Back in 2004, the unknown Seattle hip-hop duo DJ/producer Sabzi and MC Geologic - better known as Blue Scholars - had just released their self-titled debut. They had played their first show in Portland. And wanted to push the new project but couldn't find anyone willing to let them open in Seattle. A friend attending Evergreen State College, who went by the stage name of Macklemore, got them on a shared bill.
"Olympia was actually the very first city that we sold our first CD, then Seattle later that month," rapper Geologic says, on the phone from Los Angeles.
Selling CDs hasn't been a problem since. Either has finding a receptive venue.
The Blue Scholars have embarked on their first nationwide headlining tour, a monstrous 33-city excursion spanning two months in support of their "visual soundtrack" Cinémetropolis. The tour commenced Tuesday in Vancouver, B.C. and will end Nov. 11 at New York's famed Bowery Ballroom. The Blue Scholars will return to the city of their first sale when they play The Royal Lounge on Thursday, Sept. 22.
The tour underscores Blue Scholars' independent success, one made possible by an ever-expanding nationwide fan base. After lukewarm partnerships with underground labels Rawkus and Duck Down for past releases, Cinémetropolis was funded by an overwhelmingly successful Kickstarter campaign.
The tour also brings equal focus to touring partner Bambu. Even though the tour is named for Blue Scholars' most recent full-length LP, the LA-based Native Guns rapper shares top billing. Both members of Blue Scholars have separately recorded with Bambu, with Geo and Bam dropping a 10-song collection less than a month after Cinémetropolis' release. The collection, Prometheus Brown and Bambu Walk Into A Bar, stands in sharp contrast to Cinémetropolis. Northwest producers Vitamin D, Just D'Amato, MTK, and Budo lace street-wise Bam and sagely Prometheus Brown, aka Geo, with soulful bangers. Sabzi appears once on a closing remix of Bambu's "Slow Down" and his cheerful, sample-less electronics sound out of place when listening to the album as a whole: the synthesizers, along with the quick drum lines and rigid hand slaps, leave a metallic sheen on an otherwise throwback effort.
"My favorite shit is still and always will be '90s-era hip-hop. No matter how long it's been since that era, that's what I carry with me," Geo says. The album's sound is more aligned with the soul and jazz sample-based compositions of Blue Scholars' earlier releases, and the group's rapping half feels he needed those beloved sounds on the side when working with more progressive beats.
"I wouldn't have been able to make Walk Into a Bar if it wasn't for the experience of making an album like Cinémetropolis, and vice versa," he says. "I wouldn't have been able to make Cinémetropolis if I hadn't had an outlet for making Golden Era hip-hop that I appreciate."
Sabzi has his own side projects as well, including production work for NYC trio Das Rascist and Seattle young emcees Brothers From Another. Sabzi's most notably side project might be Made In Heights with New York-based singer Kelsey Bulkin. Released in early September, the 11-track EP Aporia: In These Streets furthers Made in Heights's self-described "mythical filth pop" with Sabzi's dreamy, even ambient tones. It could be said just as Geo found a middle ground on Cinémetropolis between progressive and tried-and-true sounds, so did Sabzi.
The here and now
Even with the side project releases, Blue Scholars have plenty in store for Cinémetropolis. The "Slick Watts" video will coincide with the tour (a short film in collaboration with Sonicsgate was released earlier this summer) and a video with Macklemore's go-to director Zia Mohajerjasbi is in the works.
Jon Augustavo has directed the video for "Seijun Suzuki," a song that features Geo rapping, "Spittin' writtens for a livin', we do this everyday."
In 2004, Olympia provided the first transaction toward making the Blue Scholars's dream of playing music for a living possible. Now, the whole country is in on the action.
Blue Scholars and Bambu
Thursday, Sept. 22, door at 9 p.m.
$15 advance at brownpapertickets.com
The Royal Lounge, 311 Capitol Way N., Olympia
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