The Underachievers: Brooklyn Psych-Rap Duo Elevates Our State of Mind
"I'm not a rapper. I'm almost a scientist."
Who: Issa Gold and AK, a.k.a Brooklyn duo the Underachievers, whose February mixtape Indigoism presented yet another tweak to the New York boom-bap model. “People always mention the ’90s when discussing our music, you know,” says Gold. “And I was brought up in the ’90s, so it’s the main influence. But I would consider us to be more like the ’60s.” He cites Jimi Hendrix and Richie Havens as precedents for what the group’s trying to do: Create educational music that addresses spiritual concerns. Their rough-hewn mysticism is further evidence that “New New York” is a budding, multifaceted scene that ties together A$AP Rocky’s A$AP mob, Joey Bada$$’s Pro Era crew, and singularly strange rappers like Action Bronson or Underachievers pals Flatbush Zombies.
Know Yourself: Indigoism‘s strange mix of nostalgia — for grimy ’90s rap and ’60s rock sloganeering — is fleshed out by squeaky, trippy sound effects reflective of the acid experience. “After I did psychedelics in ninth grade, the music started to evolve,” Gold explains, noting that he’d previously been more into acoustic-guitar-based singer-songwriter fare. “You don’t really hear psychedelic music if you’re not psychedelic,” he continues, but once you trip, “it’s inevitable that you’re gonna make psychedelic shit.” Recent track “The Proclamation” samples the Rolling Stones’ end-of-the-’60s anthem “Gimme Shelter,” adding a meta-commentary on the downside of the era Gold celebrates. (He insists his revitalized vision of that glory won’t succumb to the same utopian failings). Meanwhile, the Underachievers’ upcoming EP, The Lords of Flatbush, is “completely produced by Lex Luger.” Surely that will expand the minds of some of the group’s more conservative fans.
D.A.R.E to Trip Balls: The mind-expanding qualities of psychedelics are a major influence on both the Underachievers’ music and Gold’s future vision for the group. He first heard of acid as an impressionable nine-year-old, when a police officer visited his elementary school on behalf of the infamous anti-drug D.A.R.E program. “I remember this like it was yesterday,” Gold says with a laugh. “He was like, ‘Yeah, there’s this drug called LSD, and it’s like a tattoo, and it makes you see shit that’s not there.’ And I remember everybody in there being petrified. I was the only kid there like, ‘Yo, you’re able to see some shit that’s not there? That’s fucking sick! It’s like a video game or a cartoon. I want to do this.'”
Destiny Fulfilled: “I’m not a rapper. I’m almost a scientist,” Gold proclaims. “The only reason I started rapping is because it’s my personal destiny to help my generation come together as one culture.” Adding that famous psychologist Carl Jung is his “role model” (specifically finding inspiration in the concept of “collective consciousness”), he came to hip-hop after studying political science and philosophy with plans to be a writer, before realizing that “the real way to touch people is with music.” So he hooked up with AK, who had been rapping “for 12 years,” and the rest is history in progress. “I’ve been able to touch so many people in the past year,” Gold boasts. He’s not quite finished.