Blue Scholars is a hip hop duo based in Seattle, Washington, created in 2002 while the members, DJ Sabzi and MC Geologic, were students at the University of Washington.
The name “Blue Scholars” is a play on the term “blue collar,” which is an idiom for workers who often earn hourly wages for manual labor. Their music and lyrics frequently focus on struggles between socioeconomic classes, challenging authority and youth empowerment.
Geologic (born George Quibuyen; also known as Prometheus Brown, Geo) is the vocalist for the Blue Scholars and has also performed as a spoken word poet. In the 2007-2008 city-wide election for Seattle’s Poet Populist Quibuyen placed sixth with ninety-six write-in votes, the highest total for a write-in candidate in the nine year history of the competition; although, the record was subsequently broken by Seattle poet Ananda Osel in the 2008-2009 election.
The son of Filipino immigrants, Quibuyen lived in various locations along the west coast and Hawaii as a child until his family settled in Bremerton, Washington. Geo feels rooted in his Filipino heritage and that there is an unfinished revolution among his people. His lyrics are drawn from experience, crafted for a connection to community, and working to uplift communities in general. He remains a strong advocate for the Filipino community all over the world, as an outspoken critic of US foreign policy, including its tough immigration laws and unfair corporate practices by Western business.
ASIANCE: I wanted to start off with that you’re actually half of Blue Scholars and that you’re based off in Seattle. How is the Northwest hip-hop scene different from other regions in their hip-hop scene?
GEO: Well, first off there are a lot of similarities where the other regions haven’t popped up on a national scene. You got Los Angles, New York, Chicago, Atlanta and the Bay, and if you’re not in any of those places you’re basically more regional or local scene. That’s definitely what’s happening in the Northwest, which is similar to the Midwest outside of Chicago or part of the south outside of Atlanta. You got a whole bunch of people thriving off of the audience in their own backyard. The mainstream industry isn’t paying too much attention to them and many of the independent artists are paving their own paths. I think that’s what’s going on in the Northwest right now. We aren’t trying to blow up. I think that’s what the dream was for a long time and that’s just not in the Northwest. But people figured out that you got to work your way there.
ASIANCE: For those people who do not know about Blue Scholars’ history or are just getting into listening to your music, I wanted to ask. How did Blue Scholars start?
GEO: In college we were both students (Geo and Sabzi) at University of Washington. I was a sophomore and Sabzi was a freshman. We met via a student organization called the Student Hip-Hop Organization. Before we made music, we were involved in the scene growing up and we went to all the local shows on and off campus. About two to three years later when we did start making music just for fun, we already had an outlet.
ASIANCE: When listening to your music, you seem to talk about things like youth empowerment, struggling and political subjects. Some may even categorize you as conscious or political hip-hop. Do you feel like you fit into that genre of hip-hop?
GEO: I don’t know that genre really exist. I think it’s an artificial label people put on artists. It’s funny because you get into the argument what is and isn’t political. I think if you listen to everything with an open mind that it’s all storytelling. Some people are more explicit in their political-ness than others, but everything is a reflection of what’s going on; even a song that’s all about party and what not. There’s aspect to analyze in that politically. Why does that song even exist? What does it reflect? What does it say about society? I welcome the fact that people who listen to our music and find political messages in it. But I would challenge anyone who wants to hang that label of political onto our music to expand their notion of what political is and try to apply that to more music than the one they just explicitly talk about in their songs.
ASIANCE: In the AznRaps interview, you’ve mentioned that you were in battle rapping and did spoken words. How is the creative process for those? And during the creative process, do you find something new about yourself? Do you prefer one over the other?
GEO: That’s a good question. I say, there are similarities and differences. There’s an obvious difference where one is super hyper aggressive, masculine, competitive aspect to battle rap. And the other (spoken words) is more of non-judgmental, very embracing, embracing different styles and views, and encouraging. So to go from one to the other, it was like night and day sometimes. Where like you’re in one environment where no one trusts each other and everyone is looking at you sideways. Then you go into other environment where there’s a lot of camaraderie, but I wouldn’t say one is better than the other. I appreciate the competition aspect of battling; it forces you to be sharp, it forces you to be better, and pay attention. But at the same time, I didn’t want to get too caught up in that; so I also appreciated being in the space when people weren’t judging you or people weren’t trying to be better than you and you didn’t have to be better than someone else. But at the same time, I didn’t want to be stuck in that environment where you aren’t sharpening your skills. You’re almost just kind of expressing yourself just for the sake of expressing yourself and not really getting better at it. So I appreciate both equally.
ASIANCE: You are becoming more known nationally in the United States, but your fan base is very loyal. Do you feel that it’s rewarding after all of the hard work and dedication that you put in your music? And do you think because of the hard work and dedication it causes the fans to be loyal?
GEO: Yeah, to some extent. Loyalty, first and foremost is to yourself as a person and as an artist, but also as in who you are, who you surround yourself with (i.e. your community and family). So that’s who I’m loyal too. Beyond that, I am very appreciative of anyone who’s listened to our music and support our music in the past or the present. So, it’d be easy to be like, I’m doing this for me and myself. But I do appreciate criticism and I listen to it as much as I can. I pride myself in what I do, and to an extent I take criticism that seeks to see me do better as oppose to criticism for the sake of criticism. I listen to criticism, but first and foremost I listen to myself and with the people I surround myself with on daily basics.
ASIANCE: For Cinematropolis, you did something different with it. Rather than releasing the album on a record label, you brought it to the fans to help you fund it on Kickstarter. That was a very different move. What was the reasoning behind releasing the album with the help from the fans?
GEO: We were almost kind of forced to do it. After weighting all of our options, after seeing all of the offers we were getting from labels, some we worked with in the past and some that we would have to create a new relationship with.
