So this is what it sounds like when Blue Scholars go on vacation. The highly-anticipated and much locally-hyped OOF! EP dropped on Tuesday and, much to the unsuspecting ears of this listener, surprises abound on this mostly-fresh bite of Hawaiian-style 206-rap.
For a short six-tracks (plus accompanying instrumentals), producer Sabzi breaks out his happy-vibe synths and basslines, and emcee Geo sets down his copy of The Socialist, straps on a pair of board shorts and flip-flops, and, with drink in hand, reminisces on his formative years spent in the nation’s 50th, and most beautiful, state: Hawaii.
OOF! is truly a vacation for the local rap duo, an exercise in departure, both for Sabzi’s normally thick, boom-bappish beats and Geo’s political and progressive rhymes. It’s only because the disc contains two of the best Scholars songs to date (“Bananas” and “HI-808”) that they’re excused from taking it too easy on this outing.
Even the most highly-respected artists sometimes casually digress from their normally esteemed routines. Think Brando in The Freshman; Hitchcock directing Mr and Mrs Smith; Michael Jordan when he played for the Wizards; etc. In Blue Scholars’ case, last winter’s set of performances in Hawaii combined with Geo’s history in the islands resulted in the perfect circumstances for assembling this set of party-rocking tracks that qualifies as an official departure from the group’s normally heavier-handed musical discourse.
Mix in an abnormally hot Seattle summer and a local hip-hop scene that is bubbling over — as of this writing OOF! currently sits at #2 on iTunes best-selling hip-hop albums — and it’s enough to have this blogger, and other fans like him, scrambling around The Town trying to get their hands on a copy of the limited-edition disc (supposedly only 808 were pressed). I was one of the lucky few to get one and, once I set to bumping it, I was more than a little surprised at what came out of my speakers.
On OOF! we hear the group do things we’ve never heard them do before. All of a sudden, they do dance tracks! (The cheesy and nearly unlistenable, “New People.”) They do reggae! (Excuse me, jawaiian music, on the tropical, “Cruz.”) They even do sexy! (Geo and Sabzi take turns saying “wassup” to the ladies in their best nice-guy voices on “Hello.”)
Thankfully, they also find time for real hip-hop on the spare but still bumping “Bananas” (with a verse previously spit by Geo at Chase Jarvis’ Songs for Eating and Drinking party), the back-in-the-day hip-hop appreciation anthem “Coo?”, and the totally knocking “HI-808,” the crowning achievement of OOF! and possibly the most addictive beat the crew has ever put on wax. It’s an eclectic and unexpected collection, for sure, and it doesn’t all go down smooth like a pina colada, but it does the job.
Normally, Blue Scholars is telling us to put our fists up, to stand for social justice and political change. On OOF! they’re letting us keep our hands down, inviting us to sip a fruity drink, and groove to the music however we see fit. Actually, I’m pretty okay with it — sometimes my arms get tired from all that hand-waving. I do, however, expect the duo to carry on previous tradition with their next full-length. Come 2010, it will be time once again to take up arms and mics for the revolution.
For now, though, I can get down with OOF! But perhaps Geo himself sums up my feelings best: “It’s cool…But it’s not what I’m used to.”