The Underachievers – Indigoism
The recent revival in independent New York rap music has been a surprisingly divided one. Being vaguely retro is one of the few things that they all have in common. On one end of the scene are A$AP Mob and the Flatbush Zombies, postmodern resurrectors of southern flows and re-appropriators of recent tumblr-rap sounds and attitudes. They succeed not necessarily through performing any of their influences very well, but being very good at curating an altogether cohesive sound out of disparate historical pieces. On the other end are the Pro Era crew, reappropriators of mid-nineties Queensbridge flows and the production of the late-nineties underground. Their success depends on brute force and the deep swamp of 90s nostalgia that lots of hip-hop fandom still sits in. Sometimes their music is interesting-if-derivative boom-bap. Other times they make, as one perceptive Potholes commenter once labeled it, “elevator music for 90s hip-hop heads.”
The Underachievers aren’t really that different from either subsection. For one thing, they’re loosely associated with Joey and the Progressive Era through the Beast Coast movement (somebody needs a naming consultant). More importantly, they’ve absorbed the basic elements of both the tumblr fashionistas as well as the old-heads. To a large extent, the Underachievers rap with the same gruff Three 6 Mafia and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony inspired flows as the A$AP Mob and the same retro-underground beats as the Pro Era’s best tracks.
What separates them from either crew, however, is that they combine both sounds and music that is arguably more compelling than either. The general mood of Indigoism is woozy in the recent fashion, but tied down by particular genre-awareness. “Land of Lords”, for example, uses the same “Synthetic Substitution” drum loop as Danny Brown’s “Die Like a Rockstar”, Ghostface’s “Mighty Healthy”, and so many other songs. That core of hip-hop traditionalism is, however, tempered by the duo’s commitment to a particularly specific flavor, in which a sort of psychedelic swank meets the canonical sounds of Illmatic. As far as rapping is concerned, the dudes may draw from the same influences as Joey Bada$$ or A$AP Rocky, but you are much less likely to notice that fact, because both MCs rap with an impressive level of vocal intensity. While Rocky often sounds like he’s constantly trying to come up with new words to say, these two sound like they’ve got too many. They’re constantly switching from one flow to another as they crash stuttering double-times into one another from verse to verse. It can be very entertaining.
If Indigoism lacks anything, its lyrical content. Their imagery is a mix of standard newb rubberband postering with the kind of religious thematics that conspiracy theorists really like to talk about. Take a look at that pyramid on the cover if you’re not sure what I mean. While UA’s new age spiritualism certainly fits their album artwork and production, it just isn’t a very fruitful tree to pick from. They end up saying the phrase “third eye” far more than you would want them to. This is, however, but a small shortcoming. While both sides the New York indie world share a style-over-substance kind of attitude, aiming more for a general sound than anything particularly new on a song-by-song, line-by-line level, the Underachievers are making consistency and fiery passion a part of New York conscious hip-hop again.