Concert Review: The Underachievers Overachieve

Rap Duo Drives the Audience Wild at the Ancient Future Festival

  • Early in their musical career, Issa Gold used the Internet to figure out how to widespread the message in his and AK’s music. Photo Simon New

The weed smoke was thick in the air, and the crowd was beyond tense. As the festival MC teased their name throughout the night, you could feel a wave of frenzy followed by frustration.

When The Underachievers hit the stage at Ancient Future Festival in the Old Port on Saturday, that tension went up in smoke. The audience knew all the words by heart as they sang along with the group made up of rappers AK and Issa Gold, natives and rap representatives of Flatbush, Brooklyn in New York City.

The neighborhood has a rich hip-hop history, raising rappers such as Busta Rhymes and Yasiin Bey (FKA Mos Def). The neighborhood’s most well-known hip-hop exports in recent years being the Flatbush Zombies, with The Underachievers having childhood ties with the group.

“Me and Zombie Juice grew up in the same building,” said Gold. The Underachievers and Flatbush Zombies came onto the scene as a collective called Beast Coast in 2012 along with rap group Pro Era.

Since being signed to Flying Lotus’ label, Brainfeeder, and dropping the video for their song “Gold Soul Theory” that same year, The Underachievers have been developing their brand of lyrically sharp, hard-hitting stoner rap ever since.

Gold said that he didn’t begin rapping at a young age, but was intuitive enough when it came to navigating the Internet that he and AK were able to break through quickly.

He explained that he and AK started making music a month before they gained traction and signed with Flying Lotus. “It was just like a science experiment,” Gold continued. “I have a message, and music is a universal language, so I just studied the Internet and figured out a way to infiltrate.”

Fans’ excitement in the Old Port made it clear that the duo had figured it out. AK credits the Internet for bringing his music to a wider audience and breaking racial boundaries. “Every one of our shows is white. I fuck with that, we’re connecting with other people from other races that relate to our experiences. It’s awesome.”

This May, the duo released their third studio album Renaissance which peaked and hit #34 on the Billboard Independent Albums chart and featured a more aggressive production and style than their previous work.

That aggression came through in the duo’s set, which had the crowd whipping into serious moshes during songs like “Crescendo” and the ever-famous “Gold Soul Theory.”

“The fans perform, we match,” said Gold. And it was evident—backstage before the show the two looked, admittedly, burnt out and unimpressed. But concerns vanished as they hit the stage hard and loud.

“I do it on purpose,” teased Gold. “95 per cent of the time you’ll find me sleeping in the green room before the show.”

The crowd’s energy, with a bottle of Jack Daniels passed around between joints donated by fans had Gold and AK pretty hazy after the show.

The two rappers both cite UK singer Sampha as a recent influence. This singer had released his album Process in February, arguably one of the best alternative R&B albums so far this year.

(left to right) AK and Issa Gold tearing up the stage at the Ancient Future Festival. Photo Simon New

The record couldn’t be more different from The Underachievers’ sound, but the two are comparably raw. While Sampha goes into delicate, desperate falsettos on a bed of solo keys, The Underachievers let loose with topics and metaphors over a heavy bass. “I used to listen to Process every single day,” said AK.

As The Underachievers’ set came to a close, the duo huddled around the DJ. AK asked to play one more track, a new song that was on his phone. The DJ replied, saying that he had no way to plug the phone into the soundboard—the crowd started to holler.

A crew member began digging through a backpack to the side of the stage, suddenly emerged with the ever-essential AUX cord. AK announced that this was a never-before-heard song that he and Gold made days prior. The crowd went crazy, closing out a wild set and leaving Ancient Future with a show to be remembered.

The two mentioned continuing their tour and putting out more content without a clear goal in mind. What is clear, though, is that they’re both grateful and optimistic.

With Renaissance being another rock-solid underground rap tape, they show no signs of slowing down. AK summed it up, “I’m blessed to come out and perform for you guys, it was a good experience.”

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