There are all sorts of noteworthy aspects to the new rap record by The Underachievers. From its subtly smashed-up allusion to the cover of Axis: Bold as Love to the stark gesturalism of its staccato flow, Cellar Door:Terminus Ut Exordium moves East Coast groove closer to the edge than some imagined possible. The titles are damn groovy too, each a one-word noun or adjective. These descriptors function as entry points into a recording that emphasizes the power of words while leaving melody as a trace byproduct of profane catalysis. That isn’t to say AK and Issa Gold ignore musicality. Rather, the rappers portray melody as great fish lurking in turbulent water. If the force of the rushing water doesn’t stun one into submission, there’s always the shark waiting below. A sharp contrast from the deeply exploratory instrumentalism of their West Coast contemporaries, Cellar Door is unrelenting rap—rowdy and rich with subtext from opener “Luminescence” to endgame explosion “Amorphous.”
Speaking of West Coast contemporaries, LA hip-hop trio Dilated Peoples released their first album in eight years, Directors of Photography, on Aug. 12. Many in the Cali scene expected an epic statement on the future after such a lengthy hiatus, but Directors is instead a solid nod to what's now possible in the ever-expanding world of hip-hop. Though the instrumentation leans toward minimalism, there’s a deft touch of incidental melody at work under the flow on tracks like “Good As Gone.” The masterful turntablism here and throughout the recording recalls the ensemble’s earlier efforts more than it speaks to future direction, but the overall effect is one of control and command. Evidence, Rakaa and DJ Babu clearly demonstrate that their years apart have strengthened their creative tendencies, and the result is satisfying if not predictive.
Like all music genres, hip-hop and rap can be divided into various organizing schemas. This act of classification often begins with questions of intention and artistic integrity. There are heavyweight wordsmiths, experimentalists and masters of genre working on both coasts. Then there are those whose work might have begun with the best intentions but has devolved due to the pressures of fame and an acquisitive nature. Wiz Khalifa’s new record Blacc Hollywood fits into the latter category. The artist’s early mixtapes and studio releases had a propensity for pop that was both pronounced and nuanced, but his new work has been reduced to party time-jam status. Don’t get me wrong; it’s great stuff if you just wanna hang and smoke out, but there’s little in the way of substance. Tuneage like “So High” and “Stayin Out All Night” make that poppy, perpetual fiesta emptiness abundantly clear.