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Zion I & The Mighty Underdogs Live

 

No Takeover Tonight: A Review of The Mighty Underdogs and Zion I Show

As I entered the Regency Ballroom, ready to listen to the Mighty Underdogs and then the headlining act, Zion I — I was surprised to see teens left and right running around like school just let out. Maybe I should’ve expected this, being an all-age show, but this wasn’t the only surprise of the night. The ballroom was half empty, and filled with white teenage girls dressed in small miniskirts smiling with braces, and boys with black sunglasses, and baggy pants. My initial thought—am I at a high school dance?

The Mighty Underdogs have been touring with Zion I, promoting their new album Droppin’ Science Fiction which was released in October 2008. The group is a collaboration of Gift of Gab from Blackalicious, Lateef the Truth Speaker from Latyrx and Headnonics. Having heard their album prior to the show, I was excited when Gift of Gab began rapping to “Ill Vacation,” an upbeat and danceable song, but it just didn’t sound the same. The bass line overpowered all the goodness of the track, the lyrics, the horns and the bells. Like an awkward dance party where no one dances, but everyone stands looking around, Gift of Gab and Lateef just couldn’t get the crowd moving. They tried but the crowd just seemed dumbfounded.

Granted, the success of any show is a fickle balance of performance and crowd. The performers have to be prepared, clear, and have good stage energy to even rattle the crowd, but sometimes not even that’s enough. At a hip hop show, if the audience isn’t feeling it, the call-and-response that is so essential in keeping a crowd involved, never begins, and the energy of the show never materializes. Even as The Mighty Underdogs left the stage, I was skeptical that Zion I could get this crowd going.

Zion I, comprised of rapper Zumbi and producer Amp Live, walked onto to the stage with their single “The Bay” playing in the background. Performing with Zion I was Codany Holiday I, the soul singer who collaborated with Amp Live on his Raindayz Remixes album. I’ve seen Zion I perform on several different occasions, at the Fillmore, at small clubs in Minneapolis seating less than two hundred, and I’ve always left the show impressed. Zumbi is one of the most fluid rappers; many rappers sound coarse live, stumbling over their lyrics and struggling to come clearly on the mic. Never overshadowed, Amp Live always performs with his MPC on hand, mixing fresh beats on stage, to freestyling verses of Zumbi and crew. Whereas some rappers use live bands, others just wave their hands, Zumbi is always moving on the stage, trying to invigorate the crowd with his energy.

Zion I began their set with the song “The Drill,” and exclaimed “I’m going to get it hotter than a dance horchata,” and they did. For a moment, as the crowd began to sway with their hands from side to side, it felt like an entirely different show. After the song, Zumbi reached to his forehead, wiped the growing beads of sweat, and let out a big sigh. This was the group’s final show of the tour and it showed. While at times Zion I got the crowd moving, at other times the band was just background noise to whatever was happening. People weren’t focusing. Giggling girls came in out of the ballroom after sharing each other’s smokes, boys were attempting to freak dance, and some kids were just plain making out in the corners. This was not your typical hip hop crowd.

Towards the end of the set, Zion I asked if anyone had heard their new single on their Myspace page, “Juicy Juice,” from their soon to be released album The Takeover due in January 2009. The crowd fell silent--and all of sudden I had deja-vu of The Mighty Underdogs. Then Zumbi asked if the bass was loud enough. Of course the crowd responded NO! Then BOOM, BOOM, the bass kicked in, Zumbi rapped, “the 808s shake the rims on your Chevy,” and like that Zion’s new single which no one had supposedly heard, had the whole crowd going dumb. A girl with nasty dreads, started moshing like it was an I.C.P. show, and I was left baffled: who was this crowd? Following “Juicy Juice,” they played another track from their new album called, “Antenna.” I still have this song stuck in my head—it’s that good.

To any Zion I fans reading this, don’t be dissuaded from seeing the group perform live—they are usually fantastic. Who knows, maybe it was the crowd, maybe The Mighty Underdogs have to work on their onstage show, or maybe it was just a bad night. It was clear that at 11PM, an early night for any performance, the show was done, when Sum Kid, a rapper Zumbi brought on stage to freestyle, rapped, “That’s a call to Black Sheep, y’all might be too young to know that.” At that point, it was time to put the tour and the kids to bed, and get ready for what’s to come, The Takeover.

- David Johnson-Igra

[ play ] Play our Zion I sampler with 10 tracks spanning 6 albums!

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