genre that is criminally underrepresented when compared to The Town’s other musical excursions. Not to say that its few agents aren’t worthy of praise (Choklate, JusMoni and Isabella Du Graf, here’s looking at you), but for a city that’s shown an incredible wealth of untapped talent in hip-hop, it’s curious that the R&B set has stayed relatively dormant.
Allusions to Happy 2 Year were made in late December when Mario dropped the album’s first single, “Speed Of Light” in the 206UP.COM Inbox. A cursory listen left a minimal impression on me, though the perfect harmonizing between Mario and Malice (partners in music and life) immediately stood out. Admittedly, I’m guilty of not giving this track its proper shine, because repeated listenings have revealed it to be so much more than the brief Inbox interlude I first took it for. There are complex layers of rhythm and vocal pacing here, and a perceptible level of care and intention in the song’s creation that can only be evidence of an ethereal bond shared by the two artists responsible.
Further, when you consider “Speed Of Light” in context with the rest of the EP, an even greater understanding of the album’s import is revealed. H2Y is not only a reciprocation of love between Mario and Malice, it’s a love letter to a few decades’ worth of R&B/soul artists. From the late 80′s/early 90′s R&B vibe of “DateNight” to the new school “world music” (I hate that term but I’m using it here for lack of a better one) inflections of “Happiness” (which features a rapping [!!!] Choklate), to the highly danceable post-Prince funk of “Living Life” (where a few brief guest bars are delivered by Geo of Blue Scholars, who sounds curiously comfortable amidst the tracks’ radio-readiness).
Ironically, though, the best moments on H2Y are when Malice and Mario are left to their own solo departures: the adequately titled, “Malice” and “Mario.” “Speed Of Light” wasn’t a prime example of what either singer could accomplish vocally, but their self-titled individual tracks solve that mystery. “Malice” charms with the confidence of a songbird who’s been flying like this for years, just waiting for strange ears to attend. Producer 10.4 Rog builds the perfect track for her with his airy Dilla-esque vista. “Mario,” on the other hand, only gives the listener a brief glimpse into what informs the duo’s masculine half. Images of Donny Hathaway, Smokey Robinson and Maxwell are conjured (how’s that for fair company?) in a track that lasts less than ninety seconds. Here’s hoping Mario indulges his expert falsetto again later (and more fully) over the same Roy Ayers instrumental.
Like the best-thrown anniversary parties, the occasion for love’s celebration between two people can be enjoyed not only by the lovers themselves, but by those that the couple allow into their midst. With Happy 2 Year, Malice and Mario Sweet have thrown a musical anniversary party and we (the listeners) are the honored beneficiaries. And as it is with the refined brands of champagne and decadent cake at such affairs, we are left exclaiming, “More please!”
Download a FREE copy of Happy 2 Year here, for a limited time only. Below is the music video for “Speed Of Light.”
Logics (aka Young Ghangas) dropped his Problematic EP a few days ago. Click here or the album cover above for the FREE download. I still contend that “Focused” is one of the best locally-released tracks of young 2011 (and that Logics and Geo should do an EP together — material that lets Pro Brown tap into his inner ‘hood identity, an incarnation that we all know exists but hasn’t yet shown itself, at least not fully).
Here are the visual for “Stars & Beyond” (featuring Eighty4 Fly and Brainstorm), one of the tracks off Problematic:
Remember those low-budget Death Row videos that were all over MTV before the label blew? Yeah, this is slightly reminiscent of those: lots of talent and severely limited production value.
No matter. When Logics spits “I represent Asians/Never used it as a crutch,” all is forgiven by this blogger. (I’m Korean — what you ain’t know?) It’s also pretty quaint how they use the Museum Of Flight as the clip’s backdrop. And curious that there isn’t a single neighborhood dimepiece in sight. Women are allowed in the US Air Force too, you know…
Hot sh-t. Logics drops his best track yet with (more than) a little help from Prometheus Brown and Adrian Sims. Marcus D hooks the beat up — some of that NY grimy soul sh-t. Remarkable considering dude does his dirt in Auburn. (And I don’t mean the University.) This is essential cold air, hunched-down-in-your-bubblegoose music.
