Music for the Masses

Mass Line's rhymes-as-tools philosophy.

In late 2004, the Blue Scholars' MC Geologic saw proof that his words could have an impact. As he and DJ Sabzi finished a gig, a kid came up to him and said he used Geo's lyrics to "Blink" to convince a friend not to join the military. The story had a profound effect on the young hip-hop artist.

"I mean, that's just one example," says Geologic. "But I like to think it's happened a lot and I just didn't hear about it."

But now, he'll be able to see firsthand the results he seeks from his proactive rhymes. Friday marks the launch of Mass Line, a label founded by Geologic and Sabzi along with like-minded MCs RA Scion of Common Market and Gabriel Teodros of Abssynian Creole. While it's not news to even casual fans that these artists have agendas, the founding of Mass Line marks the first step toward the unification of local hip-hop that RA called for on "Connect For" as well as the birth of their utopian business model in which altruism trumps capitalism.

"Geo and I have been approached by different major labels, and we've had meetings with different folks in L.A. and here in Seattle," says Sabzi. "We were sort of thinking about the do-it-yourself method we've taken with everything, staying independent, and all the kind of activities that created the environment of the conditions that the music was born in, i.e., community work, service, and protection to youth. So, we decided as artists to join together, form a label, and basically create a business structure that can secure the integrity of the music, y'know, so our records didn't get shelved, and they don't put our music on particular ads or license them to things that might have a negative effect on the youth community that we're trying to have a positive effect on."

Run with the help of local promoter, manager, and club owner Dave Meinert, Mass Line's goals transcend the profit-driven motive of most labels in favor of community support.

"I think we all want our work and activism to be a function of whatever we do," says Meinert. "So it's a natural outgrowth of that philosophy. We hope to be able to use the label structure to support organizations we like and to promote the work the groups' members are doing."

As Mass Line's mission statement suggests, the label will use hip-hop as a tool for grassroots organizing, education, and empowerment, particularly to the youth of Seattle.

"Artists have the potential to be the cultural leaders of their community," says Sabzi. "We can use that power to give to the community instead of being a group that selfishly takes from the community to fatten our bank accounts."

For starters, Mass Line promises to host monthly cultural events and open-mike nights.

"We've even talked about developing a youth program, maybe getting into Seattle public schools," says Sabzi. "We've talked about starting a charter school in four or five years, something like that."

But in the short term, they plan to focus on the music. In conjunction with the Mass Line launch party this Friday, the label's first release will fittingly be a 12-inch vinyl version of Common Market's "Connect For," followed by the national release of the Common Market album, as well as an LP by Abssynian Creole and, of course, a Blue Scholars disc due in 2007.

And though the city has yet to see the fruits of Mass Line's labor, the founders should be praised for taking this initial step. It's easy for intelligent people to sit around and bemoan society's ills; it's another thing to make an effort toward fixing them. With Mass Line's focus on youth, the four artists have keenly recognized the impact their art can have. As Geologic spit in "Blink": "I speak 'cause it's free, and the word is my weapon." Now, it's about convincing young people to value their freedom of speech in the same manner.

"As an individual, I could have a pamphlet about some initiative and go knock on a thousand doors," says Sabzi. "But that's not gonna be nearly as effective as writing one really good song that creates a consciousness of the political climate locally, nationally, and internationally."

And who could argue with that?

bbarr@seattleweekly.com

 
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