From the drawn, comic book, Doctor-Strange-esque cover to the title ‘Renaissance’, The Underachievers’ latest album is a mish-mash of ideas that don’t quite gel together. This, the duo’s third studio album unfortunately doesn’t fully satisfy the senses; in terms of concept, lyrics, or production. For both the ears and eyes this album feels like a jumble, something that could and should have been edited down or re-ordered before releasing.
Judging from the title alone, the listener could be tricked into thinking that this album is an actual “renaissance” but a renaissance of what? The album begins with a voice declaring “Any leadership that teaches you to depend upon another race is a leadership that will enslave you”. Okay, so this is a renaissance of Political Hip-Hop, are we in for a political rap-ride with Issa and AK? Well… no. Okay, so this is supposed to be a renaissance of traditional Hip-Hop, right? Well, for the first four songs you might be convinced it is, but no, as soon as the fifth track kicks-in, you realise this is not a revival of old-school Hip-Hop music either.
When you begin listening to ‘Renaissance’ you’re filled with high hopes, ‘In My Zone’, ‘Eyes Wide Open’, ‘Saint Paul’, and ‘Gotham Nights’ make you feel like this album could potentially be a breath of fresh air in a world filled with Hip-Pop. But then out of nowhere comes ‘Crescendo’ with its synth sound over a Trap beat. Once the average ‘Super Potent’ follows, you realise what a missed opportunity this release really is. This could have easily been an album which heralded a “renaissance” in terms of sound, this could have been a rebirth of old-school, lyrical Hip-Hop but there’s too many instances of Trap and R’N’B for that to work.
In terms of production, instead of separating these two sub-genres (90s Jazz-infused production versus ’10s electronic synthesised beats) The Underachievers could have blended the two, mixing mellow samples with Trap like The WDNG Crshrs have done previously (listen to songs like ‘SERVE’ or ‘Scented Candles’ for proof). This juxtaposition can make for a “brand-new” sound but The Underachievers haven’t done this. Instead they’ve opted to go for a few mid-tempo, more traditional songs and then they’ve made a few contemporary Trap tracks but because these two styles are un-grouped this makes for a very messy tracklist.
The main problem is that there’s no “flow” to this album, the songs seems randomly ordered beginning with a satisfying mellow sound but then the aforementioned songs break up this smooth feel. The LP starts with a throwback, post-modern 90s soundscape, then the album switches to something resembling Trap. After a couple up-tempo “modern beats” suddenly we drop back down in mood, then back to a harder, more contemporary aesthetic only to go back to mellow, then back to Trap for the final three tracks! The end result feels like a roller coaster of styles, the album doesn’t take you on a journey or have any consistency, it jumps all over the place.
Having said that, there is some decent production on this LP including ‘In My Zone’, a mellow, mid-tempo track produced by Mayor and ‘Gotham Nights’ a nice, relaxed, mid-90s joint produced by Joshua Heflinger but there’s also some very average sounds like that of ‘Super Potent’. A song like ‘Saint Paul’ featuring Mello seems to be going for more of that piano-plus-singing “Lounge Music Rap” like Joey Bada$$’ latest album. A song like ‘Different Worlds’ features an angelic voice that slightly distracts you from the verses, the song also sports a horn which is too loud compared to the rap vocals, something that could have easily been fixed during the mix-down.
There are other problems too, for instance some tracks are too short. For a studio album there’s too many sub-3-minute tracks which makes this feel more like a mixtape. The other problem is that nothing is really said, there’s an attempt at a slight message with ‘Break The System’ but for the most part this album is jam-packed with New Age buzzwords like “astral travel” and “living in The Matrix” but each song doesn’t tackle anything different from the last. Aside from the changing sounds the lyrics are almost indistinguishable from each other, you could easily transpose the verses from one song to the other and nobody would notice. At this point in their career, I expected a little more depth to their songs.
‘Renaissance’ is also “front-heavy” with the majority of the “best” songs in the first portion of the album. The album gets increasingly repetitive from the mid-point and then it ends with ‘Head Right’ produced by Ronny J, a song with an uber-generic Trappy sound. The chorus “Get yo head right nigga” sounds very mid-noughties and so does the rapid snare. This is a waste of AK’s delivery which is way above the level of the track itself. This is not how you end an album.
Unlike their previous offering ‘Evermore: The Art Of Duality’, there’s no real concept here. It’s called ‘Renaissance’ but a renaissance of what exactly? “Renaissance” means a revival or a re-birth, so with that in mind you begin listening to the LP and you start thinking, hmm, will this be a “renaissance” of lyrical Hip-Hop? Will this be a “renaissance” of political Hip-Hop? Err… no. Instead we have some spiritual-ish, New Age clichés mixed with varying production, if anybody out there can definitively say what this “renaissance” is, elucidate me, answers on a postcard please.
Once you’ve finished listening to this album it doesn’t make you want to go back to the start, or for that matter go back and re-play your favourite track. In fact there isn’t really a “favourite”, nothing stands out like the song ‘Caprice’ did from their début studio LP ‘Cellar Door’.
I have to stress however that LP is not a “bad album”, it’s not unpleasant, it’s just a little underwhelming. ‘Renaissance’ isn’t embarrassing, it’s not selling out in any way, and it’s far from being mediocre (which is why this review isn’t on whatwentwrongwith.com) but as a fan of the group I now want something more than just a collection of listenable songs without any real meaning or coherence. ‘Renaissance’ is a slightly above average album that will satisfy fans just enough so they don’t walk away but this won’t attract anybody new and that’s a real shame.
In Their Zone.