SHORT skits and near tracks are a standard feature of albums by many an overactive hip hop artist, few would spend precious disc time on a prayer from a religion founded in 19th Century Iran as Blue Scholars do on their second release Bahani.
Propounding any religious, or even spiritual belief, is a brave step in a genre where superstardom seems to be laid at the feet of hard-core, self-interested materialists perfectly illustrated by the the odious Get Rich Or Die Trying manifesto of Fifty Cent.
However, Hip Hop has always been a broad church (although this must be a first for the Baha'i faith), and it's truly refreshing to hear that the greatest financial boast on this engaging album is MC Geologic's pride at finally getting a comma in his checking account balance – a well deserved comma it is too.
Geologic's laid-back delivery should draw you in – Gangstarr is name-checked in the album publicity and the Northwestern MC has Guru's smokey timbre. This may be politically angry music, but it's a reasoned coffee house argument rather than a scream from the barricades and it's no surprise to learn that Geologic learned his trade as much at the poetry slam as at the MC battle and he claims a touch of ADD on" Ordinary Guy" too.
Don't think however, that our academic twosome want to trap you in a corner and educate the life out of you.
Geologic's partner Sabzi has crafted an imaginative and listenable backing for the lessons in politics. There's plenty of room in this record, which revives the virtues of the soulful in flowing soundscapes heavy on jazz piano, gentle vocal hooks, old school beats and a commendably open-minded sound palette. World music, dubby touches, and the machine noises of intelligent dance music (check out the wibbly wobbly synth line on "Still Got Love") all come into the mid tempo party.
Anyone coming from this perspective is, it's a safe bet, not going to spend each and every day celebrating the world as it is, however, this is not an unrelentingly miserable or depressing work.
Front line reportage of G8 protests in Seattle weaves around a slinky bluesy riff on the cracking "50,000 Deep."
"I admit had to split when the first gas canisters hit I felt it burning my eyes nose and lips, they tried to blame it on the anarchists, garbage, I was there and I tell you right now the Pigs started it."
But it's not all bad news, the 'riots' were an uprising according to Geologic and 50,000 feet make a noise like thunder when they're on the march, and besides there's still a party to be had. And misery could never sound as uplifting as "Morning America," another standout track which fair smooches into a lengthy instrumental break that wouldn't sound out of place on a Blue Note outing.
The Blue Scholars are apparently a marvelous proposition live, and I intend to put that to the test if I can. On record there is a danger of this beautifully easy on the ear mellow, mellow, music slipping too easily into the background – the lyrics are certainly worthy of a second, third, fourth, listening.
Geologic is an important voice, he may need to start raising it a little to get his message across.