The
West Coast has a long list of representatives, but many view throwing up the
‘W’ as a distinctly-Californian phenomenon. Proudly waving the flag for the
less-renowned Northwest, Seattle duo Blue Scholars are bringing some
much-needed shine to the rain-soaked streets that they call home. In 2004,
Blue Scholars
emerged from the birthplace of grunge music with a jazzy and
progressive self-titled debut. With the release of Bayani, their more
ambitious and advanced sophomore effort, emcee Geologic and producer Sabzi
are once again calling attention to the left-coast’s northern sector.

Bayani exhibits vibrant Hip Hop
drawn from the Blue Scholars‘ hometown and colored by the pressing
influence of their heritage. Both members have immigrant parents — Geologic‘s
Filipino, Sabzi‘s Iranian — and those ethnic ties remain strong. In
fact, Bayani is a tribute to worldly sounds, working-class empowerment
and post-colonial plight. It relays downtrodden sensibilities through refined
and noble channels. Over the electronic hum of “Opening Salvo,” Geologic
sends a dedication to his Third World kin by rhyming, “Now this here’s for
those who chose fights whose fruits might never not ripen until after their
life.”

Expressing empathy with oppressed
people is a constant theme of Bayani, both lyrically and musically. From
the protest cry of “50,000 Deep”
to the title track’s wrenching instruments, the album plays as a continuous
song of struggle. Common once rapped that “if revolution had a movie, I’d be theme music.” Well, Sabzi‘s
keen use of dynamic melodies and drums could serve as a fitting soundtrack to
the sequel. His bass-brimming rhythms and soul-strumming music set an exotic,
highly-emotional tone on several songs. “Loyalty”
benefits from a lush mix of vocoder effects, harmonic singing, fragile piano
keys and reverberating drums. Geologic pens the script to another
rich-sounding epic on “Fire For the
People.” The emcee’s relaxed but compelling delivery flourishes
over the upbeat musical backing. Ambient sounds come and go at opportune
points, allowing him to rap, “No flagwavin’, celebratin’ your invasion/You
call it Thanksgiving, we call it things taken.”

Geologic‘s emotive lyrics and Sabzi‘s
lavish compositions form a clever team. Their musical pick-and-roll proves to
be a winning act on the slow-moving “The
Distance.” Similar results occur on “Back Home,” which features Geo condemning the Iraq War
and commenting, “Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy is looking like the street
we named after him.”
This natural chemistry between lyricist and beatsmith
rarely falters. Aside from the uneventful “Ordinary Guys,” a track that is a bit too serene, the Scholars
mostly deliver quality results on all fronts. The duo brings classic
blue-collar ethics, spiked with a proud Third World slant, and combines them
with the intelligence supposedly reserved for a white-collar education.

Blue Scholars fashion themselves as
champions of the disadvantaged, and this album is an apt platform to prove that
point. According to the group, the word “bayani” means both “heroes of the
people” in Tagalog (Filipino) and “the word” in Farsi. Regardless of the
language spoken, Bayani is a collection sure to speak to anyone in
search of music with substance.