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Mayhemystics Outbreaks

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Album Review

It isn't hard to understand why some people might think of Variable Unit as a hip-hop/spoken word group with a strong sociopolitical agenda; the Bay Area residents ventured into sociopolitical territory in 2003 with Handbook for the Apocalypse and in 2004 with Mayhemystics (a collaboration with alternative rapper Azeem). But they showed another side of themselves on 2003's Cold Flow; that instrumental disc was strictly about beats and grooves — not social or political matters — and conceptually, Mayhemystics Outbreaks has much more in common with Cold Flow than it does with Handbook for the Apocalypse or Mayhemystics. Despite the presence of Azeem, this 2004 recording (released in 2005) is essentially an instrumental album. When you hear Azeem, or female vocalist Omega, they are functioning as background vocalists instead of featured vocalists; their work is very much in service of the instrumental groove. And like Cold Flow, this 27-minute CD it is not easy to categorize. Mayhemystics Outbreaks is not rap per se, but the rhythmic influence of hip-hop is quite strong. Electronica (specifically, the softer chillout/downtempo/ambient side of things) is another main ingredient of this club-friendly outing, and so are jazz-funk and soul-jazz. No one will mistake Mayhemystics Outbreaks for a straight-ahead hard bop date; this isn't a group of retro-boppers playing John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" followed by Sonny Rollins' "Pent-Up House" and Charlie Parker's "Ornithology." But V.U.'s members do sound like they might have been checking out electric Miles Davis, mid-'70s Roy Ayers, or Lonnie Liston Smith's Cosmic Echoes. Mayhemystics Outbreaks isn't as essential as Handbook for the Apocalypse, but it's an enjoyable, if brief, demonstration of V.U.'s ability to unite elements of hip-hop, electronica, jazz, and funk with coherent results.


Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap

Years Active: '00s

Many musicians were "thinking outside the box" long before some marketing mastermind decided to introduce this phrase, supposedly emblematic of free thought and expression, into the cultural lexicon. The Bay Area's urban fusion collective known as Variable Unit sponsored a brand of music that transcended any such two-dimensional world classification receptacle. Hip-hop, jazz (both traditional and of the acid variety), funk, ambient, worldbeat, spoken word, and gritty electronica are all woven tastefully...
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Mayhemystics Outbreaks, Variable Unit
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