Summer Music Knockout
IN THIS CORNER: BOOM BAP PROJECT
The Boom Bap Project comprises Karim, Destro, and DJ Scene of the Portland/Seattle Oldominion crew. They're signed to the Minneapolis-based Rhyme-sayers label, home also to Seattle acts Grayskul and Vitamin D. Reprogram, Boom Bap Project's first full-length CD, features production from Seattle's big three (Jake One, Vitamin D, Bean One), Mr. Hill, and Jumbo the Garbage Man (of Lifesavas). Guest MCs Gift of Gab (Blackalicious) and Rakaa Iriscience (Dilated Peoples) also appear.
With this cast, Reprogram can't help being stellar, and its title cut is one of Vitamin D's most magical creations. Most of the CD is conscious of the city in which it was made, but "Reprogram" critiques Seattle's techno culture. The song is addressed to a software engineer who, because of his financial power, is now also a social engineer. "Reprogram," which has elegant space effects, a melancholy melody, and a velvety soul hook by Choklate, wants Seattleites to be reprogrammed to allow them more personal space for creative development. No other American city could produce a rap group that imagines power in these dark and digital terms; it's a world where keyboards-rather than whips or boob tubes-control humans.
IN THIS CORNER: BLUE SCHOLARS
Blue Scholars' self-titled CD is being re-released with four new tracks consistent with the group's progressive program. The Blue Scholars (rapper Geologic and DJ Sabzi) are one of the only local rap groups who don't separate their politics (content) with their music (form).
The group's political commitment is matched by a strong commitment to place-to Seattle's streets and neighborhoods, particularly the University District. Their new track "The Ave" is not only about the life that streams through that corridor of restaurants and stores, but is also composed of samples from LPs purchased on the Ave. The group's masterpiece, however, is "Inkwell," which is both hiphop art and social document-a local history of rap "since big butts and teen spirit" dropped in the early '90s. The track has a delicious Latin guitar lick and a booming drum loop that offers Geologic firm ground on which to travel from past to present.
I met with Boom Bap Project's Karim and Blue Scholars's Sabzi and Geologic at Cafe Septieme to discuss the current state of hiphop in this "place where we live now," Seattle. An edited version of the conversation follows.
GEOLOGIC: The Blue Scholars are very aware of Seattle as an environment and also as a hiphop scene. Every time we have a show elsewhere, more than anything else we are listening to Do the Math, to [K Records'] Classic Elements compilation. I actually think that the hiphop that was coming out of Seattle in the mid to late '90s was on par with, if not better than, the stuff coming out nationally. So I don't think there is a real break from what was happening then to what's happening now.
Local hiphop is one of my biggest influences. For a while I used think: Is this track tight because it's made in Seattle? Am I just supporting local hiphop because it is my duty to support local hiphop? But know I have gone beyond that: I think Seattle is tight because it is tight.
KARIM: What's happening today with local hiphop has a lot to do with the producers [Bean One, Jake One, Vitamin D]. People are coming to Seattle because we got a hot sound. And we [Boom Bap Project] feel that we can build on that sound. We have been waiting for that happen for a long time.
GEOLOGIC: But the local hiphop scene is not just about hiphop. I think, whether we like it or not, we are all affected by the strength of the local indie-rock scene. We have to work with it and somehow be a part of it, as well as being our own scene.
SABZI: It's not like we have worked with a rock group directly, but as far as getting new listeners we've had to perform with bands like Gatsby's American Dream. There are certainly ears out there that can cross genres, and instead of acting like they are not there we have tried to open up to them.
KARIM: What Seattle has to do is just make good hiphop music... For us [Boom Bap Project] it's basically about making music with banging beats. Don't worry about the music that is popular right now, just step up the level of the game and make sure it's tight.
SABZI: [It's] time to get on the international stage. And that's done by cleaning up our sound, releasing better records. Our first release was done with no real expectations. We were just releasing it because we wanted... to test the waters. But to our surprise, the city responded to it. [Blue Scholars' self-released CD has sold over 5,000 copies.] And now we can't go back. We just have to get better.
THE VICTOR: SEATTLE
If Seattle hiphop is going to blow up, it's going to happen soon. The Boom Bap Project and the Blue Scholars are part of the hiphop revolution that will transform the sound of our city for years to come.