1/2 (out of five)
The Blue Scholars' third album is a success at the level of the raps but mixed at the level of the beats. Geo is the rapper; Sabzi is the producer. The two are core members of Seattle's flourishing underground community, and until the recent spectacular rise of Macklemore, they were Seattle's predominant post-Sir-Mix-A-Lot act.
Cinémetropolis represents something like a new beginning or cycle for Blue Scholars. To begin with: It is the first record they have self-released since their self-titled debut in 2004. To middle with: It was produced and is being marketed outside of traditional arrangements—for example, they raised funding with Kickstarter. And to end with: Sabzi now lives in New York City, and so this is the Blue Scholars' first SEA/NYC record. To make things clear, we can organize the Blue Scholars' career into two parts: The first movement, 2004–2009, is its Massline moment. The new movement, which Cinémetropolis inaugurates, is too new to define and classify. The future of Blue Scholars is unknown.
This, however, is what we do know about Cinémetropolis. It's packed with 15 tracks and organized around three themes: Seattle, political activism, and cinema. The first two themes, Seattle and radical politics, dominated the previous LPs and EP. The new record introduces cinema. But this addition is not out of the blue; its source is Geo's film criticisms and strong grasp of Filipino film history. The cinema theme is the king of the album. When rapping about screens, directors, actors, classics, and blockbusters, Geo is at the top of his game. Indeed, the opening track, "Cinémetropolis," and the closing track, "Fin," are the album's highest peaks. (The third, "Yuri Kochiyama," is simply vintage Blue Scholars. You enjoy "Yuri" in the way you enjoy something that has aged well.)
But there is a problem with this record. Sabzi's beats do not seem to share Geo's enthusiasm, which at times hits an epic pitch. Sabzi did not put everything into this record, and a comparison with his NYC project, Made in Heights (Sabzi with singer Kelsey), makes this apparent. Made in Heights' Winter Pigeons (2010) boasts the kind of bold beats and cinematic effects that Cinémetropolis is missing. Geo embraces the concept (movie metro) and brilliantly theorizes about motion pictures, the star system, and the French New Wave. Sabzi's embrace of the concept, however, is not as inspired and committed. The good news about the new Blue Scholars is Geo; the not-so-good news is Sabzi.