"Keepin' it real" narrowly edges out "real talk" and "it is what it is" for the most abhorrent platitude in hip-hop, and Bay Area supergroup, the Mighty Underdogs, refuses to be constrained by it. The outfit which couples local lyrical legends Lateef the Truthspeaker (Latyrx) and Gift of Gab (Blackalicious) with producer extraordinaire Headnodic (Crown City Rockers) recently released its debut on Definitive Jux: the varied, headnod-inducing Droppin' Science Fiction. While most supergroups fall flat because of a lack of chemistry, the two MCs' uber-smooth, rapid-fire deliveries flow seamlessly. Their distinct styles are complemented by Headnodic's soulful, intricate beats.
I caught up with the articulate, engaging group at their unassuming rehearsal space, nestled in a sea of factories and warehouses in East Oakland. The buoyant MCs exuded pure excitement and pride as they discussed the origins of the Underdogs.
"It was instant chemistry," remarked the laid-back, personable Gab. "We had so much fun doing it. The chemistry was just great, and the songs were just comin' out dope. We just kinda got lost in it. Thus, the Mighty Underdogs were born."
Actually the group formed almost by mistake. Lateef was working on his upcoming solo album, Crowd Rockers, when Headnodic asked him to consider some of his beats for the project. 'Teef got more than he bargained for, and left the producer's North Oakland abode with about 10 beats that he had ideas for. He decided to call an old friend. "I just thought, "Lemme call Gab,' because Gab and I had been talking about working on a project together," the benign, thoughtful lyricist explained. "I sent them [the tracks] over to Gab and, within a month, it was just on!"
From there the trio congregated in Nodic's studio to work on the tracks that would become their first full-length. During those sessions, they created a recording that knocks all the way through while focusing on fictional storytelling, which became Gab's favorite part of the project. "Lateef had hit me up with 'Monster' and 'Ill Vacation,'" said Gab, "and they were both on some storytelling, out-there, imaginative-type stuff, and that really excited me about making the record."
While much of the disc highlights light-hearted, bouncy storytelling, it also encompasses the introspective, honest lyricism that the MCs' fans adore. On tracks like "Folks," "Want You Back," and "So Sad," which features the incomparable Julian and Damian Marley, the 'Dogs do what they do best: weaving true life tales of struggle and love. "While a lot of this record is fictional storytelling, the songs that aren't are very real," Lateef said with a laugh. "We're talking about shit that everybody does, and everybody sees." *
THE MIGHTY UNDERDOGS
With Zion I and the Cataracs
Nov. 22, 8 p.m., $20$22
Regency Center, Van Ness and Sutter, SF