The Underachievers have one of the most ironic names of any rising hip-hop act in recent years — and they’ve got to know it. In 2013, they released a highly conceptual breakthrough mixtape Indigoism and a taut EP, The Lords of Flatbush, that somehow got Waka Flocka Flame’s main producer Lex Luger to back a couple of New York’s slipperiest voices. They were still feeling out the finer details of their lyrical identity on those records; Issa Gold’s focused beat-riding and Ak’s staccato doubletime were slippery in compatible yet distinct ways, and it was fun hearing them twist their styles into shape.
One year later, their hybrid of East Coast lyricism, Yeezus-style fashion iconoclasm and hood psychedelia has been smartly streamlined into Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium. Over a lean dozen tracks, Issa and Ak flash a blend of eloquent intimidation and astral-travel vision. Their lyrical pursuits touch on knowledge-of-self scholarliness (Issa on “Chrysalis”: “We set the grandiose plan so they could treasure that/ From the Egypt sands down to the Brooklyn lands/ The light is with me man, I’m filled with melanin”) and working through the balance between getting high and reaching higher (AK claims to “Blow dro til’ overdose, still focus on my goals” on “Metropolis”). A coolly overcast minor-key vibe hangs over the production, which including collaborations with indie-world figures like Ryan Hemsworth (“Incandescent”), the Ruby Suns (“Felicity”) and Portugal. The Man (“Amorphous”). The result is the most concise and unified statement yet from a duo that was previously all over the map.