Young Zeus, a.k.a. Chris Birdine, doesn’t have to dig very deep to find inspiration for his rhymes. When you grow up in Fort Worth’s impoverished South Side with a drug-dealing father and gangbanging classmates, life-altering moments happen all the time. Looking back, the 25-year-old co-frontman for the reggae/hip-hop outfit Lion Eye said he’s lucky he overcame his adolescent circumstances and can now put his experiences to good use. Last March, Birdine collaborated with longtime friend and fellow Fort Worth rapper Dru B Shinin’, a.k.a. Andrew McCollough, and vocalist Paul “Giggy” Gordon on Lion Eye’s freshman EP, Babylon Burn.
“Lion Eye has a universal message,” McCollough said. “We want to make music for the average working person by speaking against racism, corruption, and abuse. Zeus and I are very similar, but he’s a bit younger and has more of that ‘brand- new day’ lyrics style.”
Though Lion Eye is just starting out, having played only two shows (at The Aardvark and The Grotto), the septet already has a 30-minute set lined up at arguably Fort Worth’s biggest indie music-friendly venue, Queen City Music Hall. The gig, Gordon said, is “a dream come true.”
Along with Zeus, Gordon, bassist Paul Garza, drummer Blaq Ron, rhythm guitarist Sam Rude, backup vocalist Shayla Sweetz, and lead guitarist Josh Vandenburg. McCollough feels Lion Eye’s blend of hard-charging reggae and socially conscious lyricism will resonate with Fort Worth audiences, especially with rap fans who’ve grown tired of hearing about bling and ballin’ and with indie-rock lovers who aren’t afraid of a little diversity.
Politics have always been a part of McCollough’s and Zeus’ work, even on their former collaboration, Mount Olympus. Reggae –– a genre as popular for its revolutionary-minded lyrics as its distinctive riddims –– is new to the rappers, but it’s certainly not unwelcome. Around the time of Mount Olympus’ dissolution last September, Gordon was looking to start a reggae band. The singer “ran the idea of having a hip-hop element” in the band by Dru, who immediately jumped onboard.
Going the reggae route, Birdine said, also has a pragmatic benefit. “It’s hard to get into any major venue without a band,” he said. “In Fort Worth, rock and country are at the top of the list. Right now I’m looking for something different, away from the typical hip-hop scene.”
Neither genre –– hip-hop nor reggae –– will be compromised, Gordon said. “Dru is a very lyrical rapper, and Zeus brings a very youthful hip-hop flow to the group,” he said. “We complement each other.”
Gordon, a Jamaican, doesn’t think there are any “straight-ahead reggae bands” in town, arguing that two of the most popular reggae-influenced acts –– Pablo & The Hemphill 7 and the resurgent Darth Vato –– incorporate a little too much ska into their music to qualify as pure reggae.
Lion Eye, he said, is different. “I’d like to say that we’re more authentic, that [our music is] natural,” he said. “I think this town will appreciate it.”
Lion Eye’s next show after Queen City will be Sunday, June 8, at Shipping & Receiving on the Near Southside as part of Reggae Madness, an annual festival presented by DFW NORML, a nonprofit branch of the national group dedicated to the legalization of marijuana and decriminalization of marijuana use.
McCollough thinks his band’s vision isn’t just unique. It’s also solid, professional, and eminently likable.
“We want to make music for the people — average working people,” he said. “We want people to leave having something to think about.”
Sat w/One Son, MuddieWater, Decide Your Betrayal, Everyday Phantom, Taylor Pace and Outa, Phoenix, Around the Sun, David Tribble, Overseer, Ever Since the Fire at Queen City Music Hall, 425 Commerce St, FW. $12. 817-322-4030.