A year after their impressive début album and two and a half years after their outstanding début mixtape, Issa Gold and AK bring us “Evermore: The Art Of Duality”, and with this sophomore studio album The Underachievers bring us a slightly more mature sound and a deeper concept. “Evermore” is separated into two half-an-hour segments of opposing forces; acoustic and electronic, positive and negative, light and dark, enlightened and ignorant, God and the Devil. This is a nice idea, and for the most part it works, but the further you get with this album, the more you begin to notice an unfortunate blending of the two sides. I guess in reality duality is more akin to Yin and Yang; there’s a little bit of positivity within negativity and vice versa, but for an album I personally would have liked a more obvious and more distinct separation of musical moods. This could have potentially been a great representation of duality, if only it was done more obviously.
The album begins with “Rain Dance (Phase 1 Intro)” and instantly you notice the ethnic, tribal, and acoustic production which is a refreshing change for the Hip-Hop genre. There’s the inclusion of woodwind instruments, shakers, and xylophones from the outset and on the next joint “Shine All Gold” there’s also a guitar. The lyrics are also very positive; the duo rap about self achievement, they reflect on their past, they muse over the direction and path they’ve taken to get them where they are today, and all this is crafted so to be very accessible but credible at the same time.
“Chasing Faith” with its music box melody against a brooding synth bass sports more of a “Pop” aesthetic, and although this offering continues with the idea of choosing the right path in life, this and “Star Signs” are more mainstream-sounding than the first two tracks. The pair quickly make up for this with “The Dualist”, a sunny, light, uplifting track with some fantastic Jazzy production. The lyrics criticise mainstream television, news, and music and also tells the listener how the corruption of media and entertainment is detrimental to our mental well-being. This is a great positive track with a great message, it’s one of my favourite tracks on the album and it’s reminiscent of early nineties Hip-Hop. It would be great if songs like this were released and heavily promoted.
“Illusions” then speaks on how humans are finally awakening to the falsities of life, it also touches on the potential of afterlife, and our perception of reality. “The Brooklyn Way” is the only literally down-to-earth track on this half of the album, tackling more Earthly problems rather than spiritual issues. Listening to these first seven songs is extremely refreshing, a genuine message in Hip-Hop has been long overdue. With the likes of Dead Prez and Ras Kass twenty years in the past, it’s been a while since a deeper meaning was embedded into Rap. It’s been way too long since some positivity was injected into this genre, and the first half of “Evermore” does this brilliantly, never has a spiritual message been put forward with such overground accessibility.
But this is where the positivity ends, from “Reincarnation (Phase 2 Intro)” onward, the duo try to introduce a meaner and darker style to the second half, and although this attempted style is supposed to be the exact opposite of the first half, it doesn’t always work, and this continues for the next seven songs. Fans have already heard “Take Your Place” with its angelic vocal sample, and this is probably the only non-mainstream sounding track on “Phase 2”. Tracks like “Generation Z” are very Pop-esque, and it has to be said that mentioning drugs is quite a contrived topic these days especially when delivered in this style. On top of that, lyrics containing clichéd words such as “bitch” and “cash-flow” (as well as the Trap-Pop sounds of “Allusions”) sound extremely contrived too. “Stay The Same” with its G-Funk whine makes for another “Pop” song and it unfortunately features a lacklustre chorus. “We The Hope” has more of a chill-out vibe but it’s still firmly “Pop”, the only reprieve from the radio friendly sounds is the final track “Unconscious Monsters (Evermore Outro)”. I just hope all the single releases aren’t taken from the “Phase 2” portion, because that would give the wrong impression of the album as a whole.
Aside from the hugely enjoyable first half, and apart from the less entertaining second half, there’s also the fact that some of the songs on “Evermore” become indistinguishable from one another. The titles are by and large meaningless with the same topic being reiterated over and over, plus it could be argued that The Underachievers’ style and delivery is also a little repetitive. There’s also a little contradiction here and there, for instance the line “Wake up in the morning and praise the lord” is slightly inconsistent with their usual stance since “the lord” is simply a humanistic and mainstream religious representation of positive and creative power, surely we need to move away from these outdated doctrinal ideas if we intend to evolve as a species? This is something that has even been mentioned in their mixtape “Indigoism”, so why this variance in opinion? There’s also some very dodgy lyrics and lines sneaking into some of their tracks (such as Issa calling himself a “young Zionist” which leaves alarm bells ringing) lyrics such as these make you very suspicious of this whole “enlightened” message, I just hope that the Beast Coast movement isn’t some kind of Intelligence Agency sham like the Hippie movement.
I understand that the idea of duality is intentional and it’s probably apt to include a hint of ignorance and radio-friendly appeal to the second half, but it would have been much better to handle this with the same level of credibility and listen-ability as “Phase 1”. To me therefore, this LP is an opportunity missed, titles like the more positive “We The Hope” are surely on the wrong half, I mean if you’re going to be completely “dark” on “Phase 2”, then do it without diluting the concept. Lines like “look after one another” being spoken in “Stay The Same” (also in “Phase 2”) further detracts from the overall idea of duality. I understand it’s sometimes hard to separate your personality for artistic effect (my duality is represented by What Went Right With & What Went Wrong With, and I know all too well that one side can overtake your output) but if you don’t balance the polarities correctly, it makes for a very lop-sided piece of art. So although this Zoroastrian concept is handled quite deftly on “Phase 1” of the LP, I would have liked a more obvious antipathetic second half to reinforce the dichotomy of the album, I would have especially liked it if the duo didn’t resort to Hip-Hop-clichés and radio-friendly styles. With the lyric “If I ever sellout you can shoot me dead” in “Moon Shot”, I just hope they don’t live to regret this line especially if tracks 10-14 become popular …but who knows which path the public will choose?
Apart from the “Lords Of Flatbush” mixtape, The Underachievers have been responsible for some great Hip-Hop, and “Evermore: The Art Of Duality” adds another pretty decent addition to their discography. The production on this LP is generally better than their previous album and so too are some of their lyrics, but since the album is split into two halves (the first is great, the second not so much) overall “Evermore” isn’t the flawless release it could have been. Maybe if “Unconscious Monsters” was added onto “Phase 1” along with a few extra tracks, it would have been an impressive album, but with the average second half, you kind of go away feeling less positive about the whole experience. That being said, this is still one of the most impressive groups in the Hip-Hop genre who seem to bring credibility to an environment heaving with mediocrity, so until something better comes along, “Evermore” is one of the albums I’ll keep on playing, especially the first seven tracks.