Blue Scholars is two decks, two mics and two men. Geo is the second son of working-class Filipino immigrants, has a son, works days at the Wing Luke Asian Museum and writes rhymes at night. Sabzi is Persian, follows the Baha’i faith, and, in addition to his time behind the decks, does some minor hustling during the day. They recently re-released their first album with additional songs and a music video and they seem in no hurry to release a follow-up. They are, however, more than happy to talk about their success, beginning, and how it all fits in the current social climate. Tablet caught up with the Blue Scholars at Fort St George restaurant in the heart of the International District.
What were you doing when you started Blue Scholars?
Geo: We had a sort of hustler mentality. Maybe because we were college students and there are certain privileges you’re afforded when you’re a college student, but we didn’t have to hustle on the under. Well, I think Sabzi did.
Sabzi: I did. And I’m about to get back into the game, dude.
Geo: You can’t talk about it then; various black market things. You know a lot of rappers like to talk about these black market things that they do, but we don’t because we’re afraid there might be legal repercussions. So we’ll just say that we had to get by in other ways. No life threatening things, and not seriously criminal things, but things like me and Marc [Matsui, Manager of the Blue Scholars] used to write for various publications, obviously to get paid for writing, but also to exploit the hell out of free music. Being a music fan, and fulfilling the role of a music fan, to be in the scene costs money, man. We had to go around other ways. But it started to translate into actually making music, because that isn’t what we were doing when we met.
Sabzi: That’s what I was doing.
Geo: We were individually. I was writing rhymes, Sabzi was making beats, Marc was promoting shows and DJing on the side. We used to hustle on the individual level to sustain our love for this hip hop music and we didn’t care. Even to this day, we still kinda have this mentality. We do this shit first and foremost because it’s fun, and not some individualistic, happy-go-lucky fun, but fun in a way that connects you with other people, that connects you with an audience, with other people who enjoy music the same way that you do, with people you might otherwise not connect with. That’s what got us started. Even when we dropped the first CD, we didn’t think it was going to be some serious shit. We approached it really light-hearted, just to get our foot in the door. Now we’re in a transitional period, where we realize that we want to hang onto the spirit that brought us together, which is to do it and connect with folks, but now a little bit of the hustler in us is catching up, which means that we have to be on point.
It’s been a hell of a year for Blue Scholars. You’ve re-released the album. You’re blowing up big Seattle-side.
Sabzi: We just listen to the people of Seattle. If they say, “Yeah, you’ve made it,” then we’ve made it.
Geo: Like Sabzi said, for example, with this recent re-release, it was the very first time in the history of the Blue Scholars at one of our home shows that we actually had some fucking food in the back.
Do you think Blue Scholars will go national?
Sabzi: I think what we’re going to do is move to another city and do the same thing all over again. Release the same album and do a bunch of interviews like this with all the local papers. Replace all the references to Seattle and Ballard with Sacramento and LA.
Geo: The flip side to that is that we’ve already encountered some particular things. The Seattle references don’t catch on as much in other cities, obviously. So it’s actually affecting the content of our work. We still want to rep for the city, but if we have a national audience in mind, we have to start reaching other themes that folks outside the city can relate to.
How would you feel about signing with a major label?
Sabzi: People associate the idea of a major label with something inherently good or inherently bad, but that’s not the case. That’s the way we have to treat it. If they approach us with a deal, one that’s in our best interest, we’ll do it.
I had the misfortune of listening to KUBE on the way down. Do you think that even if you got on a major label that you’d get exposure?
Sabzi: There’s a lot more levels in the music industry than it appears to many folks. I mean, I don’t know if there’s room for us on Clear Channel. KUBE is Clear Channel-owned media. Unfortunately, Seattle has not yet had a group of folks that have been able to wrestle programming power back. For instance, in the [San Francisco] Bay area, a place notorious for its fantastic DJs, those fantastic DJs actually work at the radio station, and they have to listen to public opinion. If Clear Channel went down there and ignored what the public wanted, no one would listen to their stuff. Whereas here, Seattle is one of the last places to break mainstream music.
Geo: That used to not be the case. Seattle used to be the test market. Seattle was one of the first places, outside of California, that Jurassic Five and Dilated Peoples got exposure. Even back in the day, I remember, maybe I was fooled by all the propaganda, and all the stations were claiming this, DJs on KUBE were saying that they were the first to blow up artists like Tupac outside California. I think it was around the time that Clear Channel bought KUBE that the programming took a drastic change. KUBE, you know what? Fuck KUBE. I’ll say it.
