I can recall eating a particularly delicious lumpia once, sometime in 2003, in a long-gone spot in downtown Seattle called the Vesper Lounge—at the original CD release for the self-released, self-titled album from Seattle crew Blue Scholars. The beer was cold, the lumpia hot, and the stage was nonexistent; rather, it was a cleared-out space in a restaurant that held fewer than 100 people at best—but all present were excited to witness an intimate performance from what was clearly one of the city's most promising new groups.
Even then, the energy around Geologic and Sabzi, and their debut album, was palpable, their momentum undeniable—but nobody could have guessed that in five short years, the Scholars would be Seattle's (and arguably, the whole Northwest's) most visible hiphop act; and even that doesn't quite do them justice. The Scholars' emergence dovetailed with a long-hinted-at groundswell of a new generation of great hiphop music in the area, just as their own up-front political consciousness struck a chord with legions of students (and parents) who in turn became the vanguard of a fanbase that the scene had never before enjoyed. Blue Scholars' aim is not fame; rather, they hope to nurture yet another generation to push our region further.
Geo and Sabzi take their role as cultural curators damn seriously—last year they headlined The Program in Seattle, a sold-out, wall-to-wall five-night festival of the very cream of NW hiphop (naturally including PDX pillars Cool Nutz and Siren's Echo) that put our green corner's beats, rhymes, and life fully on blast. Via The Program and its exquisitely marketed wave of online hype and real-time streaming video, they succeeded in extending the entire region some good game—that remarkable net savvy has helped them infiltrate the consciousness of hiphop listeners nationwide and beyond. Indeed, the machine behind Blue Scholars and their label Mass Line Media is cannily efficient on a level rarely seen round these parts—inspiring likeminded artists to take note (or to just grumble on the sidelines).
Their progression is not just counted in the gushings of bloggers or those long hours logged on the road, either; the plaintive, oceanic sound bed and grim, determined raps of their sophomore album (first released in conjunction with NYC's Rawkus Records)—the critically acclaimed Bayani—signify artistic daring to match their over-scrutinized power moves. Instead of mere singles, the Scholars have kept the material fresh by releasing digital-only EPs that have whetted the appetite of fans old and new since Bayani dropped last year.
Gearing up to hit the road with the premier West Coast underground crew Hieroglyphics, and fresh off an appearance at the Sasquatch! Festival, the Blue Scholars head up an impressive lineup to benefit Portland-based nonprofit Music for the Schools. Geologic and Sabzi have made giving back—especially to hungry young folk—as much a part of their hiphop as kick, snare, and hi-hat. And somewhere, sometime, in some coffee shop or restaurant or wherever, some kid that learned from that example is going to make their start—and hopefully that lumpia's gonna be just as good.