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Gettin' Grown

Six hearts beat as one in L.A. underground group the Visionaries

By Christine Lee

PART OF THE difficulty in getting older lies in accepting and rolling with the changes that come along with different phases of life. Maintaining relationships through the onset of marriage, kids and careers can be a difficult balancing act. Today, where everyone always has one foot out the door, it's rare to find a musical group that is still together after a decade, let alone putting out quality music.

For more than 10 years, the L.A.-based underground hip-hop group Visionaries has grown from its humble roots of two members—MC Key Kool and DJ Rhettmatic, one rapping over the other's beats—to a collective of six that has recently put out its third unified effort, aptly titled Pangaea (the hypothetical supercontinent containing all the earth's landmasses).

The word "together" is used loosely, as along the road to creating their two previous albums, Galleries and Sophomore Jinx, all of the members—2Mex, Key Kool, LMNO, Writer's Block (Zen and Dannu) and DJ Rhettmatic—have also been separately involved with various solo efforts, different labels (Palladin, Battle Axe, etc.), separate groups and, oh yeah, domestic bliss and a baby or two in the process. They rap on their title song, "Pangaea": "We started as one/ then we drifted/ Separated as continents that shifted/ All the pieces fit; can't you see the togetherness?/ Visionaries Pangaea." "As we get older, the responsibilities get bigger—bills have to be paid and what not," says LMNO, at 30, one of the youngest members of the group. "But, our music still comes from our heart.

"We've been together for over 10 years; shoot, nowadays, you don't even have marriages lasting that long. And it feels like we are on the verge, that we're just reaping what we've put in as of right now. With age, it becomes clearer and just goes to show that this has been destined beyond any religious view, that God has placed us together for a purpose."

Pangaea retains the Visionaries' signature polyphony, with the collective raps and hooks coming together for the chorus and dissipating back into LMNO's composed and even delivery or 2Mex's fierce wordplay. The members vary in their lyrical abilities but connect words to beats like corked bats to balls. The production on Pangaea has improved since the previous albums, ringing through with crisp tones and embellishments of melodic ribbons and hooks like those on "DoMakeSayThink" or "If You Can't Say Love."

The Visionaries also make use of guest appearances that remain faithful to their owners yet also stay true to the Visionaries', er, vision. Three of the best tracks on the album—"Pangaea," "If you Can't Say Love" and "Momentum"—are produced by other well-known names in the hip-hop scene: Life Rexall of the Shapeshifters, J-Rocc of the Beat Junkies and Evidence of Dilated Peoples. The collaborations are part of the Visionaries' natural instinct, an easy amalgamation that allows them to incorporate the defining elements of another artist or producer and throw it into their own mix. The track "Meeting of the Minds" showcases the Living Legends crew over separate and distinctive loops and beats, produced by both Rhettmatic and Key Kool.

The same formula works for the group itself, which may sometimes develop a song without all members present or a show without having been together for weeks beforehand. But that's reality.

"There's times when we don't talk and won't see each other until it's time to do a show, yet there's nothing to worry about. With all these years, we just get to business," LMNO explains. "Our day-to-day activities are so different; the ones with kids probably have a lot more eventful days. I usually focus on studio work and stage, whether I'm writing or recording. Then Key Kool will be running things at Up Above, setting up the business. But we're all just trying to hone in on keeping a visionary sound, six sounds trying to create as one. That's forever been our motive that our music will be forever heartfelt, honest, pure hip-hop."

The Visionaries perform at 9pm on Saturday (Oct. 23) at MACLA, 510 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $8. (408.998.2783)

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From the October 20-26, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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