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First Listen: The Underachievers, 'Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium'

The Underachievers' (Issa Gold is on the left, AK on the right) new album, <em>Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium, </em>comes out Aug. 12.
Courtesy of the artist
The Underachievers' (Issa Gold is on the left, AK on the right) new album, Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium, comes out Aug. 12.

"I ain't just rhyming," Issa Gold, one half of The Underachievers, says in "Chrysalis." "Keep up." He's rapping, which is much more difficult. Rapping requires him and his partner AK to choose a flow, or melody, for their lyrics; something they can use to parry the beat or run it down or surf. The duo puts the pedal to the metal here more often than not, exercising a slightly archaic style of MCing: deft, speedy, highbrow, tough to perform at the end of a set. Colloquially, rappity-raps.

The Underachievers named this album, their third, The Cellar Door because the phrase is among the most phonetically beautiful in the English language — regardless of its meaning. "A lot of people don't really understand what rappers are saying, but they enjoy it because of the flow," Gold told me and Ali Shaheed Muhammad when we interviewed the duo for our podcast, Microphone Check. In naming the album that, and in using SAT words like "Quiescent" and "Caprice" as song titles, they're saying it's OK if you don't catch every word; if, right now, you don't know everything.

Take "Quiescent." In the song, Gold talks about trying out different belief systems and rails against religious hypocrisy; AK points out that we're blinded by diamonds, but we can't take them with us when we leave. "Witness the beheading," he says, to close out. "N----s never use they melon." The drums lag enough to pimp-walk and the tones warm up the musicians' well-worn but depressingly relevant criticisms. Or "Caprice," whose hook is gruffly aggressive over a stately loop. With both, you learn if you listen hard; you bounce if you don't.

There's generosity in the songs on The Cellar Door, as well as an understanding of what it's like to receive music; of how non-musicians hand over time and attention to the perspective of a total stranger and use what they hear for relaxation and self-definition and maybe a little mind expansion. AK and Issa Gold are in their early 20s, and they've only been working as partners for a couple years. (They each released solo projects last week, too.) They have big plans and high regard for themselves, and they take the responsibility they've given themselves seriously. In our interview, Gold also said he makes music for "the youth" and defined that group broadly: "We know that we need change. But I don't know how to bring about that change."

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Frannie Kelley is co-host of the Microphone Check podcast with Ali Shaheed Muhammad.