Music

Blue Scholars: Bayani

Chris Catania

A sophomore album teeming with soulful beats and lucid lyrics that protest without protesting your ear off, but instead lure you to the Seattle epicenter where this hip-hop duo is just heating up.


Blue Scholars

Bayani

Label: Rawkus
US Release Date: 2007-06-12
UK Release Date: 2007-09-24
Amazon
iTunes

In baseball there’s a sneaky pitch that a hurler tosses if he wants to close the door on a batter with a clandestine sit-your-ass-back-on-the-bench, pronto send off. The pitch – usually called a back-door slider — appears to be tailing away but then at the last moment it snaps back over the edge of the plate — and since it’s commonly used with two strikes — usually results in the umpire pulling his arm back to ring the batter up for strike three, leaving the batter with buckled knees and wondering what the hell just happened.

Having played baseball at the college level I was the victim of the backdoor slider more times that I would like to admit. I had the same shocked feeling (this one more welcomed, of course) as I traveled through the 15 tracks and then let Bayani simmer for a bit in my subconscious. It’s an extremely well-crafted album that, like that back-door slider, doesn’t pop the ear-leather until it’s just a few inches past you. Bayani is melodically laid back with soft and dreamy jazz samples and subdued buoyant bass lines that underscore and highlight, never overshadowing, Geologic’s intelligent and edifying flow. Delivered in his lucid rasp and cinematic wordplay it’s Geologic’s lyrics — and the duo’s knack for crafting contagious hooks and charging choruses — that popped this album over the edge of the plate at the last moment, eventually forcing me to hit repeat and better understand how and why Bayani moved me.

The Seattle duo of George Quibuyen (aka MC Geologic) and Alexei Saba Mohajerjasbi (aka Sabzi) released their debut self-titled album in 2004. And what’s most impressive about this sophomore album is the way that The Blue Scholars accomplish the follow-up mission with astute just-the-facts class. On tracks “Ordinary Guy” and “Loyalty,” Geologic appeals to the everyman-non-rock-star realness without being annoyingly preachy, cliché or a dismissible copycat. They celebrate the kinetic electricity of hip hop’s staple of Emcee/DJ duos that have come before them and best of all do what an album like Bayani should do, which is transport you to their Pacific Northwest hometown and, as “Joe Metro” does, take you on a vivid tour through the less-lyrically-traveled inner city landscape or philosophically-explored terrain. It’s as if you’re reading a sort of hip hop newspaper columnist with a turntablist and classic boom-bap soundtrack that’s colored with world beat instrument samples, a reason why the track has received the most plays on their Myspace page.

There’s no hiding the fact Bayani is anthemic fuel for the masses. Masses, that is, who want to be heard as they march through the city streets on their way to city hall. A few months ago, as part observer, part participant, I joined a 150,000 throng of marchers who were making their way to downtown Chicago in support of immigration reform. The overall tome of Bayani could have been the soundtrack to the march. In a sonic context that is a fusion of classic hip hop and improvisational jazzy aesthetic, tracks like “50 K Deep” (which recollects the 1999 “Battle in Seattle” WTO rallies in Seattle) and “Fire for the People” capture all the emotions of a growing grassroots struggle for a collective voice to be heard. It’s a protest album start to finish.

The symbolically contradicting blue-gray shaded collage of bullhorns, AK’s, doves, clenched fists, open palms, and swords on the album’s cover allow for a brief moment to think about what’s going to happen, a visual foreshadowing that captures the awaiting lyrical and melodic contrast of Sabzi slow burn beats against Geologic kinetic lyrics.—lurking just beyond the cover.

As an emcee Geologic doesn’t waste words and after the opening Bahai prayer/chant performed by a friend, the beat/slam poet ignites the fire with “Opening Salvo” that’s laced with raw guitar riffed samples and cloaked with the chorus “My people are building monuments to whether the flood/I’m gonna leave how I can screaming covered in blood/die once born twice each time we knuckled up/along side our people we’re gonna struggle with love, struggle with love.”

Halfway through Geologic brings the listener up to speed on the Scholars track record and future plans with title-track “Bayani”. Then, as descedents from immigrants, the Scholars address ethnocentrism with “Xenophobia” and “The Distance,” a back-to-back-track journey into the mind of an immigrant’s psychological, social, and cultural struggles as the song’s main character fights to make sense in a new land that’s far from home. Keeping the microscope on current events, “Back Home” follows as a clever heartfelt commentary as Geologics reflects on his feelings and longing to see friends and family who are serving in Iraq return home ASAP.

My only beef with Bayani is when Geologic gives way to redundancy and the album falls victim to the common filler flaw in hip hop albums. Some songs repeat themselves and the album could have been better and sleeker without the repetitive fluff, packing a much more powerful punch, knocking me out sooner and faster, defying the laws of baseball by sitting me down with one scorching pitch instead of the standard three.

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