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Blue Scholars’ sound, attitude define underground hip-hop

Blue Scholars will be among the headliners at Gleason Fest.
Blue Scholars will be among the headliners at Gleason Fest.

Blue Scholars were Macklemore before Macklemore.

Long before “Thrift Shop”  became chic, Geologic and Sabzi were Seattle’s hallmark for conscious hip-hop that could pack the club – both book smart and street smart.

Although Blue Scholars hasn’t celebrated the level of commercial success seen by Macklemore since he linked up with Ryan Lewis, the Scholars continue to carry the torch for Seattle hip-hop, with no radio-ready singles or late-night TV talk show appearances, and no sign of compromising their political views.

This is underground hip-hop.

After self-releasing their eponymous debut, Blue Scholars came together with Seatown’s RA Scion of Common Market and Gabriel Teodros to form their MassLine Media imprint in 2006. MassLine entered a joint venture with independent rap empire Rawkus Records (Mos Def, Talib Kweli) to release Blue Scholars’ sophomore album, “Bayani.” They later re-released “Bayani” through a distribution deal with Seattle coffee chain Cafe Vita and a record deal with New York indie-rap pioneer Duck Down Records (Black Moon, Sean Price).

For Blue Scholars’ latest release, “Cinematropolis” they went to the fans, asking the public to subsidize the album via a Kickstarter campaign that surpassed the original goal of $25,000 for a final tally of $62,000.

The record is a sort of reverse soundtrack, with a collection of short films to correspond with songs. The song titles reference local and international figures in film, food, music and politics. Some references – “Seijun Suzuki,” “Anna Karina,” “George Jackson” and “Chief Sealth” – are less obvious than others.

The song “Tommy Chong” features an appearance by Macklemore and addresses the debate on America’s cultural tolerance for marijuana.

Blue Scholars became entangled in a local controversy that made national news in 2010 when a Shadle Park High School teacher was suspended for sharing with students the lyrics to the Blue Scholars’ song “Commencement Day.”

Blue Scholars, who will headline Gleason Fest on Saturday, are known for Geo’s lyrics, which often focus on socioeconomics, racism and youth empowerment, as well as Sabzi’s melodic and innovative beats.

Proceeds from Gleason Fest benefit the Gleason Initiative Foundation. Former professional football player and Spokane native Steve Gleason started the foundation as a way to help people with Lou Gehrig’s disease (also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS) after he himself was diagnosed with it in 2011.

Delbert The Band

The last time Delbert The Band played a show it was nearly 10 years ago. And that was a reunion.

The guys from Delbert went their separate ways years ago, with members splintering off to different cities and different bands.

But after they had to pass on playing a benefit show for Team Gleason last year, they decided to start preparing for this year’s Gleason Fest on Saturday.

“We’ve all been playing and doing our own thing since Delbert disbanded 10 or 12 years ago. We’ve all known Steve through the years. Three of us went to the same high school with him, so when the opportunity came up, we really wanted to support their cause,” said Delbert singer and rhythm guitarist Dominic Bartoletta.

The band consists of Bartoletta; guitarist and backup vocalist Tom Solinski; drummer Rick McQuesten; bassist and backup vocalist Tyson Bickle; and saxophonist, auxiliary percussionist, mandolinist and backup vocalist Jesse Thomsen. Their sound is an upbeat blend of acoustic funk, jazz, folk and rock.

The members of Delbert still get together with some regularity. Several of them appear as the Shea Tea Folkin’ Irish Band during the green season.

For Saturday’s performance, Delbert The Band will be performing a stripped down version of a new song called “No White Flags,” inspired by Team Gleason.