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The Plug, Vol. 2: The Underachievers’ New LP Reviewed, Common’s Uncommon Influence, and MF DOOM’s Best Collaborations

on August 14, 2014, 12:00pm
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This is the second installment of The Plug, Consequence of Sound‘s monthly hip-hop zine. The aim is to explore the genre on a purely musical level and from a cultural standpoint. This edition includes reviews of 12 new hip-hop releases, a look at MF DOOM’s collaborative history, and the latest edition of Michael Madden’s Trappers and Philosophers column, centered on Common.

Reviews: 12 Releases From July and August

Featured Review: The Underachievers – Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium

underachievers The Plug, Vol. 2: The Underachievers New LP Reviewed, Commons Uncommon Influence, and MF DOOMs Best Collaborations

Grade: B+

When it comes to an act as agenda-focused as Brooklyn duo The Underachievers, who simply ask their fans to use their brain power, the question is inevitable: How will they avoid the “If you’ve heard one Underachievers song, you’ve heard them all” dilemma? Thankfully, Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium manages to ride a similar wavelength throughout without getting monotonous. It’s Issa Gold and AK’s most cohesive project, tighter than last year’s Indigoism (partly because it’s only 40 minutes long) and more consistent than The Lords of Flatbush, their eight-song EP. “Blinded by them diamonds but they ain’t gon leave your body wit ya,” AK raps on “Quiescent”, and the album works best when he and Issa are taking poetic turns like that. They’re still “trying to give my generation some leverage” (Issa), but they’re not so big-headed that they can’t ease back and shrug, “When in doubt, fuck it, I blow the loud,” as a smoked-out AK declares on “Quiescent”. The beats range from Mike Will pastiche (“Incandescent”) to swirly NY classicism (“Quiescent”) to arcing psychedelia (“Amorphous”, featuring melodic indie rockers Portugal. The Man). If anything, there’s not enough humor, but if AK and Issa are taking themselves too seriously, they’re also going harder than ever. –Michael Madden

AK (The Underachievers) – Blessings in the Gray

AK-of-The-Underachievers-Blessings-in-the-Gray-Mixtape

Grade: B

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AK is the less responsive interview of the two Underachievers, but he’s the superior rapper, routinely harnessing crisper, more focused flows. Because UA is a lyrics-first undertaking anyway, it’s no surprise that Blessings in the Gray slightly edges Issa’s Conversations with a Butterfly on the whole. Never on Blessings, his nine-track solo debut, does AK stop rapping, or so it seems: In reality, “Blessings in the Gray Interlude” is the tape’s one smoke break, and there are pitched-down hooks placed throughout. The third-eye themes here are familiar – put simply: read books and take acid! – but it’s still a joy to hear AK just get after it. He stutter-steps all over “LSD”, brings a new level of intensity right from his opening bars on “Sun Child”, and draws up a clear-minded template for the album’s sole guest MC, the female Leaf (not to be confused with Le1f), on “Winner”. The production comes from guys like IGNORVNCE, Unkkknown, and Joshua Helfinger, and besides the supercharged “LSD”, it’s mostly light and hazy, closer to Curren$y’s weed-rap than primary-colored psychedelia. It’s an ideal base for AK, who can handle all the complicated stuff on the mic. –Michael Madden

Cormega – Mega Philosophy

cormega megaphilosphy The Plug, Vol. 2: The Underachievers New LP Reviewed, Commons Uncommon Influence, and MF DOOMs Best Collaborations

Grade: B-

“The streets raised me to be wise and honorable,” goes Queens veteran Cormega on his sixth album, the entirely Large Professor-produced Mega Philosophy. To play devil’s advocate: This is a guy who did four years in prison, so when did he become wise and honorable? Mega spends a mildly annoying chunk of the album trying to prove his thesis in condescending terms, especially on lead single “Industry”, in which he criticizes not only label execs (who, he argues, are akin to pimps) but also rappers more concerned with hooks than the trinity of beats, rhymes, and life. Some lines are complaints he’s understandably biased about: He’s real, but the radio doesn’t want him. Elsewhere, the man with an album called Legal Hustle wonders, These kids are actually fantacizing about coke dealing?

