The music world is full of artists who like to think that they're "beyond categorization" when, in fact, they're quite easy to categorize and aren't nearly as unique as they would like us to believe. But Variable Unit (V.U. for short) really is difficult to categorize. Parts of Handbook for the Apocalypse are relevant to alternative rap, and yet, other parts of this 2003 release aren't rap in the conventional sense. V.U.'s Azeem raps at times, but much of the material is essentially spoken word with a track -- and that track could be influenced by hip-hop, soul-jazz, electronica or all the above. One shouldn't think, however, that V.U. is suffering from an identity crisis or that Handbook for the Apocalypse is unfocused. V.U. knows exactly what they're doing; this CD doesn't fit neatly into any one category, but Handbook for the Apocalypse always has a strong sense of purpose. Lyrically, this is an extremely sociopolitical disc; whether V.U. is getting their points across with rapping, spoken word, or samples, the album is a 55-minute commentary on the problems of the world. And by the time Handbook for the Apocalypse finishes playing, V.U. has addressed everything from suicide bombings to police misconduct to poverty to environmental concerns. This is hardly a cheerful album, but it's a funky, creative one. Like Public Enemy and Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy (two of V.U.'s influences) V.U. sees to it that their left-leaning commentary is musically sound. Political propaganda -- be it Bob Dylan and KRS-1 on the left or Merle Haggard on the right -- has its place in music as long as it is well done. And V.U.'s political commentary is definitely well done on this intriguing, unpredictable effort.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson