Last year, a Shadle Park High School teacher found himself on forced administrative leave, in part, for playing “Commencement Day,” a diatribe against the flawed American education system by Seattle hip-hop group Blue Scholars.
For the socially conscious group, occurrences like this are actually the opposite of the norm. Most of the time, they’re invited to come to schools and universities to be part of classes covering everything from English to post-colonial thought. For the group’s beat-maker, DJ Sabzi, hip-hop is a tool for teaching.
“Hip-hop acts, and has always acted, as a teaching tool outside the classroom,” says Sabzi. “When it really started, hip-hop inspired a lot of people in my generation to read more, to study, and to understand culture far more than any school ever did.
“To me, you should be making art that open people’s minds and uplifts them.”
One idea heavy on Blue Scholars mind these days is the self-coined idea of the “cinemetropolis” for which their latest album is aptly named. The group explores the idea that we’re now living much of our lives through the moving pictures of the media and copying what we see, instead of forging our own paths in life.
“There’s a generation coming up that grew up glued to the television. Most of what they learned were not things that they experienced themselves,” Sabzi says. “We live in a culture of heavy imitation of style without really an understanding of the substance that goes behind it.
“Our generation, we feel like, is one of the last that remembers when culture used to be authentic. Now anything goes, and no one cares.”
Surveying the current hip-hop landscape, the activist lyrics that the group’s MC Geologic lays down ring with importance, especially compared to the intentionally offensive hip-hop done by groups like Odd Future. While Sabzi understands what these acts are going for, he finds it hard to take them seriously.
“Doing something for shock value, where the message is that there is no message, that’s fine,” he says. “But that’s been done so many times now that you can’t really do that anymore and say that you’re shocking. Being shocking isn’t shocking to me anymore, because it’s so normal.”
“That’s a big part of Cinemetropolis,” Sabzi adds. “We have sort of trained ourselves to react to it like we’re shocked, but we’re not. Nobody’s shocked by it, but because they’ve seen the videos and read about previous generations, that’s what artists do. And they think we’re supposed to react to it. And, ‘I’m young, so I’m supposed to think that’s cool, ’cause I’m rebelling against someone.’ Everyone’s playing an act in a film they were sort of taught to be in, but that’s not real.”
History repeats itself in the cinemetropolis, and that even encompasses the ongoing Occupy movement: an event one might assume that the Blue Scholars would be 100 percent in support of.
“On one hand, I think it’s wonderful that people want to do anything,” Sabzi says. “There are people, through this movement, that will discover ways that they can serve their communities.
“On the flipside, I don’t like condoning just saying, ‘Yeah we need to get into the streets and do this’ just because there are more effective things to do than sort of duplicate what happened in the ’60s. When it happened then it was fresh and new, but that era has come and gone. Laws have been designed to allow people to do that. You get a permit. You ask the system you’re protesting against, ‘Hey, can we protest against you?’
“The more that happens, the more we take our attention away from what really needs to change,” he says, “which mostly comes down to individual personal relationships: treating people with respect, being honest, having a sharper eye, trying to spend more time sober, making products you actually believe in and not just things you think other people will buy. Stuff like that is how things change.”
Blue Scholars play with Bambu • Fri, Oct. 28, at 7 pm • A Club • $15 • All-ages • aclubspokane.com • 624-3629