Monday, February 25, 2008

ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: De-Coding the Scholar: "Opening Salvo"

Geologic of the Seattle Hip Hop Duo Blue Scholars, sportin a fresh LBC-born tat

I've been listening to the Blue Scholars album "Bayani" over and over, and I have to say my favorite verse is at the end of "Opening Salvo" below. I wanted to de-code it for people who are puzzled. If anyone has any other interpretations, feel free to comment.

"Right now I want to thank god for being me
My soul won't rest until the colony is free
1896 Revolution incomplete
Silence is defeat, my solution is to speak
Resurrect the legacy of martyrs I beseech
Time to choose a side: It's the mighty verse the meek
My big brother Free brought the word from the East
We're the bullet in the middle of the belly of the beast."

"Right now I want to thank god for being me"
Five Percenter Nation of Islam language referring to the original man (I guess in this case the brown-skinned Filipino man) as "god," who bestows knowledge and truth upon the "uncivilized." If you still don't get it, re-listen to your Wu-Tang, Erykah Badu, Busta Rhymes, PRT, Brand Nubian albums.

"My soul won't rest until the colony is free"
The Philippines as a subject of neocolonial domination is still under U.S. and first-world global power: militarily, economically, culturally, and politically. Where do millions of U.S. citizens' tax money for the U.S. War on Terrorism in the Philippines go? Let's just say the the poor are not feeling any safer and the rich are not getting any leaner. And yeah, protesters and dissidents of the U.S.-supported political elite in the Philippines are getting killed. On top of that, the U.S. profits greatly from the aggressive recruitment of Filipin@ nurses and other professionals to the States, at the expense of the Philippine nation state. This export of a country's human resources is sometimes called a "brain drain." For the Philippines, its more like a brain comatose. If the Philippine president declares the "new national heroes" ("bagong bayani") the overseas workers, then something's twisted. Can a nation truly be sovereign if another country's boots are on its soil, its most critical and vocal citizens are being murdered, its political leaders are in the pockets of international banks and first world powers, and its best and brightest people are exported for the benefit of those same first world powers? The colony is choking, and those with the capacity to resuscitate it are leaving or getting killed.

"1896 Revolution incomplete"

1896 began a moment the Philippines could have achieved real sovereignty with its successful overthrow of the Spanish Empire. In fact, the islands had a Declaration of Independence, drafted a Philippine Constitution, and formed a Philippine Congress. If it weren't for U.S. intervention, essentially the stealing of the Philippines by the U.S. for $20 million under the Treaty of Paris, and the subsequent Philippine-American War (or Filipino "insurgency" as the U.S. public heard it), maybe the Philippines could have been a much freer nation. Today, in many parts of the islands (especially in the south), the struggle for democracy and sovereignty continues. The "protracted struggle" against imperialism, as some would call it.

"Silence is defeat, my solution is to speak"

Well, if Geo is silent about these pressing issues, then he would be considered defeated. Duh. He came up with a solution, and it wasn't scribbling random notes on a pad for no one to hear. In the tradition of isangmahal arts kollective, I Was Born with Two Tongues, 8th Wonder, and the many great Fil Am/Asian Am poets from the scene in the late 90s/early 00s (the precursor to the vibrant Fil Am arts scene today), Geo spoketh.

"Resurrect the legacy of martyrs I beseech"

The struggle is not only ours, but the legacy of many that came before us. Just as we are indebted to the many unsung heroes/heroines who suffered and died in the protests and strikes that gave us minimum wage, the 40 hour work week, and child labor laws here in the U.S., we are also indebted to those many people who remain unnamed who fought for true freedom in the Philippines.

"Time to choose a side: It's the mighty verse the meek"
If you don't identify with the struggle, and choose to consume the devil's pie without serious critique, then it is what it is. But for those who can see thru the rose-colored lens and choose to align with those who suffer for our freedom and those who challenge the status quo, then the last will be first. "Married to the Hustle," like Eye A Sage would say.

"My big brother Free brought the word from the East
'We're the bullet in the middle of the belly of the beast.'"

The homey Freedom (Fil Am educator and activist from Seattle) uttered these words to Geo after his trip to the Philippines (Five Percenter NOI language again?). The bullet in the belly of the beast are the revolutionary Filipinos living in the U.S. who are engaged in strategic, critical, progressive action at the center of imperial power. BRRRAAT!

What's your favorite Blue Scholars verse?


stephen bischoff said...

What's up Mark

I am a student in the graduate program at Washington State University and am doing some related work looking at the connections between Filipino Americans and hip hop culture. Seeing your blog, I came across the trailer for your documentary. If possible, I would like to check out the work you put together in your documentary and am willing to pay for the costs of sending it up here. Can you hit me back with a message at

stephen bischoff said...

Please get back to me when you get a chance. Thanks


cheryl said...

i know this is really cheesy but i still love their old song "no rest for the weary" when he says,

You better move, hold your head high, soldier, it ain’t over yet
That’s why we call it a struggle, you’re supposed to sweat

i love that line to no end.

Unknown said...

my favorite is probably always going to be "proximity to water make(s) the soul a little gentler" from the inkwell. not as heavy as some of their other lyrics, but it's always struck a chord in me... that's why I have a tattoo that says it.

Anonymous said...

yooo! definitely the hottest verse on Bayani! However, I miss old Geo when he spit more introspective and love-of-hip-hop rhymes interspersed with the politickin:

"our sins were repented for
much later
eh yo dj
bless the crowd with the sign of the cross-fader!"

"i draw words out of pens
like swords out of sheaths
divinity intervened
now i'm high on godspeed...
from the soil of my soul
that i toil til i'm old
passin the torch like the mic that i hold"

damn, he's nice!

MV said...

Lovin it!

Anonymous said...

way to break it down, mark! love that verse from "opening salvo" too. here are some other faves:

"we both two people seeking
solace and remembrance
and wondering if miracles were meant for us"

"eyes up to the sky
she sighs, i need nobody
true indeed, sister, but you still need everybody
because we hardly know ourselves
if we know nobody else
and only in our loneliness
can home become a hell"

"baby, let's rearrange the mess we inherited"

"majored in reaganomics, hip hop, and comics"

"imma leave how i came screaming covered in blood"

"finally got a comma in my check account balance"

Anonymous said...

geo is an emcee

and everything under the definition

Anonymous said...

Today I've been 2-steppin' to Sagaba Remix.

"you see between you and i is a thin line we stand by
but if we ever find ourselves on the other side
then time will stand still and whole worlds will collide
we hardly know ourselves if we got nothin' to ride for
a struggle to live to the fullest and die for
and make love and wage war for"

I want a 365-day desktop calendar of Blue Scholars. Like learn a new Spanish word everyday, but it's a Blue Scholars verse. Can someone make that for me? Please. Thanks.