Saturday, February 11, 2012

February 11: Blue Scholars, "Blue Scholars"

Artist: Blue Scholars
Album: Blue Scholars
Year: 2004
Label: independently released

As the 2000's began, it was nothing short of outright depressing to see the overly-predictable and largely uninspiring world that the hip-hop genre had become.  Dominated by songs and artists that seemed far more concerned with placing as much bass as possible on a track, and adding over it a smattering of meaningless lyrics that were often nothing short of offensive to listeners in terms of how low quality the rhymes were.  With the rise of digital downloads, this trend seemed to be set to get even worse, as the idea of making a complete album was being dumped in favor of creating just one single, and for a majority of true hip-hop fans, the mainstream sound had little to offer.  Thankfully, at any point in history where the dominant sound has become so lost in itself, there has been an underground movement that has served as a vital space for amazing artistry and for the true form of the style to thrive.  In the case of this era of hip-hop, some of the most promising sounds were coming from a rather unexpected place: Seattle, Washington.  Having been known as the "hotbed" for the "grunge" movement a decade earlier, the city was boasting some of the most vibrant and fresh hip-hop sounds in years, and at at the front of this movement were a duo going by the name Blue Scholars, and their 2004 self-titled debut remains easily one of the finest records that has come from the world of hip-hop in recent memory.

Perhaps the main element that sets Blue Scholars so far beyond their peers is the fact that there is such a wide range of musical diversity to be found in their songs.  While the album has a very cohesive feel throughout, each song has its own distinctive personality, and this is due to phenomenal vision and talents of one half of the group, producer and DJ Sabzi.  Whether he is bringing beautiful guitar progressions or some of the hardest hitting beats one can find anywhere, it is the balance Sabzi finds on each of these arrangements that serves as a reminder to the "music" part of the term, "hip-hop music."  At the same time, while the orchestrations are both unique and completely compelling, Sabzi sacrifices none of the core elements of the hip-hop style, and each of these tracks can easily hit just as hard as the rather copycat sounds that one will find in "top forty" hip-hop songs.  Furthermore, he shows a range in ability beyond nearly any other producer in history when he brings the mood down to a far more intimate feel at the center of the album.  It is the fact that even in these more refined, melodic moments, the overall mood and flow of the album is never lost that one can truly appreciate the exceptional talents of Sabzi, and few records from any point in hip-hop history have shown such consistent quality as one finds on every moment of the music across Blue Scholars.

Working perfectly in every musical arrangement and mood, Blue Scholars emcee Geologic quickly makes his case as one of the most original and outright talented rappers of his entire generation.  At every turn, his voice has a power and presence that cannot be ignored, and he also manages to have a pull within his words that draw the listener in deeper and deeper.  There is not a moment on Blue Scholars where his vocals seem in the least bit forced or unnatural, and it is the way that these rhymes flow so effortlessly that cements his place as an exceptional emcee.  While there is no getting past his fantastic tone, one can easily make the case that the true draw of the talents of Geologic lies within his absolutely phenomenal writing skills.  Much like the range in the sounds over which he raps, Geologic is able to present a wide range in themes and feelings within his rhymes, and this diversity in subject matter becomes the ideal finishing touch on an extraordinary record.  Whether he is reminiscing about his days growing up, extolling the virtues of the Pacific Northwest, or making some of the hardest hitting social critiques that have been heard in years, each rhyme is superb, and hip-hop music rarely sounds better than the words of Geologic.  It is the fact that he is able to hit so hard with his words, yet never take a sound that is overly-aggressive that proves his talents as an emcee, and there is no question that he carries the torch for the true spirit and purpose of the genre.

Though most are unaware, there are actually two different releases that one can find of Blue Scholars, and the track list varies slightly between them.  The original release of the record was in 2004, distributed independently and containing eleven tracks.  This version was only available in the Seattle area, but after a great demand, the record was given a national release, but variations were made.  First off, the album cover was changed from the "blue notebook" that was found on the original release.  Secondly, three songs were added onto the end of the album, and the opening track was slightly altered.  While the second release is far more common to find, regardless of which one hears, the overall quality and impact of the record is much the same.  The fact that the album has yet to be picked up by a label is turning out to seem like a rather purposeful effort by the group.  This is due to the fact that their most recent releases have been funded by internet-based campaigns, and one can also assume that due to their exceptional talents, any label seeking the best that true hip-hop music has to offer would be doing all they could to acquire publishing rights to the duo's sound.  Filled with some of the most diverse and beautiful musical arrangements that the hip-hop world has ever heard, along with equally captivating and impressive rhyming, the 2004 self-titled release from Blue Scholars remains one of the finest albums in years; and serves as a reminder as to the quality one should demand within the hip-hop genre.

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