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The Mighty Underdogs

An Ill Collaboration

Underdog status is nothing new for Gift of Gab, Lateef the Truth Speaker and Headnodic, the Bay Area hip hop fixtures that joined forces to create the Mighty Underdogs. Although all three have seen various degrees of success, easy money is rare in the underground hip hop game. Lyricists Lateef and Gab have been at it for nearly 20 years, gradually building an international fan base from Quannum Projects, the DYI record label that helped launch their careers. Headnodic, who handles production work for the Underdogs and serves as bassist/producer for Crown City Rockers, finds himself on a similar track as his Oakland-based group gains more exposure and his production credits grow. The Mighty Underdogs perform at the Grand Ballroom at the Regency Center on November 22nd. Their debut LP Droppin’ Science Fiction was released on Def Jux earlier this year.

SF Station (SFS): Droppin’ Science Fiction has several interesting stories and narratives. Was that planned from the beginning?

Lateef: Yeah, from jump the tracks that we picked from Headnodic were very thematic and cinematic. We wanted to approach this almost like we were directors or writers on a movie script. We wanted to take it outside of the realm of what everybody else is doing and what is acceptable in hip hop.

SFS: How do you approach a song like “Gun Fight", that has a storyline based in the Wild West? Do you work on the concept beforehand or do you build off of one verse?

Gab: With this process, the music told us where to go. Once “Ill Vacation", “Gun Fight", and “Monster” were done, the theme started creating itself and we really went with the character of the music. With “Gun Fight", Lateef wrote his verse, sent it to me and then I wrote my verse.

SFS: Who are some of the hip hop storytellers that influenced you?

Gab: I have to say Slick Rick first.

Lateef: Early Ice Cube, some of his story songs were really, really dope. Some of Del’s stories were really dope.

Gab: The Pharcyde, as well.

Lateef: Also, Abstract and even De La Soul had some good stories, and I always thought The Geto Boys were good. Although they weren’t necessarily stories, Rakim would take you on a journey with his lyrics and you would be completely immersed and seeing everything in his lyrics.

Gab: He had a good way of painting pictures. With “Follow the Leader", I really felt like I was floating into the universe, watching the earth get further away and watching the planets as balls of clay.

Lateef: When he rhymes about playing a show, you feel like you are in a sweaty club while he is rapping.

SFS: A lot of those artists came up in the 80s and early 90s. Why do you think that style is less apparent today?

Lateef: I think some people still do it. Outkast does it a lot, and at times Common does it. Kanye can create a certain vibe and Dr. Dre, to an extent. There are people that do it, but I think there is more of an emphasis on keeping it real now. I think that stymies creativity as far as storytelling goes.

SFS: Where does this record fit in with your career?

Lateef: We are both very proud of this piece of work. I definitely feel like it is a fun record and it’s not like anything else out there, but at the same time I feel it’s a piece of classic hip hop. I think it exists both inside and outside of the normal stream of what we usually do, which makes it that much more special. It’s our collective chemistry, but it’s not all that we are. We have other facets, other things to share, and other projects to work on. Musically, I feel that it’s a good look. I’m very proud of it.

Gab: I think that it shows our diversity as artists. We didn’t want to make another Blackalicious or Latyrx record. I didn’t want it to be “socially aware” or whatever people consider me as a rapper. I wanted to have fun and bring more comedy into it. I think it shows more of our range and Headnotic’s range as a producer.

SFS: How did you hookup with Def Jux?

Gab: We’ve known El-P [Def Jux owner] for years. He did a song with Latyrx about 10 years ago. Quannum is putting out a lot of acts and we wanted to venture out to see what else is out there for us. We reached out to El-P, and he was with it. It is as simple as that.

SFS: Del the Funky Homosapien, a founder of the Oakland-based Hieroglyphics label, also released his latest album on Def Jux. Do you think this marks a shift for Bay Area independent labels?

Lateef: As Bay Area groups and other hip hop acts have more longstanding careers, you are going to see them hopping on different labels to try to extend their fan bases by reaching out to new people.

Gab: It’s just networking. Individuals that have come up in the last 10 or so years, you are going to see them doing that. It’s about unifying and networking with people who are like-minded artists.

The Mighty Underdogs perform November 22 at the Grand Ballroom at the Regency Center. Tickets are $20 and the show starts at 8pm.