Ah, another new album from Rawkus records. This is the label that was solely responsible for turning many fans on to quality hip hop in the late nineties. Their first two Soundbombing compilations were like the indie hip-hop Old and New Testament; providing a who’s who of the top ‘underground’ talent New York had to offer. A lot has changed since then, and long gone are the days of L-Fudge and Reflection Eternal singles flying off the shelves at your local vinyl spot. And until the new Blue Scholars full length came along, many were ready to nail the Rawkus coffin shut, deeming its “magnificent return” nothing more than a big fat flop. But oh no, these two dudes from Seattle had to come along and drop some serious heat, and now this critic has to tell you why this album is dope, instead of ragging on Rawkus for another few hundred words.
First of all, if you are a first generation Rawkus fan, you need to throw your preconceived notions of the ‘Rawkus’ sound to the wind, because 8 years after their original collapse, things were bound to change. Actually, this album sounds more Rhymesayers than Rawkus, but enough of the label semantics? Blue Scholars is Geologic on the mic and Sabzi on the boards. The formula is pretty much the same for each song: midtempo new school boom bap with three verses of laid back, conscious rhymes. No guest spots or skits here, just two men out to show and prove. And that’s exactly what they do.
In terms of production, there isn’t one song where Sabzi half steps. He runs the gamut of instrumentation, chopping strings, keys and horns with flawless precision. His talents result in an album consistently laced with melodic headnodders, and Sabzi never goes the Mannie Fresh route trying to outshine his vocalist. Thankfully Geologic is up to the challenge, delivering verse after verse of social commentaries that flaunt his lyrical prowess on the mic. He is one of the most content-focused emcees I have heard in years, never relying on lowbrow punchlines or grandiose hooks to win the respect of fans. His verse content deals with a variety of topics, from the fresh take on an anti-war song on “Back Home”, to the evocative and heart-wrenching tale of an immigrant in the U.S. on “The Distance”.
The only downside lyrically is that Geologic’s cadence doesn’t really vary throughout the album, but his content is so relevant and poignant it often doesn’t matter. Bayani is a headphone masterpiece that won’t be finding its way onto the dance floor, but it’s clear that wasn’t their intent. The ultra punchy “North by Northwest” would probably work as the best single cut to check out, if you are curious about Blue Scholars. It’s horn stabs and chopped vocal samples will provoke instead simply get the head nodding, and it doesn’t carry the somber undertones found on the majority of the tracks on this album. On Bayani, Blue Scholars prove that perhaps there is a bright future ahead for Rawkus records, as long as they are the ones carrying the torch.
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