As a group heading into its fifth year, the first official EXO sub-unit seems almost overdue, especially given their large number of members and initial unit configuration of EXO-M and EXO-K. When it was announced that CBX would comprise of Chen, Baekhyun and Xiumin, it was hard to guess exactly what sound they’d be paired with. But knowing the norms of the season, and the fact that the three are part of EXO’s vocal line, I assumed we’d be getting a ballad. So it comes as a pleasant surprise that Hey Mama is essentially Lucky One part two.
Bucking the trend of releasing more pensive material during the fall, CBX bound out of the gate with a track that sounds much more suited to summer. Though EXO excel at a darker, edgier sound, I find them most exciting when they’re taking influence from the inclusive warmth of genres like funk and disco. Hey Mama fits right into that subset of their discography, riding on kinetic rhythm guitar, glittery beats and a hazy, filter-happy production style. The entire song feels like a propulsive piece of percussion, with every single element strengthening the groove. And while there’s no standout piece of instrumentation on par with Lucky One‘s addictive flute riff, its aural continuity creates a seamless burst of energy that feels utterly refreshing this time of year.
It’s astonishing how full a sound these three vocalists can give the track. Anyone not familiar with the group may easily assume this had been recorded by all nine members. The layering and background vocals give the song added oomph and power. That’s not to say that the guys get buried in the mix. Baekhyun always stands out in EXO tracks, but this time around Chen and Xiumin get the strongest moments — the climactic high note for the former, and the frantically fun rap break for the latter. And though the main refrain lacks some melodic punch and originality that may dull the song’s excitement in the long run, there’s no denying that Hey Mama is boundless fun in the moment.