December 13th, 2007 | Interviews

skinny gaviar

Blue Scholars are Sabzi and Geologic and they run their own label Mass Line in Seattle. They released their most recent full-length Bayani this summer. Producer Sabzi speaks now the day before tour.

What’s the cheapest best record you ever got a sample off?
I can’t say that! They’re a big-band instrumental record—big band recordings from between the ‘40s and ‘60s by almost no-name people. Some were made around the time stereo recordings were first invented, so they’re like showing off how you record in stereo. Like a bar of one instrument coming out of just one speaker, followed by another bar of response out of the other speaker. What’s great is a lot of instruments stand alone—a hotbed of all kinds of samples.
What are your rules for picking something up?
Mostly it’s years. Usually anywhere between the early and late ‘70s because of the recording process. Notes have been around for hundreds of years—notes have all been played, and all the chord progressions have been come up with almost—it’s all about the texture of the sound!
What is the texture of the Blue Scholars?
I don’t know anymore! I hope it keeps evolving. The first record is kind of a boom-bap imitation record, and the second is a more improved version, and the third one I hope is kind of—something kind of new, more creative. Very Dilla influenced—but also NOFX and No Use For A Name influenced. In the chord progressions.
Dilla plus Fat Wreck?
Pop-punk—those guys weren’t huge, not like Sum 41 or Linkin Park or something. Those chord progressions mixed with Dilla’s production. To me it’s all about blending two different inspirations. Whatever emotion I get from one, and whatever I get from the other, I try to add my own.
Could you do ska plus death metal?
If you just add horns and a bounce to any form of music, it’s gonna sound ska-ish—depends on what wave of ska.
What about Sepultura plus like Studio One?
I have a Sepultura record I got for ten cents at tower, and I got a Studio One record somewhere. What if Lee Perry just mixed a death metal record—added some dub, boomed up the bass, slowed the music way down? Might sound like Bad Brains stuff.
What have you learned from watching how independent hip-hop has grown in places like Minneapolis and L.A.?
Two different things. One I learned from the communities in each area—the scene itself. Which is not necessarily owned by a record label. Number two is just as a business person—how to connect music with people. The Bay is one of my favorite examples because they’ve cultivated a very strong local culture. Even the middle school kids—they’re like, ‘Boo on the radio! I hate the radio! I wanna listen to my local hyphy rapper!’ That’s kind of unheard of by 13 or 14-year-olds anywhere else. They’re the ones most sucked into major pop media. The reason they’re like that is the abundance of local music—I know like E-40’s team comes to high schools once every couple of weeks and sells E-40 CDs outside. There’s a relationship they’ve built there. I think about concrete conditions—how people create their own cultures. Their own dance trends, their own dress, their own language—it really is like a culture. And when the culture is based on the actual world you live in, it’s a lot more everlasting, as opposed to a fad. People on tropical islands lived the exact same way for 500 years, and nobody went, ‘Oh, you’re eating fish now—what a trend! Hey, nice tunic, buddy—that’s so last year!’ That only happens when cultural expression moves from real life experience—people ate fish because that’s what was there. Most cultural expression—there’s no real reason to be there except as distraction. From a business perspective, nobody is buying records anymore—music has more of a role as something integrated into other things. And people don’t live in little nuclear homes. They go buy music they like as an individual—read books they like—and these things start to integrate. If you like this, you’re into that. It’s more to do with the production of a lifestyle that people relate to or find interesting—that’s what we’re doing with Mass Line. As a business person, you’re forced to figure out what things you can commodify and sell under that brand.
Do you find that troubling?
That’s the thing. You run into some challenges. Some people are like, ‘What the hell is a t-shirt gonna do to make anything different? Or a song?’ And they’re actually very correct—they’re gonna do nothing alone. However—culture is a very very powerful thing. If you want to think more progressively, we need a culture that represents that. We’re connected to communities who do grassroots work—along with other friends at a middle school, we’re providing educational opportunities for kids who wouldn’t have them otherwise. I’m old—I’m not gonna change as much as a 15-year-old kid! That’s a critical age—where people are forced to choose between one or the other. ‘Do I follow my parents and the community? Or do I follow what Snoop Dogg said?’
Are we just talking about different philosophies of advertising?
There has to be systematic activity that follows up—the real change is to be made between the young person and a mentor, or with young people who do something simple as cleaning up the park, or helping younger kids with math homework. Even though cleaning the park is not gonna solve the world’s problems—it’s gonna cultivate a sense of social responsibility, and the joy of serving other people. So all we need is to reinforce that with a cultural thing.
How’s Kid Sensation these days?
We’ve actually done shows with him. He’s friends with another MC I work with. He has a new name—Xola. He’s a really really good guy.
Are you going record any tracks with any baseball players like he did?
Like Ken Griffey? They were neighbors or something a long time ago. It hasn’t happened yet. We’ll see.