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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

August 20, 2009 at 1:23 PM

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Interview: Geo aka Geologic aka George Quibuyen from Blue Scholars

Posted by Andrew Matson

TONE_BlueScholars_Day02_496.jpg
Blue Scholars: Sabzi w/pot, Geo w/o (Photo by TONE)

Above is the video for "HI-808," the best Blue Scholars song ever, from its "OOF!" EP, which comes out Tuesday, 08/25. You can buy it at Caffe Vita.

The Blue Scholars guys, Geo (raps) and Sabzi (everything else), are local, but this song and video are Hawaii-centric. Geo grew up there, and it's also where the song was written and its video shot. The "808" in the title refers both to Hawaii's area code and this famous hiphop drum machine.

I talked with Geo (short for Geologic, hiphop for George Quibuyen) about what Hawaii means to him, what it's like being the first Asian person an audience has seen rap, and how much pressure he feels to be the best MC in Seattle.

After I spoke with Geo, I interviewed Sabzi. That transcription is forthcoming here.

__________________________________________


Do you think "OOF!" is a departure for you?

I'd say it's more a progression than a departure, but as far as the distance of the progression - from one project to the next - I feel like this our biggest leap forward.

Did it take two full years to make these songs?

No. As soon as "Bayani" dropped, we worked on songs here and there, and those songs, at least the ones we felt good about, made it onto those digital-only EPs -- the "Butter & Gun$" and then the "Joe Metro" EP -- and that was it. Those were the only songs we really made, 'cause we were touring so much after "Bayani" came out. It wasn't until those tour dates hit Hawaii where, I don't know, I guess a burst of inspiration came up.

'Cause we were constantly talking about, "What are we gonna do for our third full-length album?" At the time we were thinking about that, but really couldn't, 'cause we were touring so much.

It was a side-project. At first it was just one song, one promotional song to just big up Hawaii and whatnot. Even though it's a part of who I am, I'd never had a chance to speak on it on a song. So the "HI-808" song, we made a prototype of that song, performed half of it in Hawaii, but then when we got back from our second trip in January, we were like, "Man, let's keep riding this wave of inspiration."

And you wrote "HI-808" in Hawaii?

I wrote a few bars while we were there on our first trip, June of '08, and the song was pretty much done by the time we went back. Actually, we recorded it before we went back for New Year's this year.

So you came up with the idea in Hawaii, came back here, polished it, and then brought it back and performed it there?

Yeah. We premiered the song in its entirety in January when we went back to Hawaii in January, and then when we came back to Seattle, that's when we made the rest of the songs that eventually made it on to the EP.

When you go to Hawaii does it feel like home because white people are the minority?

Yes and no. I grew up there. I was there from '82 to December of '90, so between eight and nine years. It was definitely a culture shock when I came here. I lived in Bremerton for six years, and now Seattle for 11, so at this point, Hawaii's kind of like that long-lost childhood place. My home is straight up the Northwest now. But I carry both with me.

Because I've been gone so long, a lot of people I knew are either gone, moved to other places, like Cali, or other places on the island, not connected to the internet, I don't know where they are. And the first place I lived, like these military projects, is completely paved over. There's townhomes there, now. My dad was in the navy. So a lot of places that were familiar to me, that I expected to see when I came back, are completely gone. A lot of countryside that's developed into resorts, that kind of thing.

Obviously on "HI-808" you're trying to express that, but are there other places on the EP where you're trying to get that concept across?

The concept's kind of all over the place. Both by design and creative accident. Some of the songs don't directly address anything Hawaii-related, like "New People." Besides "HI-808" and the Hawaiian/reggae-influenced song, they're more...

Which one is that, "Cruz"?

Yeah, "Cruz." But aside from that, I think it's just a vibe. A vibe from the island we carried with us.

And what's the vibe: Warmer?

I think it's a seasonal album. Our debut album was a springtime album, we recorded it throughout the spring - and the last track we recorded was the into, which we recorded on the last day of spring, which is why we called it "Solstice" - so that's a springtime album. The "Long March" EP was recorded in late summer/early fall and was definitely an autumn type release. And "Bayani" was without a doubt a winter album. Mostly recorded and made in the wintertime, and carries that vibe, too. So this is our summertime album, completing the seasonal cycle of all our albums.

