"Rappers are wack," he explains. "Call me a poet or an MC. When you think rapper, you think MTV and all these fools wearing these diamonds. Those are rappers, and there's a lot of negativity goes with that."
Sco -- whose doggedly conscious work with Seven Fold Symphony is well-known in local hip-hop circles -- has always been outspoken when it comes to the flossy gangsta rap that shines in the area spotlight. Take a listen to "K.C. Clones," a scathing ditty found on Look What's Risen, Sco's just-released solo project: Kansas City clones/Leave me the hell alone/Ain't tryin' to hear how much money you got/And how many niggaz you shot.
"They are clones; they don't have any identity," Sco insists. "The gangsta outweighs the positive, especially in Kansas City. They're dedicating whole albums to that shit, and they have all this big promotion behind them, but they don't even go gold. Come on, man; you don't need a big truck with your name on the side of it. You don't need all this hype."
Perhaps because Sco's lyrics offer candid reflections of his own worldly experiences, he acknowledges that gangsta rap does have a place in the hip-hop lexicon. But he's equally ardent about using the power of music in positive ways.
"You got Eminems out there on some negative shit, and you got these young minds who are definitely gonna be influenced by that on the wrong tip," Sco says. "We gotta have something uplifting. Cats just don't want to bring messages anymore. They're talking about trends and material possessions. When you pass away, you don't take that with you."
"But you have to reach out to them," counters longtime colleague Brother of Moses, whose own solo effort, Land Mind, was issued last week. "I'm not really out to dis the gangstas and shit, because I got fam that do things like that, that listen to that music. We're trying to reach them and get them involved in rallies and things that directly involve them in society. In these times, we need some kind of solidarity."
Unity and involvement have always been at the forefront of Sco's style. After relocating from Los Angeles in 1998, the burgeoning MC hooked up with Bro Mo and helped launch Seven Fold Symphony, a live ensemble that juxtaposed the duo's uplift-the-people sermonizing with everything from jammy jazz to straightforward funk. At its peak, the nine Symphony members lived together, rehearsing in the basement of a large Midtown house and packing shows on a regular basis. The group went on hiatus earlier this year after several key members departed, leaving Sco and Bro Mo without aural accompaniment. Sco spent a fair amount of time exploring spoken word and other forms of poetry, but he eventually yearned to set his prose to music again.
"Getting down with the band made me appreciate music that I would've never listened to: rock, jazz," he remembers. "It was a great experience. After Seven Fold kind of stopped for a while, I was like, 'OK, I don't have a band anymore.' You can go to the poetry readings and read your verses and that's cool, but if you're gonna put out an album, you gotta have some kind of music behind you. Nobody wants to hear you rambling on; it's not a book on tape."
Risen might not be an audio novel, but it crams an encyclopedia's worth of knowledge into its fourteen tracks. Songs such as the Spin Styles-produced "Slum Lord" recount Sco's personal encounters with property owners more interested in collecting rent than neighborhood upkeep: Welfare checks coming straight to me/So act like you know/It's going down in KCMO/Mo' property in Wyandotte/Tryin' to get a plug in Quindero 'cause that's the heritage/A meal ticket off the unfortunate humans that hustle in the street to survive.
To keep his approach varied, Sco recruited eight underground producers, including Nathan Reedy, I.D.L. Beat Broker, Hands-Off and Ben the Scratch Rat. The results range from Tall Tale's complex barrage "Time of Chaos" to the laid-back wisdom of Ras Reb's "Just a Few Words" to the sample-heavy soundscapes of Human Cropcircles' "Mr. Sin."
"We didn't want to bring typical hip-hop," Sco says. "I wanted cats that appreciate the raw essence of hip-hop, not no commercial shit that's gonna be played on MTV or radio. I happened to run into all these cats that were making music, and a true MC can write a verse and make it go to any beat -- it's all about delivery and how you spit. If it wasn't for all these guys donating sick, quality beats, I wouldn't have a solo release."
One thing not found on Risen is freestyling, the art form for which Sco is probably best known. In the early days of Seven Fold, Sco and Bro Mo refused to rely on written rhymes, opting to extemporize their verbal outpourings at each show. Though Sco remains a staunch advocate of the technique, he was determined to put pen to paper on his new disc. The MC's commitment to improvisation hasn't faded, though. For his already-in-the-works follow-up, Sco promises a blend of spoken-word poetry and off-the-cuff impromptus.
"I freestyled before I wrote," he explains. "Written songs are so uniform; it's so memorized it fucks you up. Especially if you're used to freestyling, where you leave your mind open to ideas, incorporating everything you see. You'll never fall off, because you constantly have something to rap about. I have more respect for an MC that attempts to freestyle and falls off than coming up on there with something written and memorized. The real heads know when a motherfucker is freestyling."