As it turns out, Mega Philosophy is a glimpse of one man’s never-ending reformation. All these maxims are actually affirmations that Mega is using to encourage himself. In the end, that kind of self-belief trumps the album’s more pretentious aspects. –Michael Madden

DVS – Mutant League

DVS – Mutant League

Grade: B+

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DVS is better at Twitter than you. In all likelihood, he’s a better rapper than your favorite rapper, too. The New Yorker has been a mainstay in the underground rap scene for a while now, having appeared on Das Racist tracks and continuing to pop up with features to remind anyone who’s sleeping to wake the fuck up. While working on his debut full-length, DVTV, DVS decided to put out the Mutant League mixtape, full of loosie singles and tracks he’s appeared on in the past. Fans of Lakutis will identify with his loose cannon delivery, sounding unhinged but entirely in control of his own persona. It’s not often that aggressive rappers come with a sense of humor as undeniable as DVS’s, but here he is and how lucky are we to get to bear witness. Keep your eyes on his Twitter timeline for the jokes, but keep your ears to the ground for any and all DVS music coming out soon. You’ll want to be on this train instead of tied to the tracks. –Pat Levy

Issa Gold (The Underachievers) – Conversations with a Butterfly

Issa Gold (The Underachievers) - Conversations with a Butterfly

Grade: B-

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Issa Gold is the more musically minded half of The Underachievers, recently revealing himself on Tumblr to be a fan of Stevie Wonder and Fleet Foxes (“My favorite band on the entire planet”). As a result, his debut solo tape, the eight-track Conversations with a Butterfly, is the more colorful of the UA solo projects, with its jazz-rap template consisting of sprinkled horns, squiggly guitar and keys, and modern drums courtesy of producers like Thundercat and Nick Leone. Line to line, there’s not a ton to savor, but Issa comes with smooth hook after smooth hook and consistently switches up flows. Like UA’s work to date, it’s a guest-free affair. It’s hard to say whether Issa can carry a project much longer than this without AK beside him, but on its own terms, Conversations is a relaxing listen and a welcome break from his more ideological material. –Michael Madden

Lil Durk – Signed to the Streets 2

Lil Durk - Signed to the Streets 2

Grade: B-

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Although young Keef imitators will continue to abound, Chicago’s drill rap scene has yet to produce a more successful album than Finally Rich. Based on the confident display that is Lil Durk’s hook for “I Made It”, Signed to the Streets 2 might as well be the best thing Chicago got this year (even trumping the Bulls’ acquiring of Nikola Mirotic, Pau Gasol, and Doug McDermott). The ingredients are mostly here. Durk is smoother than his grittier, DIY peers, breezy in the way he alternates between singing, rapping, and some weird combination of both. DJ Drama and Don Cannon host the mixtape, with Migos and French Montana providing features on “Lil Niggaz” and “Fly High”, respectively. Young Chop produces a few tracks, and the rest of the beats (courtesy of C-Sick, Dree the Drummer, and more) mostly align with Chop’s sound. Unfortunately, there’s no “Dis Ain’t What U Want” replica, although “Rumors” tries. There’s some cool to be found amidst what’s essentially 18 tracks of nonstop hype music, such as Durk’s spacy, Future-ized hook on “Feds Listenin'” and the dark frenzy of “Don’t Know Me”. It’s pretty much what you’d expect in terms of lyrical quality and repetitiveness, but it’s still a promising display of Durk honing in on the development of his strange sound. –Will Hagle

MellowHype – INSA (I Need Some Answers)

MellowHype - INSA (I Need Some Answers)

Grade: C+

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As MellowHype, rapper Hodgy Beats and producer Left Brain have always been more conservative than Odd Future counterparts like Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt. That trend continues on INSA (I Need Some Answers), the riskiest line of which might be this: “I’mma go to hell before I go to church” (“Gang”). Even though it’s dark at times, the tape does little to diminish the duo’s weed-rap rep. Hodgy might uncork a flurry of consonance or a blink-and-you-miss-it turn of phrase (“I’mma be ballin’ while these bitches tetherin’”), but he’s usually at his most charming when he sounds the most stoned. Left Brain’s production, meanwhile, is breathable even when it’s also churning and angular (“FIFAFOFUM!”). Songs like “The Daze”, “DLX”, “Nowadays”, and “Gang” are seamless and perfectly enjoyable as summer hip-hop songs, but there always seems to be something missing — maybe a sample or even a frequency range. It’s not really a disappointment, because this is the straightforward direction they went with 2012’s Numbers, and they’re improving it. But where their initial approach was busier and more assaulting (see 2010’s BlackenedWhite), this one is short on exciting ideas. –Michael Madden

