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Filmmakers create movies. Bloggers report the news and shape public opinion. Explorers travel the globe, seeking out new cultures and sharing experiences. DJs and producers craft beats and tracks using an alchemical mix of audio artifacts and imagination. Rappers fashion rhymes and navigate the cadences of vocal delivery characterized as “flow.”
Blue Scholars do all these things—and a hell of a lot more—every damn day. First and foremost, DJ/producer Sabzi and MC Geologic are a music group. They do the fundamental things bands have done for decades: Make records and play live shows. But those are just points on a plane, bright stars in Blue Scholars’ ever-expanding universe. “It all revolves around using everything at our disposal to be good storytellers,” says Sabzi. Chuck D famously likened hip-hop to CNN, but frankly, Blue Scholars make Anderson Cooper and company look lazy by comparison.
Blue Scholars informally call their music “cinema art rap,” yet most folks will probably just hear it as smart 21st century pop. The duo is just as likely to take inspiration from the sugar rush of Empire of the Sun’s feel-good hit “Walking on a Dream” (check out the “Empire Remix” of “New People”) as from a classic Lalo Schifrin soundtrack. The roster of former Seattle Sonics or observations about Fox New commentators may provide the springboard for their next round of poetic musing.
Meanwhile, Blue Scholars are constantly churning out new missives as quickly as the inspiration hits them, disseminated via the Internet. Whether provoked by current events like the passage of Arizona’s Immigration Law SB1070 (“Joe Arpaio,” credited to Geo’s alter-ego Prometheus Brown), or contemplating how the Future went from a sparkling wonderland of flying cars and personal jet packs to a post-apocalyptic wasteland shot in shades of ash and bone (“Paul Valéry”), Blue Scholars react to real events in real time—with music that sounds fresh because it is.
Since 2002, Blue Scholars have been based in the 98118, decreed the most ethnically diverse zip code in America by the 2010 Census. Like the greater Seattle region, that neighborhood embodies the multi-cultural miasma that spawned Blue Scholars, the joining of forces between an Iranian DJ/producer and a Filipino rapper. These are dudes who nourish their bodies with Vietnamese coffee, Ethiopian injera, and steaming bowls of phở. Thanks to music, they have mingled with guests at a party hosted by renown glass artist Dale Cihuly, and conducted workshops at a Colorado juvenile detention center.
“I feel very lucky,” admits Sabzi. “So many people are in their own fishbowl, thinking they know what the world is, but never get the opportunity to see anything beyond their immediate environment. We’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to establish real human connections with people we’ve discovered aren’t really any different from us, because music has broken down the superficial barriers that would otherwise keep us apart.”
Blue Scholars actively contribute to the global community of artists and freethinkers in myriad ways. Drawing on Jamaican dancehall culture and the increasingly popular medium of artist mix tapes, Sabzi makes the instrumental foundations of all their songs available as individual riddims, to be adopted and adapted by whomever cares to use his beats. Meanwhile, every time they hook up with another artist, be it Seattle rapper Macklemore (Sabzi’s reworking of his Emerald City celebration “The Town” extended the shelf life of an already hugely popular joint) or Los Angeles’ Bambu, their network expands. New fans find Blue Scholars via new points of entry, and in turn, Blue Scholars discover more fodder for their imaginations.
Towards that end, and meeting more kindred spirits in the real world, Sabzi currently divides his time between New York and Seattle. How has that impacted Blue Scholars’ creative process? Not at all. Even as students at the University of Washington, where they first met and began making music together, Sabzi and Geologic were using the Internet as an integral part of their routine. The former would make a beat, upload it to the server, his partner would download it and write rhymes… and then they’d record together. They do the same thing today, just across bigger geographical distances.
Since 2002, the duo has become renowned live show veterans, rocking over 400 shows with the likes of Kanye West, De La Soul, Nas, Common, and supporting such acts on tour Zion-I, Hieroglyphics, and the Coup on tour. They’ve also played labor organizing conferences and youth-run community center shows, the main stage at Sasquatch! (2006 & ‘08) and Bumbershoot (2006), and in 2007 headlined their own Northwest Hip Hop festival, “The Program,” which sold out five nights in a row. Their discography includes the albums Blue Scholars (2004) and Biyani (2007), as well as the EPs The Long March (2005), Joe Metro (2007), BUTTER&GUN$ (2008), and OOF! (2009).
But enough about the past. What are Blue Scholars doing right now? Find out for yourself at www.bluescholars.com.