Words About Music
The Underachievers “Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium”
One of 2013’s most accomplished mixtapes was “Indigoism,” the debut from Brooklyn duo The Underachievers. Issa Gold and AK were quickly signed to Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label before it was even released, demonstrating the duo’s importance in the oncoming “beast coast” movement of skilled New York MCs including A$AP Rocky (with his A$AP Mob), Joey Bada$$ (and his PRO ERA crew), and Flatbush Zombies. The Underachievers focused on positive, spiritual rhymes that dealt with the idea of a third eye. They took things to a metaphysical level, and it helped that both Issa and AK happened to be skilled spitters that worked with some great beats. They continued the third eye shit on their followup EP “The Lords of Flatbush,” though they stuck mostly to bangers as Lex Luger provided most of the production. With their debut studio release, “Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium,” the pressure is on. Let’s see how they did.
I have always been impressed by the lyrical skills that the two Underachievers appear to possess. Issa and AK are two very smart dudes; probably the smartest in the entire Beast Coast scene. I have kind of a problem with hip-hop that is considered “smart” or “conscious,” though. Rappers like Atmosphere, Sage Francis, Immortal Technique, and hell I’ll just lump Eminem in there, they all bore me to death. They’re great writers and lyricists. They’re all smart dudes that know what they’re talking about (Immortal Technique notwithstanding) but they all seem to forget about something important: the musicality. I don’t listen to hip-hop to listen to a dude tell me how terrible poverty is or how our president has failed us or whatever. I listen for the production, the catchiness, the creativity. The Rhymesayers and Stones Throw guys are so unmemorable to me, which is why I found myself so enamored with “Indigoism.” It was a grower, but it took a subcategory of hip-hop, the pretentiously named “conscious hip-hop,” and turned it into something catchy and accessible. Fun, even. I can’t safely say that lightning struck twice for “Cellar Door.”
What is nice about “Indigoism” is that even though it’s an hour long, it doesn’t feel like it. “Cellar Door” is 40 minutes long, but it feels much longer. I don’t really have a problem with Issa and AK rapping about pretty much the same thing over and over again because they usually do it in a way that’s creative and smart, but it feels so exhausting on this album. By the time I reach the halfway point I feel like I’ve listened to an entire album. “Indigoism” feels more spacey and relaxed to me, but “Cellar Door” feels compressed and claustrophobic. Weirdly enough, this album is more lo-fi than “Indigoism” was. I’m tempted to use the term “sophomore slump” even though this is the duo’s studio debut. It’s just tough not to compare “Cellar Door” to “Indigoism,” the latter of which I feel is superior. It’s a shame, too, since Issa recently tweeted that he wants to quit rapping, making this potentially The Underachievers’ last release.
Technically speaking, The Underachievers are great rappers and that cannot be denied. In fact, it’s their absolute skill that I think saves this album from being a total bust. Their respective flows are impeccable and that’s definitely something that drew me in last year. But, like I said, I listen to hip-hop for more than the flow. If all Kendrick Lamar did was rap about boring trivial stuff, I wouldn’t like him at all even though he is a great technical rapper. If clipping.’s production sucked, they wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as they are. I nearly mistook Aesop Rock for another “conscious rapper” before I actually took time to listen to him. “Indigoism” is one of this decade’s best hip-hop releases, and unfortunately “Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium” doesn’t live up. Let’s hope Joey Bada$$’s upcoming album doesn’t disappoint as much.
SCORE – 5.7
FAVORITE TRACKS – Caprice, Sonorous, Metropolis, Ethereal, Amorphous