.
The Underachievers – Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium

The Underachievers – Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium

underachievers cellar doorThe Underachievers – Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium  
RPM/Caroline: 2014

When The Underachievers released Indigoism in early 2013, I was in Ecuador as a Peace Corps volunteer. I had no background on the duo (made up of Brooklyn natives AK and Issa Gold), other than the hype and love that Flatbush Zombies were vocalizing via social media outlets. The mixtape was lengthy and it took me over a month to absorb, but when it finally hit, it hit hard. I spent (seemingly) months listening to nothing else. “Root of All Evil” is still my jam and if you’re wondering, it sounds outstanding chopped and screwed.

Following the beloved Indigoism, they took the Lex Luger path with Lords of Flatbush, an evident testament to the public that two well-educated mushroom fiends can make trap music full of insightful words and “free your mind” messages. It was a cool concept, but it still lacked the powerful production that I devoured so greedily on Indigoism. Their debut full-length, Cellar Door: Terminus U Exordium (Latin phrase meaning “The End of the Beginning”), is more of the latter than the former. More bass and less soul.

The Underachievers are trying to provide a light for a dark era, for a group of people struggling to find their way amongst the clutter and the mayhem. I get it. But with Cellar Door, we get plenty of aggression and desire for the common man to escape these mental prisons, though a large amount of the fast-paced lyricism seems preachy without providing assistance or outlets to escape a monotonous routine.

I’m sipping from the winner’s cup….y’all suckers focused on the TV, bruh/ While I live out my dreams, why don’t you go out?

The words come and go too fast for even the RapGenius scholars to snag on first listen. A meaningful message can be packed in one bar, but another one is sure to follow. This is dense, dense, hip-hop.

Cellar Door is all the more fascinating with the realization that both members released solo EPs less than a month before their group’s debut dropped. AK came through with Blessings in the Gray, nine tracks of strong lyricism and spot-on production. Ignorvnce and Unkkknown (both of which I was unfamiliar) provide a sprawling backdrop for one of my favorite flows in hip-hop. “Times Change” is gorgeous. Meanwhile, Issa Gold released Conversations with a Butterfly, an eight-piece boom bap autobiographical opera that excels through many angles. It is jazzy, funky, and full of personality. “September 5.” Bruh.

As a result, it comes as a shock that the majority of Cellar Door overwhelms rather than entertains. The talent is there, but the ambition is past the ceiling, lost in the clouds of half-achieved ideas and illuminated cadence techniques. Flow switch ups, back-and-forth verses—it’s all impressive and original, but the lyrics are very heavy and tightly packed. Like I said, dense. When the two slow down, it pays off. One of the standouts, for example, is “Nebulous,” produced by Two Fresh. It’s slightly more relaxed and less exhausting, but still standoffish and finger pointy. “Wish he could do it how we do it, nigga read a book. Switch it up, fuck being the same, my nigga, live it up. No one gon’ hold your head through the pain, you gotta live it up.” While Indigoism was, “Come here, let me coach you,” Cellar Door is, “I’m done holding your hand, get back to me when you’re a changed man.” I guess you could argue that the truth hurts, but there’s a big difference between being a prophet (Yasiin Bey) and lecturing your audience (Brother Ali).

The final two tracks stand out and feel as though they should be on separate projects. They are lovely, mystical, powerful creations. “Felicity,” my favorite track on Cellar Door, comes with help from The Ruby Suns. It is here where Issa Gold finds his beautiful message, one he has been shouting all along: “I’m here just to pave the way for the ones walkin’ the road but don’t know where it’s safe/ For the ones livin’ like slaves but they ain’t know they need change.

Meanwhile, the closer, “Amorphous,” features help from Portugal. The Man. These two final tracks—they also featured production from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.’s Nick León—perfectly display the duo’s experimentation and openness for other genres. Known for their praise of John Mayer and Fleet Foxes, it only makes sense that they’ve tapped into the psychedelic indie rock scene (one band from Alaska, the other from New Zealand) for their debut full-length.

