OOF! EP (Blue Scholars)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.”

8 comments

  1. Again, I’m slightly disturbed by your term “real hip hop.” I myself try to stay away from the phrase as I realize that it isn’t my (or anyone’s) place to define what is real/not. I know what hip hop I like or don’t and I’ll gladly voice my opinion for anyone willing to listen. But good rap or not, its all hip hop just as bad rock or techno is still real rock or real techno. It may not do it for you, and I respect that, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t do it for someone. I for one liked “New People” because it showed a different, fun side of Geo and Sabzi. A lot of hip hop heads get caught up in thinking the game has to be completely serious, but I love when rappers just have fun on the tracks (look at Mad Rad, Beastie Boys, ODB, and old Busta). Hip hop is a beautiful artform, but shouldn’t be constricted by one point of view whether it be popular or conscious alike…just my thoughts though, sorry, I just love arguing…tell me what you think

  2. “Disturbed?” Really? Why?

    Maybe I should clarify. When I say “real hip-hop” I’m thinking of it this way: What Would KRS-One Do? (WWKRSOD).

    In other words, would KRS-One consider “New People” a “real hip-hop” record? I don’t think so. He might say it contains a singular and very important element of hip-hop (Geo’s rapping), but it’s not a hip-hop track in the grand tradition of the art form. Do you think so?

    Or, say I were able to put together a panel of the 10 most-influential hip-hop artists/producers/label heads in history. So that might include people like KRS One, Chuck D, Russell Simmons, Grand Master Flash, Rick Rubin, DJ Kool Herc, etc., etc. If you were to ask those folks their opinion of “New People” do you think they would say it’s in the grand tradition of hip-hop?

    There has to be some level of categorization between genres, otherwise what’s the point of commentary and criticism? (Which is what this blog is mainly about.)

    Fans will have widely-varying definitions of the genre based on their particular likes and dislikes. I happen to dislike “New People” and I don’t consider it traditional hip-hop (aka “real hip-hop”).

    (And, honestly, it’s the first time that I’ve EVER disliked a Blue Scholars track, and I’m actually kind of sad about it!)

    Again, thanks for your thoughts 206HHH! Keep blogging, I really enjoy reading yours!

    – 206-UP!

  3. Really well-done review. I feel almost the exact same way – didn’t like New People’s cheesiness, but I wouldn’t call it ‘nearly unlistenable.’ And I wasn’t so impressed with the beat on HI-808. Bananas is my favorite song by far.

    You’ll probably like their new song released yesterday on Bayani Redux. I’ve got it on my Youtube page… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORcVWVKm2t0

  4. Believe me, I have the utmost for KRS, Chuck D, and the rest of the people you name, but you must also recognize that nothing in this world remains stagnant. The new replaces old and is in turn replaced by the newer. Sure a new progression is different and will have a different sound than doesn’t make it any less “real.” As far as the most influential people, I agree that the people that you named have had a huge influence on the roots of hip hop, but you must include more recent artist like Jay-Z, Eminem, Wu, OutKast, and (it hurts me to say this) Kanye who have completely changed the game and have a huge influence on the emcees like Joell Ortiz, Wale, and Dyme Def who are coming up in the genre today. Basically, the point that I want to make is that it is a weak arguement to preach that something isn’t “real” just because it doesn’t sound the exact same as old songs. I respect that you don’t like it, but if these songs were to sound the exact same, hip hop would remain stagnant and would have been left back in the 80s.

  5. 206-UP! is right. It’s a dance track with hip-hop stylings. That it happens to be done by a true hip-hop group (“in the grand tradition” of the genre) doesn’t change what it is.

    The points are well-taken, but I think the key here is that there are different degrees of hip-hop. If 206-UP! is using the term “real hip-hop” to qualify what most would consider music done in the more traditional style of the originators, then he makes his point about “New People” correctly. I don’t think he’s saying it doesn’t fit into the hip-hop genre as it exists today, he’s saying it’s just not as pure as the original art form, that’s all.

  6. Man, all this discussion over one measly track! I think it’s time to put this topic to bed.

    (For the record, though, Just-a-fan summarizes my point pretty well. Thanks!)

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