In the Upper Left, the Blue Scholars are known as frontiersmen. Pioneers who boldly blazed the trail for all other Seattle emcees in the wake of the Teen Dance Ordinance. One DJ and one MC, Sabzi was the gifted, multitalented musician and deejay whose instrumentals provided the canvas for the charismatic Geologic (aka Prometheus Brown) to paint pictures with his revolutionary rhetoric.
But often lost in the conversation of the Scholars' prominent role in resurrecting Seattle hip hop--hidden behind the unjust slights of "backpack" or "conscious"--is the fact that George Quibuyen is one of the most gifted storytellers, not just among Seattle emcees or within hip hop circles, but among some of the most distinguished contemporary authors.
In the matter of a few bars and verses, Geo uses his gift with words to evoke detailed, beautiful, relatable short stories. He manages to slip in messages about social justice, but because of the stunning Sabzi soundscapes and the personified structure of his verses, it rarely feels forced or preached.
While stalwarts like "The Ave," "No Rest For The Weary," and nearly every song off Bayani (particularly "Joe Metro" and "The Distance") provide the better known illustrations of this gift, one of my favorite examples is the often overlooked "Sagaba" off the group's self-titled debut.
In the hands of a lesser emcee, "Sagaba" could just be a song about macking on a cute Filipina, but over the course of the first handful of bars, Geo uses his clever rhymes, alliteration, and imagery to paint a vivid picture in the listener's mind:
Sister sits on the steps,
Cigarette rests on fingertips,
Takes a sip of slow death deftly through her lips,
She blows a kiss,
Which I can only resist in vain,
She got the gift of gravity pulling to ask her name,
She says, "Sagaba."
Through his interactions we are presented with this real character who is at once an amalgam of the women in Geo's life and refuses to be considered as anything other than a unique individual (She replied, / That just because I knew a woman well it doesn't mean I know them all, / She begins to feign farewell).
In three brief verses, through his little descriptions of her actions and words, we are able to build a picture of her in our mind that simultaneously captures her weariness, her battle-scars, her daily struggle, her shielded loneliness, her experienced wit, her profound knowledge, her brave strength, and finally her bold hope and love. In relating these qualities, the fictional character becomes a real vessel representative not only of the women in his life, but of the narrator's own hopes and desires.
The story and song is a clear favorite of the Scholars and was the only one that they revisited on The Long March EP (the follow-up to their self-titled debut). I prefer the original version though. Geo is backed by a barebones, but endearing repeated flute and drum sample that Sabzi chops up during verses and lets breathe in between (in a way, the whistling, elongated flute sample provides the instrumental chorus on a song without a spoken one).
Among emcees, the only artist that I can think to compare Geo's gift to is Slug of Atmosphere's masterful vivid depictions (see "Always Coming Back To You," "Don't Ever Fucking Question That," etc.). I was pleasantly surprised to find that, upon listening to Blue Scholars for the first time in a couple years today, I still knew every single word to every song on the first spin. Sabzi and Geo deserve equal acclaim for the Scholars' success, but were it not for Geo's words and fire, they wouldn't be a group that would keep drawing listeners back.
Peace, Love, & Hip Hop,
P.S. For all NY-residing, NW-natives, I highly recommend copping a ticket to see the Blue Scholars in Brooklyn this Friday.