Portland’s DJ Jacks Green with a brief four-track salute to Northwest hip-hop. Sol, Scribes and Geo provide bars on three of the tracks (previous post: “Kickitwitchu” featuring Sol). It’s FREE, so why wouldn’t you click?
Cabin fever strikes Blue Scholars again. The recent inclement weather in The Deuce Dot had Geo and Zia feeling restless and creative. The recent unseasonably warm weather in The Empire City had Sabzi dancing on rooftops and playing with a pineapple (?). The result: a Pro Brown freeverse over a loping Sabzi track that sounds like a OOF! throwaway. (Also, the DJ raps — well, sorta — for the first time.)
Peep the clip below and download the track, here.
The two best Blue Scholars shows I’d seen before Friday’s epic Seattle throw-down at New York City’s The Bowery Ballroom (check out Photo By Tone’s amazing pictures, here) were The Long March EP release party at Chop Suey in 2005, and the New Year’s Eve party at Neumos in the same year. Those concerts stood out because of the massive amount of energy their respective crowds brought, an element that’s absolutely vital to a successful live hip-hop show.
Blue Scholars was still in the natal stage when the ’05 show at Chop went down, with a small but devout following who went bananas that night for a group that would ultimately herald the beginning of a movement local music writers are now calling, “the new grunge.” It was my first time seeing them and I got caught up in the excitement. The New Year’s Eve show was nearly as animated, but probably much of it due to the jubilant atmosphere associated with the holiday.
The Bowery concert was different, however, for a couple of substantial reasons: First, Geo and Sabzi’s live presentation is incredibly refined these days. The setlist, the cuts between songs, how Geo moves across the stage, Sabzi’s well-executed stage dive near the end of the performance — everything is tighter, tuned-up, and built exclusively for keeping the audience engaged. I’ve seen much more well-known hip-hop acts execute shows that couldn’t touch what Blue Scholars are doing now; they’re becoming true entertainers.
Secondly, the venue couldn’t possibly get any bigger for this rap group. And by “bigger” I mean more relevant. New York City is the Mecca of hip-hop, we all know this. And for a group from Seattle, Washington to come into The Bowery Ballroom, a fairly prominent Manhattan venue, on a Friday night and sell out the joint…Well, has that ever been done before? Granted, I would estimate the crowd was at least fifty percent Townfolk, but it’s still an achievement considering notable groups from Brooklyn headline shows in New York venues half the size of Bowery and can’t rock them the way Blue Scholars did the well-known Lower East Side establishment.
I had a group of nine people with me, five of whom had never heard Blue Scholars’ music before, let alone seen them live, and they all came away impressed. While there was an enormous amount of 2-0-6 love flowing through the building, there was also an addictive energy — attributable wholly to Geo and Sabzi’s vibe — that swept up those who had no association with the area code. Blue Scholars did what so many other regionally-specific hip-hop groups strive to do: they represented their town to the fullest.
Check out the videos below (courtesy Youtube member, toneriggz):
The name of Blue Scholars’ upcoming LP is Cinematropolis (set for release in Spring 2011). If the title is indicative of the album’s conceptual bent, then we may be in for a sort of film/music amalgamation, which wouldn’t be surprising given Geo’s love (and talent for) movie criticism and Sabzi’s own interest in visual media (check out the DJ/producer’s recently launched multimedia project, Townfolk.)
On the group’s recent drop, “Lumiere,” Sabzi samples The xx track to great cinematic effect. Geo’s vocals are understated and would probably win an emo rap battle, if there were such a thing. Click the image below for the D/L link.
The Sacramento hip-hop duo DLRN (formerly known as “Delorean” — name change presumably due to the existence of the indie rock outfit of the same moniker) has released a new EP called The Bridge which can be had for free here. Similar in style and substance to the group’s debut release, No More Heroes, this new eight-track collection is heavier on soul and collaborative endeavors, including the song “Reset” featuring Seattle rap hero, Prometheus Brown (aka. Geo of Blue Scholars).