OG Swaggerdick – Game Boy Colored

OG Swaggerdick – Game Boy Colored

Grade: B+

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OG Swaggerdick is part of an important new wave of hip-hop coming out of Boston (see also Michael Christmas), and he’s making a play to become rap’s court jester, laying on the shtick thick as hell while maintaining an undeniably hot flow on his debut tape, Game Boy Colored. The recipient of a recent Noisey profile, OG deserves all the attention he demands with his top-notch Vine account, his ridiculous method of rolling out the mixtape (playing it through a boombox on a crowded public transit train full of uninterested commuters), and the overall absurdity of Game Boy Colored. I mean, Bauce Sauce, Twitter boss and thinkpiece lord, is on a track about Lunchables. Everything is ultra-weird and that’s how it’s supposed to be with OG. –Pat Levy

PARTYNEXTDOOR – PARTYNEXTDOOOR TWO

PARTYNEXTDOOR – PARTYNEXTDOOOR TWO

Grade: B-

There isn’t much about Ontario singer PARTYNEXTDOOR that screams originality. His sound is somewhere between The Weeknd’s 4 a.m. R&B and Drake’s “You should be with me, girl” raps, but he makes it work in a way that doesn’t leave the listener wondering why they bothered with it instead of listening to the predecessors. His lyrics are almost always aimed at a girl, crooning her into thinking that he’s the right guy for her and that accepting any other man would just be taking the second fiddle. Rich in confidence and sexual lyricism that’s become popular with rappers like Antwon and Danny Brown, PND is trying to make a name for himself in areas that other rappers have kind of already claimed. It’ll be interesting to see if he chooses to start branching out into new sounds with future releases. Can’t fault the hustle on TWO, though: It’s an album worthy of repeat listens. –Pat Levy

Prada Mane – Blue Prada

Blue-Prada-A-Front

Grade: C+

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Whenever Himanshu “Heems” Suri’s Greedhead label puts out a record, you can be sure it’ll be rooted in a strong New York sound and that it’ll be the most Internet thing you’ve heard all day. Prada Mane’s Blue Prada is no different, with spacy beats provided by a lush list of guest producers and a Brooklynite’s take on the Yung Lean aesthetic and style. The pedigree of the production takes the spotlight on these 16 tracks, with burgeoning talents like Yung Gud, Suicideyear, and Eric Dingus stopping by to lay down their signature sounds for Prada to lazily flow over. Everything about this tape just screams, “I’m the NY Yung Lean,” from the lyrics mostly just existing to accompany some great beats and elicit a few laughs to the #sadboy sensibility to the fact that, until recently, Prada’s SoundCloud profile picture had Yung Lean in it. As this website’s biggest Yung Lean stan, I see the merits and appreciate this mixtape more than most others will, but it just could’ve been executed a little better. –Pat Levy

Slim 400 – Keepin’ It 400

Slim 400 – Keepin' It 400

Grade: B

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Bompton’s Slim 400 is a signing of Pushaz Ink, and, in turn, he’s very much operating within DJ Mustard’s vision for West Coast g-rap. But while there’s only one Mustard beat on Keepin’ It 400, the rest of the producers, including Kreep and Trey Sizzle, supply Slim with top-notch mimicry: handclaps that hit like firecrackers, tinkly piano sequences, and classic West Coast synth wheeze. As a rapper, there’s no question Slim is less capable than YG (who appears on one song here, “Bompton City G’s”), but he’s funny, finding equal joy rapping about impending shootouts and first-night fucking (“What’s a night without condoms?” he asks on “Just for You”, genuinely baffled). In light of YG’s My Krazy Life, which turned out to be a better album song-for-song than anyone could have predicted, it’s easy to see what might have been. But the tape still thrives thanks to Slim’s entertaining personality and emphasis on g-rap essentials, including unshakeable confidence and irresistibly mindless hooks (“Get Money, Fuck’n Bitches”). –Michael Madden

Waka Flocka Flame – I Can’t Rap Vol. 1

Waka_Flocka_I_Cant_Rap_Vol_1-front-large

Grade: B-

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He can trap, but he can’t rap – or so they say. Throughout his career, Waka Flocka Flame has been ridiculed for his anti-lyricism style. I Can’t Rap Vol. 1, then, largely a collection of remixes and freestyles featuring some of the biggest instrumentals of this year and last (including “Move That Dope”, “Believe Me”, and “Blood on the Leaves”), is both tongue-in-cheek and an attempt to reverse that image. At the least, these verses hint at the possibility of Waka finding a long-term balance between his repetitive grunt-rap and relatively bars-focused writing. That’s not all the tape does, of course: There are vulgar displays of power, too, with the crunk bulldozers “Pussy” and the Ron Browz-featuring “Hundredz” being low even for Waka – which is not to say I don’t like the tracks, because I kinda do like them. Altogether, I Can’t Rap adds a fold or two to a surprisingly long career that, in spite of all its excitement, has always needed more substance. –Michael Madden

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