Also, looking at where the industry is going a big shift to artists depending on touring, as in album shows. We’ve already been on that path for awhile now as an independent artist. We just want to fully explore the independent route because in the end, it’s what seems most beneficial to us, in terms of controlling our own rights, our own online, our own marketing and creative direction, all those things. Of course it requires a little more work. We had to do a lot stuff ourselves, but normally if you’re part of the label or part of the industry team, it’s their job to do things for you. But at the same time, they pay themselves out of money you’re generating. There are a lot of things we have to do ourselves, like rebuild our own team. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Like if you look at a lot of younger up and incoming artist making noise these days, a lot of them, they have a similar model. My generation of rappers, we aspire to get signed.
ASIANCE: Cinematropolis also has a different sound from your previous albums. What was the creative process behind Cinematropolis? What have you done differently on this album that you did on previous albums?
GEO: Well, every album is different. Every album was set in a different time period for both me and Sabzi. The first album we made while we were near the end of our university experience, the second album, part of it, we were actually living in the same house and then lived a couple of blocks away from each other. For the Bayani album, it was just a whole lot of hanging out at each other’s cribs. OOF!, some was done in Hawaii and the other was done when we got home from that trip.
This one though, there was a whole lot of communicating done over the internet, which I was living in New York for the past year and half. And when we recorded I came back, we were working on the record on and off. It wasn’t a consistent (expect for the recording) thing we worked on. It was more like we had all these conversations and went back to our separate lives, came back together, separate and came back together.
Whereas the previous records, there was a whole bunch of creative things that came in the same room. I think at one point I thought that was the way to go all the time, but things with technology, obviously personal lives and other things going on. I think its dope that we can create/utilize the computer and technology. A lot of features that I’ve done for other artists, I’ve done a lot of creative things at studios and sent them in and the song is made. It’s a little bit of, just kind of chilling in the same place and the fun that comes out of it, but at the same time it’s a little bit more efficient about being able to work independently and individually. But when you do come together, you make the most of that time together. We come together and hope goods come out of it.
ASIANCE: You are very in touch with your Filipino roots and it seems like the Filipino community are very supportive of each other. Why do you think that the Filipino community is so supportive and close?
GEO: Oh man, I think Filipinos are proud people in a large part because we haven’t really seen what it looks like completely free. I think it’s always been the yearning to truly be themselves, their history, their status. But there were always outside forces, been like putting their foot on the Filipino’s neck, so to speak. Like the Spanish reentered for three years, when the U.S. came and invaded the Philippines, during World War II when Japan came in and tried to take over, or to the U.S. again after World War II. We just have this proud spirit. It’s similar to other people who had to fight off such things, similar to the Vietnamese over thousands of years, trying to establish their own identity from the Chinese empire or South American countries and their movements. It’s what proud people do with their own history, their own language, their own culture gets threatened, and they got to fight that. It’s like the air, earth and water nation fight back the fire nation in Avatar.
ASIANCE: JR Celski tends to listen to you music. How is it to have an Olympian listen to your music? Have you two met in person? What was it like?
GEO: JR is my homie right there, man. He was real supportive. It was so dope. I found out during the Olympics in 2010. We were literally watching it on the television and I heard about this kid who was nearby (Federal Way), he grew up there, but he’s in training in Utah and Colorado. Apparently he’s known about us, but he hasn’t been living here. He’s been training over there leading up to the Olympics. And now I found out on twitter, I already saw him on TV, and I saw a tweet big upping Blue Scholars, Macklemore and the Seattle/Northwest Hip-hop scene on his twitter. I hit him up and told him, “I really appreciate this.” He hit me back, on the internet, just back and forth for a little bit. He got the bronze medal and I told him that I’d try to make it to the welcome back ceremony, but we had a show unfortunately. So we just missed each other. But what’s cool, I couldn’t make it to his ceremony; he actually came to our show. It was a college gig we had nearby and he showed up. That was the first time we met and since then he’s been working on this documentary about the hip-hop scene.
We didn’t keep in contact since, and that documentary is still ongoing nearing completion. After that, we’ve also been running into each other, like we ran into each other in NYC. He came out to our show out there during our Cinematroplis tour. We stopped by Salt Lake City and he’s been staying out there for the past year, training for the Olympic trials. We hit him up and we got to see him briefly before our show. He’s one of those guys, real genuine and real serious about his own thing. He’s real dedicated. I try to look at that and apply it to what we do as well.
ASIANCE: Are there any future projects that you’re looking forward too? Are there any artists that you’re looking forward to open for or tour with again?
GEO: As far as tours go, we’re taking a break from tours. We just completed the Cinematropolis tour. We toured in 37 cities; it was a real grueling tour. I appreciate it, it was really great. We toured with Bambu, Grynch, The Physic. We’re still going to do shows in our region, Washington State, Oregon, the northwest. But for the first half of 2012, we’re going to concentrate on is completing these music videos. We just put out the Sejun Suzuki music video, there’s one that just got done for Anna Karina, that’s going to come out at the end of this month/early March. There’s a handful of remixes that we got for Cinematroplis. We’re just continuing the cycle Cinematroplis record with more visuals and whatnot. By the end of the year, both Sabzi and I will be working on our solo material. He’s been working on his project with Made In Heights. I’ve been working on a solo EP that I’m going to put out with BeatRocks and I’m also doing stuff for Bambu, pushing that album we did last year, Walk Into A Bar (credited as Prometheus Brown, not Geologic). I think in 2013, we’re going to bring it back together and try to possibly do some international stuff for Blue Scholars to finally do stuff overseas.
Here’s Prometheus Brown aka Geologic and Bambu