For 19 years, Seattle rapper RA Scion was an adherent of the Baha’i faith. Drawn by its community focus and unique take on the “journey of the soul,” he found a home in Baha’i’s fold after abandoning his Southern Baptist upbringing. Then in 2010, after some serious reflection, he left Baha’i as well.
“I wanted it to be the revolution I was looking for, and it wasn’t,” RA Scion says. “I understand why it can’t be. It’s a religion. It’s a respectful religion. You have to be humble above all things. Revolutionaries can’t be humble, you know?”
RA Scion’s new album, The Sickle and the Sword, is indeed a personal revolution, one he hopes can give voice to the societal revolution for which he hungers. It also just might be Seattle’s rap album of the year. From start to finish, the record is an ethereal spiritual journey—a novel, earnest declaration of purpose and human connectedness that floats atop Rodney Hazard’s swirling, sorcerous production. It can be a confusing journey, with its incredibly dense rhymes and references to obscure pagan harvest festivals, cat-worshipping covens, and Native American eco-philosophy. For instance, on “In Veneration” RA Scion raps, “Blood moon about to burst/Spill the secrets of the seekers it revealed along the search.”
Conceptually, the record follows a loose timeline that starts with the creation of the universe. After dropping some esoteric knowledge about ancient traditions like Saturnalia and Lughnasadh, RA Scion takes you through the apocalypse and finally blasts off to outer space, where humanity starts a new colony in the cosmos.
“The album has this focus on nature,” RA Scion tells Seattle Weekly. “When we lose this connection, when we destroy what provides for us and where we come from, there will be nothing left for us. Are we prepared for that?”
This new spiritual headspace is on display in the verdant video for the record’s first single, “Constant.” Opening with printed words from English author George Eliot—“Thy bounty shines in autumn, unconfined; and spreads a common feast for all that live”—the video surveys lush, misted Orcas Island landscapes and urges listeners to “say grace” and “listen close to those wheat fields.” The Sickle and the Sword deals in the idea of connectedness not only thematically but practically, showcasing collaborations with Motopony’s Daniel Blue, Kung Foo Grip’s Greg Cypher, and former American Idol finalist Blake Lewis. None of these collaborations seem forced or just for show—instead, they add to the tangible mystic world RA Scion has crafted. Blue’s spectral coo buoys “Constant,” with a hook that haunts you like a ghost, and Cypher’s militia-ready verse in “Seven Generations” is a relevant rebel manifesto on sustainability: “Woke up with a new, clear mission to go for/Shut down; how long the system been broke for?”
This latter track was inspired by a life-changing visit from the father of one of RA Scion’s friends, a First Nations man who blessed the rapper’s home and taught him the Native concept of Seven Generations—the idea that today’s actions will have consequences for those seven generations down the line.
“He did a traditional Native blessing ceremony on my home, and it was such a powerful moment,” RA Scion says. “We could feel the energy in the house for years after that. Other people too would walk in the house and immediately identify with this pure, divine spirit.”
That spirit is what makes the record such a standout. Rarely do artists put as much on the line as RA Scion does here—something he’s been no stranger to, in releases like Tobacco Road with hip-hop duo Common Market. This is not just fun and games, but heavy soul-searching.
The production is appropriately heady as well, an inventive ambient take on typical hip-hop. “Hoof x Horn” throws a breathy, chopped-up monk-chant sample on top of a beat. “Myrrh” sounds like dew dripping off a fallen log, with trickling chimes dancing around on pitch-shifted vocals that evoke Flying Lotus at his most chilled-out.
The album-release show will live up to the The Sickle and the Sword ’s focus on interconnectedness—it’s a benefit for the members of Seattle surf band La Luz, who were recently in a serious accident that totaled their van, destroyed their gear, and sent them to the hospital. All the proceeds will go to help the band back on their feet. “Just wanted to help out the homegirls,” RA Scion says. With live instrumentation and special guests Blake Lewis and Rodney Hazard, the Tempers, Romaro Franceswa, and Mike Giacolino. Neumos, 925 E. Pike St., 709-9442. $12. All ages. 7 p.m. Thurs., Nov. 14.