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Chomsky Rap 

by ANDREW MATSON & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he 2005 release and subsequent popularization of Seattle rap duo Common Market's self-titled debut album was a major event in Seattle music. To many, it was not only the best local album that year -- it was different from everything else.





In the hip-hop scene, though, the reception was lukewarm. The album recalled a revival movement of yore and because Common Market is a socially conscious group even by so-called "conscious rap" standards. Rap fans, in short, thought it was the same as a lot of other stuff.





Both views are correct.





The exceptionally well-articulated lyrics on Common Market eagerly questioned authority and earnestly stressed all kinds of communitarian values, while DJ Sabzi's beats -- sober, studied efforts at updating Golden Era sounds, with organic drums and melodic samples of late-'80s/early-'90s hip-hop -- hammered home the point: This was Noam Chomsky rap with Mos Def soul.





CM also made a visual impact. Flyers and art were done in Bolshevik type with backwards "r" and "k" letters. MC Ra Scion looked the Communist rapper part: sleek, Danish-looking eyewear, Chinese Army style hats, new-school stalactite beard brushed down, then out, like Fidel Castro's.





The hat/glasses/beard combo was significant, freely designating intellectual-Commie accoutrements as cool rapper flair. It made Ra Scion a caricature.





In a quote on the album's cover sticker, KRS-One said, "RA Scion spits in the tradition of the conscious hip-hop movement... a true soldier for the preservation of hip-hop culture."





Scion and Sabzi were undeniably talented craftsmen, but Common Market amounted to a slick, dogmatic salutation to rap "kulture." Rap fans lusting after sonic novelty and innovation dismissed Common Market as well-intentioned but "played out," working in a style that, like Che Guevara T-shirts, died in 2001.





As a result, those signing up for the Common Market fan club tended to be suburban kids and neo-yuppies, people estranged from the rap community.





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & eattleites are white (70 percent) and educated enough (47 percent have a four-year degree) to know that they are expected to fear rap. But they're also self-aware enough to hate that expectation. Caught in conflict, they're bitter toward the art, wishing that some element of hip-hop spoke to them besides graffiti and breakdancing, which everyone likes.





When Common Market rolled around, hip-hop ceased to be the bogeyman. Finally, New York-sounding beats! At last, intellectual rap everyone can understand! Scion and Sabzi became new favorites for the passive-aggressive many.





And so it was that connecting with the many alienated the few, especially the kind of die-hard rap fan who believes hip-hop should on some level be confrontational and standoffish. People who want hip-hop to be party-starting, brain-food rebel music. People, in the deepest irony, who share basically the same values and ethos as Common Market themselves.





The problem is, Seattle rap fans are shortsighted in that they live in the bluest bit of a big-time blue state. They think Common Market isn't as revolutionary as it is.





Take CM re: hip-hop's long tradition of homophobia. For people who aren't around rap music -- don't listen to it and don't hang out with people who do -- homo-hate's prevalence in the mainstream and "underground" (sorry, kids, but Mos Def says "fag") seems alarmingly unchecked.





The addendum "no homo" is frequently used in discussions between rap fans, spoken after something is communicated that -- in a paranoid, ulterior universe -- might suggest the communicator is gay. People talk this way all the time, but on Ra Scion's new blog (www.rascion.wordpress.com), he instead captions a picture, "In-N-Out burger: you'll never eat dick's again (no homophobia)."





The sentiment is echoed in Ra Scion's lyrics, and this is partly why Seattle hip-hop (and hip-hop in general) needs Common Market. It's embarrassing that almost no rappers speak out for gay rights in such a supposedly liberal city. Ra Scion is maybe the only MC correcting this money/mouth disparity.





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & f Common Market's politics are easy to take for granted, so is its style. But since its debut, the group has changed that, too.


Ra Scion's toned down his Communist-chic look well beneath the limbo stick of embarrassment, and Sabzi's beats have grown from affected declarations of tradition to songs with their own identity.





With song titles like "Red Leaf" and "Bonanza, the excellent Black Patch War EP (just out last week; LP Tobacco Road follows this September) is a conceptually structured meditation on farms, wars, dynasties, legacies, Southern culture and its proliferation. Scion raps dense and fast, enunciating clearly but not caring whether the listener gets everything the first time.





It's an artistic statement for sure, packing a lot of poetry and zero feel-good vibes into seven tracks of rapid rap and the occasional double-time flow. Ra Scion isn't as preachy as he has been; instead, he tells stories riddled with metaphors and symbols. The beats are the best that Sabzi's done, and hang together as a unified piece laced throughout with organ. (Sabzi is quite the keys player.)





Gone are concessions to easy-listening warm-fuzzies. Black Patch War should blow up the same as Common Market -- it's still left-leaning alternative hip-hop with melodic smarts. But this time, there's far less slack in their mack. You'll either like it or not, but, unlike Common Market, there's no trace of pandering. If anything can, Black Patch War is what will convert the skeptics who thought Common Market was boring.





Common Market with Freetime Synthetic and Quiz 10 on Friday, May 16, at 6 pm at the Blvd. $10. All ages. Call 455-7826.
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