Tuesday nights tend to be on the slower and quieter side here in Madison. There are usually a few low-key concerts by local groups, but nothing that gets mobs of people off their couches, into the icy weather and over to the clubs. Last night's concert by alt-hip-hop supergroup The Mighty Underdogs was an exception -- and well worth the hassle of standing in line outside the Majestic Theatre.
The Underdogs -- composed of Blackalicious' Gift of Gab, Latyrx's Lateef the Truth Speaker and Crown City Rockers' producer Headnodic, who all stormed the stage in black masks that looked like a cross between a sewer rat and Goofy the Disney dog -- made it clear from the get-go that they considered the crowd the fourth member of their group, the one who brings the noise. Headnodic even sported a T-shirt with a real, sound-sensing volume meter that showed the audience just how loud -- or wimpy -- their cheers were.
While Headnodic brought the beats, Lateef and Gift of Gab got the audience on their feet and dancing to "Monster," the lead track off of the group's 2008 album Droppin' Science Fiction. For those who were still a bit shy about showing off their moves, there was a lesson in arm-waving with the song "Side To Side," which underground hip-hop fans may remember from Pigeon John's November show at the High Noon Saloon. (Gift of Gab teamed up with Pigeon John and Lateef to record the song on Blackalicious' 2005 album The Craft, and it's been a staple at shows of several Quannum Projects artists ever since.)
Lateef -- who, shockingly, doesn't have a solo album of his own -- also showed off a few favorites from his collaborations with others, including "Wonderful Night," a track he recorded with Fatboy Slim for 2004's Palookaville.
Though the group performed a number of songs from Droppin' Science Fiction and their preceding EP, The Prelude -- including "Gunfight" and "UFC" -- freestyling was arguably the highlight of the night. Gift of Gab prepped the crowd for a freestyle battle with "Alphabet Aerobics," a fan favorite from Blackalicious' 1999 EP A2G that shows off Gab's ability to rhyme his way through a tricky set of rules -- in this case, 26 sets of rhyming lines, each showcasing a different letter of the alphabet -- while increasing the tempo to warp speed.
The freestyle battle that ensued was equally as mind-boggling. It's easy to see why the group included the term "droppin' science" -- a term the Beastie Boys coined in "The Sound of Science" to refer to innovation, especially a rhyme that shatters the mold -- in their album title. Droppin' science fiction must be something even more revolutionary: tight and original rhyming that practically reaches the speed of light. By the end of the battle, the rhymes were being rattled off so fast that you could hardly see Gab and Lateef's lips moving.
If fans weren't already convinced that backpack rap -- a.k.a. underground hip-hop -- is the real deal, this show should've erased their doubts. While, true to form, there wasn't any rapping about gunsliging, drug dealing or ho hating, it was proof that the brainy, quiet kids on the bus can bring it at least as much -- if not more -- than the rest.