Like Sabzi was saying, once a station becomes a subsidiary of a larger corporation its primary function is to make money. That’s the bottom line, that’s it. Which is not to say that it entirely shuts out the possibilities for an underground or independent artist. For example, in the Bay, local cats can get some play on there. Reason being is that they cannot afford to ignore the local market down there. Up here they can. They can, they will, and they will tell you to your face that there’s no incentive for them to play our shit. Hopefully, that changes.
Sabzi: We’re trying to break that down, but it doesn’t happen through trying to convince the radio station. It’s not like, “Come on, man, please. Have a change of heart, play our shit, please.” You have to have their ratings go down as a result of them not playing local music for them to start playing local music.
Blue Scholars is three years old. Where do you want to be in ten years?
Sabzi: Making beats.
Geo: Ten years is such a long time. I was reflecting on this because I was thinking of ten years ago... ‘95, man. I was probably only one or two years into writing, still hadn’t even performed for the first time, Pac and Biggie were still alive. A lot can happen in ten years. I guess to be alive and healthy, first of all. Then beyond that, I hope that this music thing that we’re pursing will have manifested itself in a way that benefits the people around us, not just myself, Sabzi and Marc. I think a lot of people focus their success on how well they can do for themselves, or for their individual group, and that’s short-sighted. If we make it, and the community that we come from still has no positive changes, even on a small level, like me and Sabzi always talk about opening up a community youth center. In ten years, I hope that Blue Scholars are still making music and that there’s 25 Blue Scholars youth who are carrying the torch in what we’re trying to do. But we’re talking in a vacuum. There’s a lot of things in society that can happen in ten years. And the way things are going now, the political, the social, the economic climate in this country... it’s deteriorating. There’s obviously a class of folks who are benefiting, that you see in the media, that cover up a lot of the bad shit that’s happening. Even us, college graduates, when you were growing up, a college degree was supposed to be your ticket out of the working class into a salary and benefits.
Sabzi: Most of my family have lost their jobs. People thought they had it good, working as engineers, coming to this country, thinking “Yes, here, we’ll make more money than back home, and be able to provide!” But now they’re all unemployed.
Geo: It sucks, because it’s a constant contradiction how to sustain yourself financially. All directions are pointing towards you saying: Fuck the collective identity, pursue your own individual path, and I think that’s an empty pursuit. So ten years from now, I’d hope that this climate changes, that the conditions in this country change. Even “Newsweek” came out with a report saying that our generation is the first generation in all 230-plus years of American history that will accumulate less wealth in their lifetime than the previous generation. I think we are at a turning point in history. I’m sure that every generation has thought they were at an important point in time.
Sabzi: But we really are.
Geo: I think we can really look at the crisis of the global capitalist system and all signs are pointing to massive upheaval in the next generation or two. There’s no way this economy of exploitation can sustain itself once you have a completely globalized economy. A lot of previously prosperous nations profited from military defense and war, but what happens now with a globalized economy and there’s nowhere left to conquer? It’s getting serious. I’m not saying all art needs to be political, but that’s what we’re more interested in creating. I’m not interested in making music for people to dance to and escape from the world. But at the same time, we don’t want to depress anybody and just talk about [how] the world’s fucked up and we’re so depressed.
Sabzi: Seattle has enough of that.
Geo: We want to find that balance where we get to talk about real shit, but at the same time still give people some hope that there’s a better tomorrow. I’m sounding this way because I think about this a lot, especially when I look at my ten month old son; he’s about to start walking. I keep thinking, what’s the world going to look like when he’s my age? I think all parents have those interests in minds for their kids. There are a handful of people who are success stories, but the vast majority of folks chase this dream and find that it’s not bringing anything fruitful for them. Our generation deviated from this American Dream. Which is not to say we’ve lost all hope. It’s just a different American Dream. It’s one based on the well-being of the American people. Everything that is great about America has come from the people themselves. It’s not this idea of America, or some fucking flag, or some great idea of Westward expansion or having the greatest military in the world. You know, fuck all that. What I think is great about this country is that we’ve got a Japanese dude, a Persian dude, a white dude and a Filipino dude sitting in the International District building on something that connects them culturally.
Blue Scholars perform at Bumbershoot Friday, September 2 at 6:30pm at the What’s Next Stage.