Ideologically and musically, the link between these three acts is seamless. Blue Scholars make hip-hop that glorifies the tragic heroics of the world's trampled, voiceless proletariat class (BS's name sounds like "blue collars"). Common Market: ditto, except RA Scion raps faster than Geologic, and, down to the Bolshevik typeface and backwards R with which the group spells 'Market,' more like a communist. The same goes for Gabriel Teodros, who is maybe the only rapper alive actually rapping about ending homophobia and sexism in hip-hop.
Mass Line is made up of hip-hop artists who wish we all treated each other like brothers and sisters, and listening to either Blue Scholars' new album Bayani or Teodros' recent Lovework will sweep you up in visions of injustice, struggle and triumph of the human spirit on the long march toward a wistfully imagined utopia.
Beyond saying the same kinds of things, Mass Line artists make the same kinds of sounds, too. Sabzi does two-thirds of the beats, and he sounds like a competent imitator of A Tribe Called Quest/Common/The Roots producer J. Dilla. His tracks are melodic, pretty and sampled, but with an organic feel that emphasizes layered composition. He is the type of producer who grabs for a listener's soul, and his weapons are tried-and-true: crackling drums, horns and jazzy synth beds. Gabriel Teodros gets some Sabzi love, too, but mostly sticks with Seattle producer Amos Miller, a piano player-cum-mix master with a similarly jazzy touch. The common principle that unites Mass Line's beat selection is the hip-hop warm fuzzies, the idea that rock hard beat + careful sample = real hip-hop.
For those who hate hip-hop because it debases society -- Oprah, Cosby, O'Reilly, I'm looking at you -- Mass Line is a slam-dunk counterpoint. The most subversive thing Blue Scholars and Common Market might get kids to do is pick up some Marx, which, besides being educational, isn't nearly as illegal as it used to be. Gabriel Teodros, for his part, cares more about improving the self-image of America's children than most parents.
In Seattle, the Mass Line Media family is the sound of the city, or at least the sound of what the city aspires to be.
Blue Scholars, Common Market, Gabriel Teodros and DJ WD4D at Raw Sushi on Friday, May 18, at 10 pm. $5. Call 747-4266.