Blue Scholars bring activist hip-hop back to Hawai’i

Jess Kroll

Boasting activist lyrics on par with The Coup and Dead Prez and soulful beats like a West Coast equivalent of Pete Rock and early A Tribe Called Quest, Blue Scholars have carved out a distinct place among underground hip-hop. Hailing from Seattle, Washington, the duo have forgone the entrapments of major record label politics in favor the do-it-yourself, grassroots spirit that their music advocates. What else could be expected from a group whose name is a reference to both the working class and those who seek to enlightenment?

After a successful trio of Hawai'i stops last July, including an all-ages show at the University of Hawai'i and an appearance at the Bring the Noise fundraiser for Youth Speaks Hawai'i, the Scholars are returning to the islands for a New Year's Eve concert at Pipeline Café.

Over the course of two full-length albums and 3 EPs, the pair has painted vivid portraits of people and subjects largely ignored in American music: from the plight of immigrants to a personal account of the 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization. Rapper Geologic, the son of Filipino immigrants, dedicates his lyrics to taking on social and political issues with the perspective of someone raised in the working class and the flair of one brought up through poetry slams. Producer/DJ Sabzi, of Iranian descent, crafts solid, head-nodding hip-hop beats with the ear of a jazz pianist. Their most recent full length album, Bayani (a combination of the Tagalog word meaning "heroes of the people" and the Persian "Bayan" meaning "the word"), has spawned three music videos: "Back Home," calling for support of the troops by ending the war, "Joe Metro," a salute to the local bus service and those who ride on it, and "Loyalty," a thank you note to their fans and affirmation of past and future action.

The Scholars bring credit to their music by being actively involved with organizations such as Bayan USA, a coalition of organizations working to further Filipino independence, and touring to raise money for families of victims of human rights violations. But beyond the sentiment there is the music itself, as the group has opened for and shared stages with such hip-hop luminaries as De La Soul, Slick Rick, The Gza, MURS, Hieroglyphics, Mos Def, Kanye West, Masta Ace, Immortal Technique and Nas.

Their Hawai'i shows serve as a second homecoming for Geologic, who spent three years as a Hawai'i resident, and the group has performed their song, "808 Love," to audiences both on and off the islands.

Blue Scholars at Pipeline Café, December 31, 2008, 8 p.m., $35-45,