The Mighty Underdogs Droppin’ Science Fiction

[Definitive Jux; 2008]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles:  hip-hop
Others: Blackalicious, Latryx, Crown City Rockers

The occasionally brilliant, mostly spotty debut LP from The Mighty Underdogs is exactly the kind of record the digital music industry needs to justify the movement from albums to singles. Droppin’ Science Fiction will undoubtedly work its way into my distant memory, for no good reason other than my reluctance to press the skip button — not to mention that I'd need a skip button at all, which is to say that there are some clunkers here.

There are some superlative tracks, however; “Gunfight” finds Mighty Underdogs MCs Gift of Gab (Blackalicious) and Lateef The Truthspeaker (Latryx) bookending an MF Doom verse, with Headnodic’s grinding, tense soundscapes and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly sample rolling tumbleweed-like through the song’s Old West narrative: a delightfully escapist variation on hip-hop’s shoot-’em-up tropes. This is followed by another standout in “ILL Vacation,” a series of warp-speed tall-tales swaggering with ample braggadocio among lounge-y horns, cartoonish effects, and a beat that grooves like hotel-lobby funk. Similarly, “Aye” is an effectively lusty ode to feminine allure. In these finer moments, Gab and Lateef sling syllables with superhuman elasticity and noteworthy wordplay — virtues well-known to their current fans — while Headnodic (who made his name with Crown City Rockers) matches spring-loaded beats and clever associative sounds to the flabbergasting flow of his MCs.

Yet, for each of these highlights, there’s a much weaker counterpart. “So Sad” exploits the Jamaican accents of Julian and Damien Marley to assert some sort of faux-authenticity in the record’s obligatory ‘conscious’ cut. Elsewhere, “Folks” ditches the Underdogs’ effervescent energy and sense of fun for lite-funk guitar and drowsy delivery — solid, yes, but uninspiring and tragically misplaced on what could have been an explosive, completely enrapturing record.

Indeed, it seems that the greatest strength of The Mighty Underdogs is, predictably, in the established strengths of its members, and in giving all involved a chance to play with lighthearted, even cartoonish themes for the sake of effective escapism and lyrical gymnastics. It’s when the coulda-been-supergroup punts for variety that Droppin' Science Fiction is at its most dull and uninspired, which is a shame for a group with so much inherent talent.

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