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New American Songbook

Blue Scholars: Academics in the Field of Hip Hop


Like all good religions, hip hop is obsessed with beginnings—the origin stories of both the culture and individual artists are enduring topics in rap music. These stories serve a dual purpose: to establish the credibility of the artist within hip hop culture, and to recall the past, often as a critique of the present.

One of the most sincere expressions of this genesis theme that I’ve heard recently comes from the Seattle duo Blue Scholars, whose style is deeply connected to the conscious and political hip hop of the mid-nineties—artists like A Tribe Called Quest and KRS-ONE—and is what I’d call classical hip hop; in other words, a hip hop that is largely concerned with what it means to be hip hop. That they are scholars, academics in the field of hip hop, is clear after only a few minutes of listening. Here, they unpack the origin of ‘blue’, centering it in the personal realm and aligning it with the arc of history.

Like the Blue Scholars, I too want to know the origins of the origin stories, as far back as the recordings go and then back just a little farther. Of course, at that point, we’re not really talking about the past anymore, but our hope for the future; when the facts of beginnings get lost, and ‘back in the day’ is a shorthand for the remedies we need to heal the wounds of the past.