The Underachievers’ Mixture of Style And Substance Soar On ‘Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium’
There’s someone within your social network Shmoney Dancing right now as you’re reading this, much to some oldhead or social activist’s chagrin. A cursory glance at hip-hop and reveals its long-running history with violence. Positivity and consciousness doesn’t get DJ spins though, and Bobby Shmurda’s wingman Rowdy Rebel is just trying to dance. During his interview with Hot 97, Rebel mused about his rapping fathers attempts to get him to stay awake to the ways of the world.
“You young cats hate smart shit. Why is that?” Ebro asked.
“Nobody wanna hear that … Because I wanna get in the club and hear something I can turn up to,” Rebel said matter-of-factly.
And it’s been a source of inter-generational tension: Young cats don’t know how to listen. This is also intra-generational, and some twentysomethings are acutely aware of communal discord. Take The Underachievers for example. Hyper-focusd on lyrical technique, the duo of AK and Issa Gold were the most intriguing of the Beast Coast collective because of how well they were able to blend the former’s Old New York leanings (Pro. Era) with modern psychedelia (Flatbush Zombies) on Indigoism and Lords of Flatbush — two 2013 highlights.
The Beast Coast movement gradually got pushed because of time, the Coke Boys’ prominence, Troy Ave’s G-Unit revivalism and — most recently — “Hot Nigga's" sudden national takeover. All of these turns fulfilled young hip-hop’s constant need for instant gratification and club headknockers. That’s not too far away from The Underachievers’ aesthetic, but how do you mold third-eye mythology into something more urgent, but still cohesive?
Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium, the duo’s debut album, provides an enjoyably straightforward formula: Pull back a bit on the third eye talk, curtail the experimental production techniques to more furious beats and clothe the social medicine with dizzying, quick-tongued rhyming. The result is a listen that’s easy to digest and more grounded.
The Underachievers’ rhyme technique features tensely packed syllables that are audibly and thematically driven by the twentysomethings angst. The temperaments take center stage here as the production serves as a reliable supporter. On “Radience,” Issa Gold laments over a directionless revolution as he waxes over a warped beat, but you truly grasp the us-against-the-world intentions when AK burst in through sudden silence: “Who the fuck they testing?” The chaotic trap-fueled aggression of “Incandescent” — a highlight from a production standpoint — features the obligatory city-repping chest bumping, gathering the masses before the jewels drop: “Hit the pack, relax and let your spirit react/We built the pyramids nigga, where your memory at?” The strategy is to hide the medicine inside the food — a fast-talkin’, technically impressive entrée.
The duo isn't entirely prickly throughout Cellar Door, though. “Felicity,” which appears as the second to last track, appears not as a necessary exhale, but as an effusive reminder of the world’s potential that’s given a further weightlessness by Nick Leon & The Ruby Suns’ production. The Portugal The Man-sampling “Amorphous” follows, and here, Issa Gold helps close the project with a fluently delivered mix of reality and ambition: “Look at my generation, nigga what a shame Stuck inside of the molly poppin’/Fume us extra content, we need to stop it.” This is a criticism shared by the disillusioned veterans, but The Underachievers mission isn’t to commiserate about these complains or deliver an obituary. The not-so-big secret of Cellar Door is how Generation Y’s salvation doesn’t only lie on cynicism about the perpetual Them — camaraderie and a bit of faith is also key. Consider how Issa Gold’s assonance suddenly steps in front of the haunted production on “Chrysalis”: “Don't be mad at me cause you can't compete, drop your weapon G, join the cavalry.”
The Underachievers’ rhetorical vehicle is the same as it was in Indigoism: Dazzling you by rapping their ass off with almost nary a care to more accessible song structure. Cellar Door comes off as a bit of an endurance test as result. That’s a knock against it, but a small for what’s a brisk and enjoyable listen. If anything, it shows whether it comes to sonic thrills or consciousness sans the finger wagging, The Underachievers know what’s up. — Brian Josephs