Ever since the emergence of De La Soul, the Jungle Brothers, and A Tribe Called Quest in the late '80s/early '90s, alternative rap has played by its own rules. The things that often concern gangsta rappers -- attacking rival MCs, proving how hard and thuggish one can be -- are not priorities in alternative rap, where intellectuals, hipsters, beatniks, and philosophers are running the show instead of thugs and gangstas. As a rule, alternative rap tends to appeal to alternative rock and club/dance/electronica audiences more than hip-hop's hardcore -- and that intellectual alt-rap aesthetic is very much at work on Mayhemystics, which finds rapper Azeem joining forces with the Bay Area group Variable Unit. On this 2004 release, Azeem doesn't defame women or rap about thug life. Flowing over jazzy, hypnotic electronica beats (electronica as in chillout, downtempo, or acid jazz rather than techno and the harsher strains of rave music), Azeem addresses a variety of political and social topics. Environmental concerns are addressed, and civil liberties are a recurring theme on Mayhemystics; "Under Surveillance," for example, is about democracies becoming less free and democratic when hidden surveillance cameras are all over the place. Although Mayhemystics is highly sociopolitical, it isn't militant in the way that Public Enemy, Ice-T, Paris, and KRS-One have frequently been -- actually, Azeem's rhymes tend to be reflective and contemplative more than angry. Like a lot of alt-rap discs, Mayhemystics is more likely to appeal to a Roots/Blackalicious/Q-Tip/Pete Miser audience than a Dirty South audience or a Beanie Sigel/Ja Rule/50 Cent audience. But whoever buys Mayhemystics, this CD is among the more memorable alt-rap discs of 2004.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson