Album review: 'Droppin' Science Fiction,' by The Mighty Underdogs

Patrick Varine

The Quannum Records family has produced some excellent artists, most notably the Afrocentric funkiness of Blackalicious and the crate-digging mastery of DJ Shadow.

So it’s not all that surprising that The Mighty Underdogs – comprising Blackalicious MC Gift of Gab and Oakland, Calif., alumni Lateef and producer Headnodic – have put together a quality record in "Droppin’ Science Fiction." But where Blackalicious had a keen ear when it came to incorporating pop moves into their brand of old-school-influenced hip-hop, Headnodic provides a soundtrack that could probably be achieved with a live band.

Lots of studio drums and live horns inform the work on Droppin’ Science Fiction, and when guitars make an appearance in hip-hop, it’s usually in a funk loop, not a classic-rock style riff (Gunfight,” feat. MF Doom).

But it all seems to work well. While much of the album uses full-band instrumentation, Headnodic works just as well with traditional hip-hop experimentalism. In the tradition of King Tee’s “I Got a Cold,” “Laughing at You” and “Doglude” build hilarious beats out of giggles and growls. A remix of “UFC,” from the sneak-peek EP that Mighty Underdogs released in anticipation of the full album, is straight-up old-school, built on burbling distorted guitar chops and machine-gun clarinet.

In fact, Headnodic may be the most impressive part of the album, moving pretty effortlessly from rugged to smooth (“Want You Back,” “Folks”) to double-time (“Ill Vacation,” which features some insanely-quick rapping from Gift of Gab and fellow Quannum labelmate Lyrics Born.

By far, though, the best two songs are “Hands in the Air,” whose cascading harp-and-piano melody practically dares you not to get up and bounce around, and “Aye,” which is really just a soul chop of a couple dudes reciting the title track and a devastating percussion-heavy beat, as Gift of Gab and Lateef head out on the town to find a few ladies.

It’s hard to think of a recent album as instantly likeable as "Droppin’ Science Fiction." It’s a bouncy, fun hip-hop record with MCs who are dead serious about their lyrics.

Top ten hip-hop album of ’08, without question.

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