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BBC – Music – Review of The Underachievers

Written by on October 26, 2020

New York’s hip hop will never stop. The birthplace of the culture, the Big Apple’s voraciousness for fresh sounds will always mark it a talent hotbed.

But something truly distinctive has slipped into the water of late. A tasteful revivalism, complemented by a fuggy, narcotised aesthetic. Raps with bite and insight, matched to boom-bap attack with a contemporary twist. “Beast Coast”, its makers call it.

Joining fellow New York risers Joey Bada$$, Flatbush Zombies and DyMe-A-DuZiN as part of this loosely defined collective is The Underachievers. And they’re maybe the best of the bunch.

Brooklynites Ak and Issa Dash have already made friends in high places – they’ve caught the attention of Flying Lotus, and are now affiliated with the producer’s Brainfeeder imprint. From NYC to LA, all friendly likes, a radical progression from historical regional rivalries.

Yet while The Underachievers’ reach is impressive, their inspirational roots are close to home. This rap is resolutely a product of its environment, as much as any PDO-covered speciality. You can taste the concrete, the glass, the history.

If the Beast Coast movement has passed you by ‘til now, The Underachievers set it front and centre in their lyrical landscape, frequent references positioning it as a not-so-underground happening impossible to ignore.

Especially when the music its ethos is set to comes as fully formed as Indigoism. One wonders how its makers can step their game up significantly for a debut set proper.

“We’re heavy into the mystics,” Issa Dash told Acclaim, the former social science major emphasising how this is not an exercise in wordplay cliché. There’s something deeper at work throughout Indigoism, both vocally and compositionally. You’ll dance, but you’ll deliberate, too.

Production picks at memorable motifs – The Madhi samples Billy Cobham’s Heather, as did Souls of Mischief’s evergreen 93 ‘til Infinity – yet handles its borrowings with singular vision. Land of Lords brings jazzy horns to the fore, the result like a lost-and-found Pharcyde cut.

Elsewhere, there’s less of a retro-edge: Herb Shuttles is pointed, direct, dangerous-sounding. Revelations delivers its snappy lines over a keyboard buzz that evokes 50 Cent’s Ayo Technology, but is hungrier than anything the Queens heavyweight’s put out for years.

Indigoism is worth more than just blazing to. It deserves to, and should, blaze a path for its makers, from DatPiff to the dark side of the moon.

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