While still on my continuing education on hip-hop, I was able to get a hold of a copy of the Blue Scholars’ latest full-length album entitled Bayani. (Thanks to our friends in Seattle). The album reflects the political and cultural leanings of the two members of the Scholars: Filipino rapper Geologic and Iranian DJ Sabzi. Bayani in the Philippine Tagalog dialect means “hero”. In the Persian language Farsi, Bayani means “divine word”.
Blue Scholars are conscious or progressive hip-hop at its best.
In the US, the Blue Scholars have not kept their politics a secret; joining mass actions against the US war on terror, repressive immigration laws and human rights violations in the Philippines. Check out “A day in the life of the Blue Scholars” to see what I mean.
Last July 23 at the time of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address, the Scholars joined Filipino protesters in the Los Angeles in picketing the Philippine consulate there. They brought their own sound system and turntables during the picket.
The Scholars have come a long way from their self-titled album, this time with a more mature (politically and musically) recording that reaffirms their status as one of Seattle’s best hip-hop acts. Their prominence and social involvement has gotten the attention even of the Associated Press.
Bayani is intense as it is solid, down-to-earth and still profound, sharp yet with grooves. True enough, the album can very well be considered a tribute to heroes and a masterwork that has soul.
Featuring 15 tracks, the album explores issues such as migration and immigration, US soldiers in Iraq, mass demonstrations, human rights violations in the Philippines, struggles for liberation and the duo’s life in the States. The opening track features a Baha’i “healing prayer” that was chanted then merged subtly with funky wah-wah’s before it segued into another track.
The classically-trained Sabzi is responsible for the tunes and the beats, weaving melodies that can be considered simple yet possessing an undeniable hook. No tune sounds remotely the same. It’s like the guy can write an entire movie soundtrack and still have plenty to go around for the sequels.
Tracks like Second Chapter and the title track Bayani feature interesting and innovative melodies which I did not realize was possible in rap albums, but somehow fit perfectly into the groove of the Blue Scholars. The music on “Morning of America” on the other hand gave me an 80’s flashback. The horn sections in the other tracks were also refreshing.
Geo has matured considerably in his writing, taking on issues with a deeper understanding and sharper perspective. “The Distance” is one such track where his poetry blossoms beyond the agit-prop verses. One can still find righteous anger in Geo’s lyrics, perhaps more subdued in some tracks. Maybe not the raw outrage of his earlier work in “Blink”, but still potent nonetheless.
Intense emotions do show in the track Opening Salvo when he tells his young son “hold your head up, if they ever take me from you, and please tell them that I tried, don’t cry, coz no matter where you are, our struggle’s nearby.”
There are hard-hitting tracks such as 50K Deep (the Battle of Seattle), “Fire for the People” and the anthemic “Back Home” (US troops abroad). Then there is the reflective piece called “The Distance” which talks about the plight of immigrants torn from their homeland.
If there is any way for the Blue Scholars to perform in the Philippines, we should start thinking about it.