Did you have any writing goals on "OOF!"?

Yes and no. I keep it simple. I'm a simple dude, and a fan first and foremost, so I listen to a lot of new music, old music, and I don't fight it. I don't overtly try and bite. My main mission is to find that collaborative middle ground between me and Sabzi. He's always been all over the place on the beats, being a hiphop producer and also listening to all types of other shit that I've never been exposed to. And I feel he's technically evolved since the last album and become a top-notch, top-tier producer. I'm just trying to match that intensity and emotion.

I think you're on another level, too, and my theory was all the shows that you played from Bayani until now - because you've really toured hard these past two years - made you more comfortable as a rapper. You sound more yourself to me.

I will say this record felt less a laborious process to make out of everything we've ever done. Before this project was conceived, I was feeling pressure like I've never felt before.

Like you're supposed to be the best in the town?

Yeah. Like all our other music, I was like, "Let's make some music and put it out." And then it got to the point where we were like, "We really can't do that anymore." We set the bar high for ourselves, but there was external pressure that I first became aware of after "Bayani" dropped, and it led to some overthinking.

What do you think the nature of that pressure was, and where did it come from?

One was realizing people cared about us outside Seattle. 'Cause that was kind of the question for a minute there: We've built up a good base here, but we're kind of rookies at the whole touring thing, how's it gonna go? We worked our way into national distribution. Is that gonna do anything?

And then we go out, and get a good reception, and come back home and the scene's bubbling. Not that it's a competition, but when people in your own scene, a lot of whom are homies, are stepping up THEIR game, it automatically makes you not want to put out bullshit.

Where did it surprise you that people liked your music?

The east coast. I feel at home on the west coast when we play. Even early on, before we got any distro or press, whenever we'd go out to the Bay, you know, Portland at first, then the Bay, then L.A., San Diego, we've always gotten love. Anywhere west of the Rockies. That's including Colorado, out to places like Montana, Salt Lake City.

And then the Midwest. I can't put my finger on it. They just love indie hip-hop. It almost doesn't matter what sub-genre of indie hip-hop it is. It's like, "If it's not on the radio, we're gonna f__k with it." Yeah, Minneapolis, Chicago but not as much, and definitely the smaller places: Ann Arbor, Michigan; Columbus, Ohio; Madison, Wisconsin. There's a similar vibe to the young, internet-savvy hiphop fan over there.

But I would say the east coast and the few times we've been to the south have been real eye-opening. It might not be as strange on the west coast to see a dude who isn't black, even who isn't white, rapping. But over there, it's still strange to people. On one hand, it's like a novelty. On the other hand, you genuinely see in their eyes.... You know, I'll even just playfully on stage, while we're doing a show, say, "Put your hands in the air if this is the first time you've seen an Asian dude rap." And I've done that in places like New Hampshire, Vermont, and 95% of hands go up.

You should probably say, "Put your hands in the air if you've never seen an Asian person, period."

Yeah, I should probably do that. It might be something similar.

I don't understand the title of "OOF!"

We actually did not put much thought into the title. What we do sometimes if we can't come up with a dope title, we'll just do like with films and whatnot, and give it a working title until we can think of something doper. That moment never happened with "OOF!"

I suggested it as a joke. The word itself is like a pidjin-ized local Hawaiian word that comes from the Samoan language, where oof, spelled u-f, or u-f-f, is basically a colloquial term equivalent to the word "f__k." So it can be sexual, it's...it's mostly sexual.

Like, "We went home and we oof-ed"?

Yeah. Just like that. The titling of the EP as "OOF!" is kind of like an inside joke, and it's kind of an inside joke that I played on Sabzi myself, being that he was intrigued by the title, but he actually didn't know what it meant. Even after we approved the title and everything was sent to the manufacturer, he found out afterwards what the word really meant. I think he thought it was...

Nonsense?

Or, you know, the expression when you fall or hit something. And if that's how you interpret it, that's cool, too. What I've been telling people lately is "OOF!" is what America did to Hawaii. By pimping its resources and using it as a strategic military Pacific outpost, and just the destruction to the people and their land in the name of development. That permeates Hawaii.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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