If one were to pick a feasible alternative for kids coming of age seeking deeper themes than what mainstream Rap offers, Brooklyn’s Beast Coast crew would be amongst the sure bets. Comprised of Joey Bada$$, Flatbush Zombies and others, the collective can be compared to the Native Tongues, Wu-Tang Clan, Hieroglyphics and those to build organic movements with minimal creative compromise. Another branch on this tree, The Underachievers’ commitment to enlightenment has earned them a slot on Flying Lotus’ experimental Brainfeeder label. On the heels of solo EPs from both members, Cellar Door: Termius Ut Exordium (Latin for “the end of the beginning”) has The Underachievers back at it for this official debut album.
Where Issa Gold’s recent Conversations With A Butterfly was dedicated to love exploits, his rugged partner AK was more in sync with The Underachievers’ turned-up sound on Blessings In The Gray. Cellar Door is their latest progression after Lords Of Flatbush, a collaboration with former producer of the moment Lex Luger that was met with lukewarm fervor. Continuing the direction of their first mixtape Indigoism, the duo imagine themselves scholarly shamans opposed to fitting in with simplistic run of the mill emcees. Vocally distinct from one another, the opener “Luminescence” has them teaching lessons while slightly adhering to recent trends. Putting their own unique spin on the rhythmic flow of Chicago’s drill scene here, the group shows swift creativity without stooping to mindless talk of systematic violence.
Though The Underachievers celebrate the reborn spirit of Southern legend Juicy J on “Metropolis,” they are self-sufficient as Cellar Door features no big guests. Most impressed with their own capabilities, they are perhaps standoffish as outliers to the system and the music industry. Associating themselves with properties of light, there’s a certain irony in the dark vibe of the Trap-infused “Incandescent,” and on “Radiance” Statik Selektah matches their erratic energy with rattling production dissimilar to his traditionalist sound. Making a concerted effort to stray from any sort of convention, AK and Issa Gold don’t center their brand of Hip Hop around punchlines or an excess of bragging. Determined to inspire the youth towards higher knowledge, this musical mission has little time for playful banter or shenanigans.
With drug usage being a heavily recurring part of their routine, The Underachievers are heroic to some and modern day hippies to others. The approach taken to mental elevation places the pair in the same realm as legends including Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix along with their contemporary peer Ab-Soul. Despite repetitive content, their presentation is interesting enough to command attention on the fast paced “Nebulous,” but the glaring fault lies in delivery that is far too advanced at points. “Sonorous” is a rare easily comprehensible moment where Issa Gold stakes his claim flat out: “Came up from the bottom, yeah you know I’m going hard / I done seen it all, game was lacking bars until we got involved.”
The Underachievers abandon the antiquated idea of bringing back New York in favor of paving their own lane. Hoping to be voices for their generation, AK and Issa Gold complement each other well over captivating production, dropping gems not suited for listeners looking for easygoing background music. Challenging listeners on Cellar Door, their next level aesthetic is a double-edged sword since the strong flows that help them stand out require great effort to process. The penultimate track “Felicity” is the closest they’ve come to a Pop record to date, aiming to inspire hope and change in the world around them. Looking to lead a crowd that often relishes in staying behind, their ingenuity drags on at points with a risk of painting themselves into a niche corner. To truly understand these gems would take research, a chore that could find them continually confined to a smaller underground following.