Here's a situation described by former Mobb Deep MC Prodigy on his new CD, Return of the Mac: "I sit alone in a dirty-ass room/staring at candles, alone with my hand on a MAC-10 handle/scheming on you niggas...."

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Most people rarely find themselves in such a situation—high, alone in a room lit John Woo–like by candles, thinking about how to commit not one but several murders. Despite its real-world rarity, in the rap world, to have problems that can only be solved with automatic weapons is to have real problems. If you are shooting someone, or being shot at, that's keeping it real. And keeping it real has become a billion-dollar industry.

But what about the situations described by a rapper such as Geologic of Blue Scholars, a local and very popular crew? Being in the situation of bagging groceries, or trying to pay your electric bill, or drinking cheap booze to ease domestic strife? Those circumstances, according to the rap standard of our day, are not about reality. Even Russell Simmons, the cofounder of Def Jam, holds this opinion. During the recent media storm that fell on the rap industry due to Don Imus's racist/sexist comment ("nappy-headed hos"), Simmons stated on CNN that gangster rap is a clear mirror of reality.

That idea, of course, is utter rubbish. The mirror that would reflect reality as a man sitting around with a MAC-10 on his lap is not found in a house, but in a funhouse. What's more real, what you are most likely to experience as a human being in the world today, are the social and personal situations described on Bayani, Blue Scholars' second full-length album.

But before devoting this review to Geologic's politics and aesthetics of the Real (as opposed to the gangster real), let me state right away that Bayani stands as Blue Scholars' most impressive achievement. Though continuous with the duo's eponymous debut and 2005's The Long March EP, it has a sound design (form) and production (feel) that's much bolder, heavier, denser, and distinct. The influences on Sabzi's hiphop imagination can still be heard everywhere on the CD—Pete Rock and Vitamin D are in "Xenophobia," J Dilla is in the beat of the exquisitely beautiful "Joe Metro," and in the sound design of "Opening Salvo" we can see the richness of Jumbo the Garbageman. But the main part of what we hear on Bayani is downright original. For example, only Sabzi has the particular type of nerve (indeed, audacity) that's needed to push the vocoder into the operatic territory of "Loyalty," the third best track on Bayani. (The 15-track CD has a remarkable total of seven jewels and only one failure: "Morning of America.")

Also, Sabzi frequently begins his songs with a recognizable rhythm, but then gradually transforms it into something unrecognizable. The beat of "Joe Metro" has a great example of this approach: It opens with a J Dilla–like drop on the weakest beat, but by the 10th measure the rhythm has morphed into something that has no clear reference or influence.

Now back to Geologic. His raps for Bayani are much more serious than his raps on the debut, and less melancholy than the raps on The Long March. However, the one thing that has remained the same throughout is his socialist brand of the Real. Every track on the new and earlier CD is dedicated to one agenda: capture and communicate the substance of a consciousness shaped by an oppressive economic system. As the gangster rapper tries to get at the fantastic essence of being a gangster (waiting in a room with a MAC-10 in your hand and thinking about murder), Geologic works to get at the essence of being poor, working class, an immigrant, a person of color. He describes this type of paycheck-to-paycheck (or no-paycheck) existence in great detail, and then transforms these ordinary experiences into a spectacular political image and mission. And it is precisely this leap—from street realities to a political program—that the gangster rapper never makes.

Support The Stranger

With Blue Scholars, as with so many underground rappers in Seattle (Beyond Reality, dREDi, RA Scion), the realities of poverty or globalization are raised to the condition of a historical project that's on a long march to democratic socialism: utopia. recommended

charles@thestranger.com

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