In 2012, a relatively unknown rap group known as the Underachievers was signed to Flying Lotus’ esteemed record label, Brainfeeder. Legend has it that it took the Odd Fu-ture-affiliated FlyLo all of 20 seconds to make up his mind about the then-mysterious duo. Fast-forward to present day; the Underachievers have released two critically well-received mixtapes via Brainfeeder, while their debut full-length album The Cellar Door is set to drop in May of this year. Meanwhile, an enthusiastic buzz is steadily growing with-in the hip hop community as word spreads about a spiritually conscious, alternative rap group from Flatbush, Brooklyn.
The Underachievers are comprised of MCs/aspiring philosophers Issa Dash and AK; the former allegedly starting rapping only three years ago, a claim that’s hard to fathom considering the technical proficiency exhibited on both recent mixtapes Indigoism and Lords of Flatbush. Slow BPMs allow Dash and AK the room to frequently shift into dou-ble time, skipping across the beat while dizzying internal rhyme schemes and wordplay test the astuteness of the listener. The lyrics themselves are often drug-laced, but it’s not the typical glorification of hedonism that we’ve come to expect from hip hop. To the Underachievers, psychotropic substances can be mind-expanding, especially when the concrete walls of the inner city box you in.
“Psychedelics just put you in a space to think without any barriers that society places on your mind,” Dash explains. “It’s a really free way of thinking. The first time I did psyche-delics, the number one thing I learned is that I’m so small compared to such a big uni-verse. I was like, ‘Wow, how can I be caring about materialistic things when I’m just a speck in the universe?’ I’m just going to die and be forgotten. From that day, I decided I had to establish a mark on the world.”
The subject matter of the Underachievers’ music is what really sets it apart from the droning, self-indulgent hum of contemporary hip hop. “We rap about third eye conscious shit!” Dash exclaims. The duo insists they are determined to use music as a platform to share knowledge and to encourage listeners to think for themselves. Themes of spiritu-ality and enlightenment are prominent on their first two mixtapes, and it is welcome con-tent for the hip hop listener who is understandably weary of the same old tropes. Dash elaborates: “My original plan was to go to school, get my PhD, write books, teach clas-ses, and get my message out that way. But then I thought maybe music would work. I just came up with this idea with my friend, AK. We chose to use music to connect with people instead of going the conventional route. It’s the universal language, in a sense, because of how far it can reach and how many people it touches.”
The subject matter of the first two mixtapes seems oddly significant in the context of their record label. Brainfeeder is known more for its warped, instrumental hip hop and spacey electronic dance music than for its MCs; think artists like Lapalux and the Gas-lamp Killer. Yet, the Underachievers’ atypical style and textured, ethereal beats make them a good fit for the label. Furthermore, being rappers, they add depth to the roster – depth of the sort that could help Brainfeeder appeal to a wider audience, as the market for instrumental hip hop is undeniably niche. Having already collaborated with Flying Lo-tus, it will be interesting to see where the Underachievers take their music in the coming years, following their impending debut full-length album. Whatever the direction, you can be sure that you will be hearing a lot more of their name in the near future.
Catch the Underachievers on April 18th in Vancouver at the Fortune Sound Club.
By Peter Scheiber