Like all of the past Underachievers projects, the production is on point. Well-known acts Statik Selektah, Ryan Hemsworth, and Supreme Cuts all make appearances. Statik even strays from his signature sound to make something more futuristic and experimental for his third-eyed clients on the mindblender “Radiance.” Lesser known acts like Death Tarot help fill the gaps. “Chrysalis” sounds like something Erick Arc Elliott might create for the Zombies.

I know this review has been all over the place, and for as many parts as I critique, there are equally as many parts that I adore. Maybe I need to give it a month before properly writing something, but as it is now, Cellar Door is aggressive, abstract, and full of chakra alignment about paving destinies and negative talking heads that leave the listener flabbergasted rather than smoking and vibing. The Underachievers stay loyal to their city, shouting out Flatbush as they smoke weed and eat hallucinogenic handfuls, but I’m not sure what they set out to do when they opened Cellar Door and attempted to blend higher learning with street trap. If the title is any consolation, the end of the beginning marks a new path for a seemingly limitless duo still trying to guide and bounce at the same time.

★★★☆☆
3 out of 5

You can buy Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium here.

9 Comments

  1. Josef Zehetner
    Aug 28, 2014 @ 07:03:00

    Although its all over the place, the review still made plenty of sense to me. Indigoism hit me really strong – like Issa’s flow on Gold Theory, were i rewinded the track 20 times when i first heard it.
    But thats probably exactly were the problems are buried: I had too high expactations for them from this point on.

    Still, they are very promising and as long as their flows stay fresh the rest will follow.

  2. Spy Key 180
    Aug 27, 2014 @ 17:25:00

    I find their music way too preachy and lots of contradiction to notice. I know they want to change the world for the better, but I don’t like this idea that the world has to completely revolve around their own greedy desire without preserving some diversity and individualism. They also keep bragging about knowledge, but they continuously rap about drugs, NY and Beast Coast without providing diverse content that doesn’t have to follow the same Hip Hop trope. Seriously is hard to hear a positive enlightenment song when they talk shit to people that don’t have to conform their exact interest, perception and ideology. I know am talking mad shit, but I’m trying to like their music, but they’re not been a bit modest nor even attempt to discuss an entirely different subject matter that is outside of Hip Hop usual topics. If they want to justify the whole “3rd eye” idea, they gonna need to provide a unique dialogue that makes themselves stand out from the rest, but instead I hear a stoner druggy preacher acting all high and mighty like any other fanatical religion saying “hey be yourself, but fuck you, if you don’t represent the exact same lifestyle as we do.” That’s basically what I kept hearing as far as their message goes. I hope they can prove me wrong at some point in their future release, but so far they’ve been the same since their debut.

  3. Andrew_Martin520
    Aug 27, 2014 @ 15:49:00

    Here’s what I wish they did instead: Drop shorter projects and release those “preview” songs as loosies.

  4. Dan
    Aug 27, 2014 @ 15:34:00

    Yeah, you’re right. The last two tracks on each album/mixtape are a taster for the direction of the next project.

  5. BertMaclinFBI
    Aug 27, 2014 @ 15:24:00

    I remember reading somewhere that they try to make the last 2 tracks on a project different and sound more like a lead into the next project. So maybe they were a lead into the 2 mixtapes which i still need to listen to

  6. Andrew_Martin520
    Aug 27, 2014 @ 14:15:00

    I was disappointed too :/

  7. Ricky
    Aug 27, 2014 @ 13:35:00

    Disappointment rather than good or bad. I’m still waiting for a new kid/duo/group that I could really love to come out of NY. Hasn’t been one yet even though I do enjoy ASAP Rocky.

  8. Andrew_Martin520
    Aug 27, 2014 @ 11:59:00

    Is that a good or a bad thing though?

  9. Ricky
    Aug 27, 2014 @ 10:41:00

    This sounds exactly like what I’d expect from them.

Leave a Reply