Meet the Underachievers, the Duo Flying Lotus Signed On First Listen

Photo: Theo Jemison

Issa Dash, one half of the Brooklyn rap duo the Underachievers, believes he can fly. “I’m not a master at it, but I’ve dabbled,” says the 22-year-old Dash as he sits next to a retro Pac-Man arcade machine and explains his past astral travels. To this, his junior Underachievers partner, Ak, sits and nods his head in a languid approval. Dash then runs his fingers over the sprites on the screen and begins to delve into theories about repressive imagery and lucid dreaming; you can have Pac-Man pixels pop up in your subconscious with the right mind control.

This line of spiritual, other-worldly thinking runs through the heart of the Underachievers’ Indigoism mixtape, which dropped at the start of the month via Los Angeles beat radical Flying Lotus‘s Brainfeeder label. Over 17 songs, the duo define themselves as “psychedelic renegades” tapping into a pharmaceutical cabinet stocked with DMT, THC. and LSD and expel verses that are heavy on references to seeking a state of heightened consciousness via the mind’s third eye. As befits the Underachievers’ Flatbush heritage, this all happens over beats that err on the gruff side, creating a convincing marriage of lyrics and music that shoot for the solar while managing to stay grounded.

So with the buzz from Indigoism continuing to bloom, Hive got Issa and Ak to open up about early days hanging with their fellow Beast Coast collective members Joey Bada$$ and the Flatbush Zombies, inadvertently homaging a Souls of Mischief classic, and the dynamics of rap music that veers towards the psyche side.

What’s the strangest piece of feedback you’ve heard about Indigoism?

Issa Dash: That we say third eye too much! Or that we talk about LSD a lot. People like when we go for the lyrical approach to songs, but with this project we actually tried to go with a lot of heavy performance songs ’cause that’s so important today. So I think a lot of people expected more like Flying Lotus trippy stuff.

Are you worried that you might get typecast early on as only making trippy-sounding hip-hop?

Issa Dash: Nah, because trippy is the wrong word to use. I mean, they want us to expand more into the experimental hip-hop scene and since we’re on a label with all these experimental hip-hop makers we can really take advantage of that and attack those beats. [Pauses.] I keep saying trippy when talking about the music, but I mean more experimental producers like Lapalux, TOKiMONSTA, Jeremiah [Jae] and Martyn. But it’s imperative to be versatile. We want to make sure that we have the classical bangers, that we have the good time songs for the females. This mixtape was catered specifically to our youth that like to go to concerts but there’s still other types of songs. The next project will be more trippy and lyrical.

How did you end up signing to Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label?

Issa Dash: I met this lady on Twitter randomly.

Were you flirting with her?

Issa Dash: Nah, not at all! She just followed me; she was sweet to me. In all honesty, I followed her ’cause the name of her agency is 11-11 Agency — it’s a management agency for upcoming talent — and 11-11 is my favorite number for a lot of reasons. She said, “I’m gonna send your music to my friend Steve.” Steve turned out to be Flying Lotus. The next day he called me: “Yo, It’s Flying Lotus, what’s up?” He flew us out to L.A. the next day.

First class?

Issa Dash: Nah, not first class!

What were your first impressions of Flying Lotus?

Issa Dash: It was cool, he’s a down to earth guy. He’s got that mysterious, nobody-knows-about-him image, but he’s cool.

Is it true “Gold Soul Theory” was the song that made him want to sign you?

Issa Dash: Yeah, I think that’s the one.

Did he give you much feedback about it when you met?

Issa Dash: No! He’s a weird motherfucker! I mean, he’s not weird, but he’s not a man of many words. He’s our good friend and we love him, but he’s weird when it comes to the music.

Along with your ties to Brainfeeder, you’re part of the Beast Coast movement that’s coming from Flatbush.

Issa Dash: Yeah, Flatbush Zombies have been our brothers since we were young and Joey Bada$$ and all them [Pro Era] kids grew up in the same neighborhood. We had mutual friends. I didn’t know Joey until like two years ago. [Capital] STEEZ I knew for five years. I used to skate by their school, [Edward R.] Murrow high school. Beast Coast came about when we all realized we were all doing music and we all stand for the same things. Some people think it’s like, “Oh, let’s group up so we can do better!” But it’s that we grouped up ’cause we’re family.

So when did you start making music as the Underachievers?

Issa Dash: Last year. I dropped out of school, kind of. I became a rapper, I thought this is working, I’m not gonna go to the next lecture. So it was go to school, summer break, rapping, then no school.

Ak: I dropped out the same time.

Issa Dash: But he was the Underachievers originally. It’s so weird, ’cause his group was called Underachievers but he was the only one in it! The name fit perfectly with what we were going with.

What was the first official Underachievers song?

Issa Dash: “Root Of All Evil.”

