By now, I'm not sure if being compared to the golden era of rap is a compliment or not. AK from The Underachievers knows this: "It's flattering being compared to that era in hip-hop, but we want to move past that. We don't want to be placed into a box."
Labeling The Underachievers as a pure pastiche act is an injustice as much as it is untrue. The group has made themselves a singular presence amongst New York's cool kids on the block — Beast Coast collective — though not as nostalgic leaning as Joey Bada$$ or as weird as the Flatbush Zombies. Their debut mixtape, Indigoism, had MCs Issa and AK knocking on the doors of perception as their offbeat lyricism was coupled with the entre-producers' broad-palette production, whether Southern rap in "Herb Shuttles" or the watercolor blues of "Revelations."
Known for their Third Eye gang musings, The Underachievers speak in elevated conversations that are redolent to the Afrocentric illumination of the Jungle Brothers, De La Soul or Talib Kweli. On their new album, Evermore the Art of Duality, The Underachievers made an effort to cut the hippie rhetoric. "We're very spiritual people, but we tried to leave the metaphysical references out," AK says, while laughing. "We do it a lot." Yet, at times it's hard to tell. Evermore has them spinning on their spiritual axis as Issa struggles as a misguided hustler in "Chasing Faith" or as AK battles with temptation in "The Dualist."
Clocking in at about an hour, the album still feels as if they've got too much to say with too little time to say it. Their lyricism never lets up and could be a '90s cypher of Freestyle Fellowship. But, they still rub elbows with the substance-less, substance-friendly bangers. "There's always been this duality with us," says AK. "We have the party turn up shit but we also have us going on some heavy stuff." Songs like "Take Your Place" and "Moon Shot" creep in with a jarring abruptness and trap instrumentation only to descend into hellish braggadocio.
At this point, you must ask, "Are they just like every other rapper lusting for weed, girls and cash?" They must be aware of the contradictions. The Underachievers extol on the struggles of their flawed humanity: "We're all human and have different demons," says AK. "It's just about affecting the next generation in a positive way."
The Underachievers feat Pouya & The Buffet Boyz, Kirk Knight, Bodega Bamz
$19-$75, 8pm Fri, Nov 6, Alamo City Music Hall, 1305 E. Houston St., alamocitymusichall.com