The Underachievers Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium

[RPM MSC; 2014]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: afrocentric new age Brooklyn street vibes
Others: Flatbush Zombies, Joey Bada$$, Alejandro Jodorowsky

Brooklyn’s deli cats, like the cats in ancient Egypt, roam the crowded, shelved confines, guarding sacred objects that stimulate the opening of the third eye, our pineal gland, which releases DMT. To Flatbush’s The Underachievers, the bodega is as sacred a place as a pyramid: Olde English is the mead of pharaohs, and blunt wraps the yield of the harvest. Like two prophets, living not in pyramids, but in the projects, Issa Gold and AK rap on their debut album, called Cellar Door: Terminus ut Exordium (that’s a Latin phrase that translates to “The End of the Beginning”) with inspiring words of wisdom. For them, it’s all about opening your third eye — theorized as attaining a higher consciousness, where everything about the time-space continuum is transcended. They want their listeners to elevate, especially in this postmodern world, where social media and technology have turned us all into cyborgs, and human conversation seems decentralized and eerie.

There are no choruses here, just straight rhymes, straight rhymes-as-lectures, filtered through their street wisdom and beats that range from 8-bit mysticism to fake palm-tree hi-hats, all in a splattering of dark greens, purples, and golds. In a city of polluted minds and polluted streets, The Underachievers still preach about stimulating the youth to get stronger; their rhymes don’t carry so much a political stance as they do a psychedelic one: trip out, fuck the world, fuck the police, get paper, and change yourself through acquiring knowledge, especially in Brooklyn, where stop-and-frisks, racism, gentrification, and financial and political corruption are a normal reality. Focusing on who you are may be the best thing you can do for any possibility of change in the world, even in the rap game. Because of this, The Underachievers have more in common with Alejandro Jodorowsky than they do Biggie Smalls, which is a good thing.

The grand message that The Underachievers seek to spread musically can get a little boring, though, especially when they pretty much rap about it on every song. When lofty propositions, such as changing consciousness, become your primary theme, it can be hard to rap about other less inspirational subjects (like hustling on the streets) without sounding hypocritical. To curb this potential homogenization, and misunderstanding, what AK and Issa Gold need to think about is how to rap about their message illusively. They should ask themselves, how do we rap about elevating, and don’t actually mention it, but have it be ubiquitous at the same time? How do we get it across subtly, but still manage to be profound? Can the beats suffice? Or perhaps our wordplay? Both of them know very well how to rap about philosophical problems; after all, this isn’t shallow rap music (they’ve name-dropped Socrates in their hit single, “Herb Shuttles”), but it also isn’t so Afrocentric as A Tribe Called Quest or Shabazz Palaces, and not as gritty as the releases from their other Pro Era friends the Flatbush Zombies and Joey Bada$$. From a purely compositional standpoint, AK and Issa Gold should reassess the idea of not having a strongly-defined verse-chorus-verse structure: we all love to be hooked, after all, and having a good chorus can make the verses addictive.

Despite my problems with this album’s stasis, AK and Issa Gold are getting better at rapping, and rapping together. They have more chemistry, and their beats are groovier and juicier. A surprise toward the end of the album is a collaboration with Alaska’s Portugal. The Man, a band that saw popularity during the turbulence of emo and George W. Bush’s second term. It’s a weird collaboration, but it works. It ends the entire album on an ethereal note, like leaving a church ceremony, or getting out a long New Age listening session in the bathtub, or ending a Tarot session straight from the other side of the bead door. They’ve got a lot to say and say it fast, and to say that they’re coming out of Brooklyn is motivational. In a couple of years, they might be headlining tours and promoting a movement that I am more than happy to be a part of. Long live the Indigo Children.

Links: The Underachievers - RPM MSC

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