Ak: Or “The Dreams,” like those songs.

Issa Dash: Scratch that, those don’t exist! It was practice songs, like “The Revolution.” The first official song is definitely “Root Of All Evil,” then “The Mahdi.”

You mentioned “The Mahdi.” Was it a conscious decision to sample the same song as Souls of Mischief’s “93 ‘Til Infinity”?

Issa Dash: That was some producer guy that we met a while ago. He’s actually the first producer we ever worked with. We did a lot of songs. Not to downgrade, but he was like the practice guy. Honestly, he stole that beat from “93 ‘Til Infinity” and every beat he ever gave us was used somewhere else!

Did you know it had been used before?

Issa Dash: Dog, I found out that was the “93…” sample when I read the YouTube comments! I never knew! Me, personally, I would never have released it if I knew. It’s a great song and I’m happy it was released, but if I personally knew, it would have never came out ever.

Ak: I knew it. I thought he knew it!

Issa Dash: That’s like a landmark hip-hop song! It’s like sampling [Wu-Tang Clan's] “C.R.E.A.M.”! I think he sampled the original sample, so it doesn’t sound too much like it. But if anything, I would have called it “2013 ‘Til Infinity” just out of respect to the song.

What did you feel like when you saw the YouTube comments?

Issa Dash: I was like, “What the fuck?” I hit this guy up.

Ak: I was like, “You didn’t know?”

Issa Dash: ‘Cause I’m mad meticulous about everything we do, I love that song but it would have never came out!

The other day you tweeted about the movie Enter The Void, saying it was terrible.

Issa Dash: Yeah, it’s a terrible movie. It’s a great movie, but for a person into psychedelics like us, it puts psychedelics in such a negative connotation.

What’s so bad about the movie?

Issa Dash: I didn’t even finish the movie! It’s dark and it’s evil and it takes place in Japan and it made me hate Japan, like it makes Japan look crazy rough and prostitute dirty. A fan told me today that’s what the guy reached out to do with his movie so I guess he accomplished it. But it was horrifying.

If you could soundtrack any movie yourselves, what would it be?

Issa Dash: Pootie Tang!

Ak: The Matrix, definitely!

Issa Dash: What’s that last Heath Ledger movie? The one right after Batman that no one knows is his real last movie? He died making the movie [The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus] and they got his three best friends, Johnny Depp and the other two dudes that’s super famous [Jude Law and Colin Farrell]. They played Heath Ledger’s part for him — every time he goes into a dream he’s someone else. It’s about dreams and traveling through astral zones. It’s about him being a dream master. It’s not aesthetically beautiful though — it’s like a one million dollar movie.

Do you believe in astral traveling?

Issa Dash: Yeah, definitely. I’m not a master at it, but I’ve dabbled in some astral travel. I don’t know if it’s really called that but I’ve had some really lucid dreams where it’s full body control and full thoughts, like, “Woah, I’m in the dream completely.” Later on, I found out that’s what they consider astral projection is. But I don’t get into the other dimension shit — I’m as rational as you can get.

Do you remember much about it?

Issa Dash: Yes. The craziest one ever is the one where I woke up in the dream. I was completely lucid. Usually, lucidity takes a while to creep up, but I was more lucid than I’ve ever been in my life, like head turning, looking at my hands. Dreaming is all about repression, like whatever stimuli you repress in your world you have a good chance of seeing in your dream, but you probably don’t realize that. Like the first time I woke up in this place called The Field Of Dreams that I’d just visited with my ex-girlfriend on the Rutgers campus, and I woke up there instantly lucid. I was like, “What the fuck, am I dreaming?” Instantly, everything I’ve ever repressed started to pop-up: My friend that fell and busted their face, pianos, clocks… ‘Cause once you learn how to lucid dream you start to repress things yourself. You look at this Pac-Man machine and say I’m dreaming, and for the next 12 hours see if you can tell yourself that. So all those things I was used to repressing started to pop up. I was getting more and more lucid. Then my favorite music just burst through the air! I was like, “What the fuck?”

What song was it?

Issa Dash: It was John Mayer, “Bigger Than My Body.” It felt bigger than any psychedelic trip I’ve had in my life. I just exploded into air and woke up. But I remember it like it was yesterday. Usually you have to write it down, but I never even had to write that down. It’s as real as right now sitting down here and talking. [Motions to recorder.] My bad, I realize I’ve been talking to this the whole time!

Have you encountered any really bad trips then?

Issa Dash: I don’t really have any bad trips. Tripping was like when I was 15-19-years-old; 20 was tripping hard. I trip when I try and bring new people into it, but not recreationally though. Most bad trips are good trips, if that makes sense.

The Underachievers’ mixtape Indigoism is out now via Brainfeeder. Stream/download below: 

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