How good are they going to be live? Are they going to be outshone by the opening acts? How much are they going to talk about weed?
These are a few of the questions that ran through my mind listening to The Underachievers’ latest LP, Renaissance. The East-Coast conscious hip-hop duo breezes through a number of topics like the state of hip-hop, weed, social issues and other typical rap subjects — showing off their lyrical strength and stylistic flexibility.
The album is good. But it’s just good. It keeps one’s attention throughout, but it’s not distinct or stunning at any point. It made me curious what kind of show they’d put on, and what kind of audience they’d attract.
Being a conscious hip-hop group, along with their opening act counterpart Injury Reserve, I thought the show might end up being more laid-back and conscious show.
The doors opened 20 minutes late, but it wasn’t much longer until Warm Brew, the first opening act, came rushing onstage. The Los-Angeles-based trio composed of MC’s Ray Wright, Manu Li and Serk Spliff released their last album, Ghetto Beach Boyz, in early 2015. They have since released an EP as well as a few singles throughout this year, including “Small Victories” — a kind of modern-day, trapped-out “Today Was a Good Day.” The group burst onto the scene full of energy, immediately belting out their brand of sunny yet combative West-Coast hip-hop.
All three were in performance mode the whole time, backing up each other’s verses up with ad libs, chiming in on rhymes and amping the crowd up — though the house lights near the merch table took a bit away from the atmosphere. For a group that not many people seemed to have shown up for, the trio opened up the show with a bang, with much of the crowd bouncing on their heels with their hands in the air, while the rest vibed along in the back. Their performance of “Small Victories,” near the end of their 40 minute set, got by far the best feedback from the crowd.
The hardcore, experimental Arizona-based group Injury Reserve had quite the set to follow up. Producer Parker Corey and MC Stepa J Groggs entered in simple but ominous bedsheet ghost costumes, while MC Ritchie with a T joined them in a plaid shirt and jeans — a fabric bag on his head that was tied to his neck with rope, reminiscent of Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
With easily the most distinct sound of the three acts, it would be interesting to see how people would react to the more experimental sounds of songs like “Boom x3” or “North Pole” from their most recent EP, Drive It Like It’s Stolen.
It went off without a hitch.
They opened the set with “Oh Shit!!!,” their biggest hit off of their 2016 album, Floss. Ritchie set the tone with lyrics like “this ain’t jazz rap, this that/this that spaz rap” as a mosh pit, much like the one in the music video, immediately opened up. The trio rotated between more experimental tracks and moody ballads throughout the set.
Last up were the The Underachievers, who hardly lived up to their name. The New York duo — who has been consistently releasing albums, mixtapes and singles since 2012 — relied on overdubbed vocals to focus on a more interactive, “hype-up” show approach, but it was a fun and entertaining show, especially for the many fans who were chanting along.
They sounded like a typical, if not enjoyable trap-rap group, with their more conscious boombap songs being few and far between. If not for the reference to Renaissance (their latest album), and “being with us since the Indigo days” — most likely referring to their first mixtape entitled Indigoism — as well as the occasional stage banter about weed, they might’ve been mistaken for any other trap act. The duo even handed out a bag of mushrooms half-way through the set, though they urged the recipient to “split it with someone.”
Halfway through the last set, I found myself among many who were either still just standing around, burnt out from the near-constant pace of the headliners. For the many who kept dancing and moshing throughout all three performances, it was a lively, energetic and veritably spooky show.