The Plug, Vol. 2: The Underachievers’ New LP Reviewed, Common’s Uncommon Influence, and MF DOOM’s Best Collaborations

Consequence of Sound's monthly hip-hop zine continues in style.


This is the second installment of The Plug, Consequence of Sound‘s monthly hip-hop zine. The aim is to explore the genre on a purely musical level and from a cultural standpoint. This edition includes reviews of 12 new hip-hop releases, a look at MF DOOM’s collaborative history, and the latest edition of Michael Madden’s Trappers and Philosophers column, centered on Common.

Reviews: 12 Releases From July and August

Featured Review: The Underachievers – Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium

underachievers The Plug, Vol. 2: The Underachievers New LP Reviewed, Commons Uncommon Influence, and MF DOOMs Best Collaborations

Grade: B+

When it comes to an act as agenda-focused as Brooklyn duo The Underachievers, who simply ask their fans to use their brain power, the question is inevitable: How will they avoid the “If you’ve heard one Underachievers song, you’ve heard them all” dilemma? Thankfully, Cellar Door: Terminus Ut Exordium manages to ride a similar wavelength throughout without getting monotonous. It’s Issa Gold and AK’s most cohesive project, tighter than last year’s Indigoism (partly because it’s only 40 minutes long) and more consistent than The Lords of Flatbush, their eight-song EP. “Blinded by them diamonds but they ain’t gon leave your body wit ya,” AK raps on “Quiescent”, and the album works best when he and Issa are taking poetic turns like that. They’re still “trying to give my generation some leverage” (Issa), but they’re not so big-headed that they can’t ease back and shrug, “When in doubt, fuck it, I blow the loud,” as a smoked-out AK declares on “Quiescent”. The beats range from Mike Will pastiche (“Incandescent”) to swirly NY classicism (“Quiescent”) to arcing psychedelia (“Amorphous”, featuring melodic indie rockers Portugal. The Man). If anything, there’s not enough humor, but if AK and Issa are taking themselves too seriously, they’re also going harder than ever. –Michael Madden

AK (The Underachievers) – Blessings in the Gray


Grade: B


AK is the less responsive interview of the two Underachievers, but he’s the superior rapper, routinely harnessing crisper, more focused flows. Because UA is a lyrics-first undertaking anyway, it’s no surprise that Blessings in the Gray slightly edges Issa’s Conversations with a Butterfly on the whole. Never on Blessings, his nine-track solo debut, does AK stop rapping, or so it seems: In reality, “Blessings in the Gray Interlude” is the tape’s one smoke break, and there are pitched-down hooks placed throughout. The third-eye themes here are familiar – put simply: read books and take acid! – but it’s still a joy to hear AK just get after it. He stutter-steps all over “LSD”, brings a new level of intensity right from his opening bars on “Sun Child”, and draws up a clear-minded template for the album’s sole guest MC, the female Leaf (not to be confused with Le1f), on “Winner”. The production comes from guys like IGNORVNCE, Unkkknown, and Joshua Helfinger, and besides the supercharged “LSD”, it’s mostly light and hazy, closer to Curren$y’s weed-rap than primary-colored psychedelia. It’s an ideal base for AK, who can handle all the complicated stuff on the mic. –Michael Madden

Cormega – Mega Philosophy

cormega megaphilosphy The Plug, Vol. 2: The Underachievers New LP Reviewed, Commons Uncommon Influence, and MF DOOMs Best Collaborations

Grade: B-

“The streets raised me to be wise and honorable,” goes Queens veteran Cormega on his sixth album, the entirely Large Professor-produced Mega Philosophy. To play devil’s advocate: This is a guy who did four years in prison, so when did he become wise and honorable? Mega spends a mildly annoying chunk of the album trying to prove his thesis in condescending terms, especially on lead single “Industry”, in which he criticizes not only label execs (who, he argues, are akin to pimps) but also rappers more concerned with hooks than the trinity of beats, rhymes, and life. Some lines are complaints he’s understandably biased about: He’s real, but the radio doesn’t want him. Elsewhere, the man with an album called Legal Hustle wonders, These kids are actually fantacizing about coke dealing?

As it turns out, Mega Philosophy is a glimpse of one man’s never-ending reformation. All these maxims are actually affirmations that Mega is using to encourage himself. In the end, that kind of self-belief trumps the album’s more pretentious aspects. –Michael Madden

DVS – Mutant League

DVS – Mutant League

Grade: B+


DVS is better at Twitter than you. In all likelihood, he’s a better rapper than your favorite rapper, too. The New Yorker has been a mainstay in the underground rap scene for a while now, having appeared on Das Racist tracks and continuing to pop up with features to remind anyone who’s sleeping to wake the fuck up. While working on his debut full-length, DVTV, DVS decided to put out the Mutant League mixtape, full of loosie singles and tracks he’s appeared on in the past. Fans of Lakutis will identify with his loose cannon delivery, sounding unhinged but entirely in control of his own persona. It’s not often that aggressive rappers come with a sense of humor as undeniable as DVS’s, but here he is and how lucky are we to get to bear witness. Keep your eyes on his Twitter timeline for the jokes, but keep your ears to the ground for any and all DVS music coming out soon. You’ll want to be on this train instead of tied to the tracks. –Pat Levy

Issa Gold (The Underachievers) – Conversations with a Butterfly

Issa Gold (The Underachievers) - Conversations with a Butterfly

Grade: B-


Issa Gold is the more musically minded half of The Underachievers, recently revealing himself on Tumblr to be a fan of Stevie Wonder and Fleet Foxes (“My favorite band on the entire planet”). As a result, his debut solo tape, the eight-track Conversations with a Butterfly, is the more colorful of the UA solo projects, with its jazz-rap template consisting of sprinkled horns, squiggly guitar and keys, and modern drums courtesy of producers like Thundercat and Nick Leone. Line to line, there’s not a ton to savor, but Issa comes with smooth hook after smooth hook and consistently switches up flows. Like UA’s work to date, it’s a guest-free affair. It’s hard to say whether Issa can carry a project much longer than this without AK beside him, but on its own terms, Conversations is a relaxing listen and a welcome break from his more ideological material. –Michael Madden

Lil Durk – Signed to the Streets 2

Lil Durk - Signed to the Streets 2

Grade: B-


Although young Keef imitators will continue to abound, Chicago’s drill rap scene has yet to produce a more successful album than Finally Rich. Based on the confident display that is Lil Durk’s hook for “I Made It”, Signed to the Streets 2 might as well be the best thing Chicago got this year (even trumping the Bulls’ acquiring of Nikola Mirotic, Pau Gasol, and Doug McDermott). The ingredients are mostly here. Durk is smoother than his grittier, DIY peers, breezy in the way he alternates between singing, rapping, and some weird combination of both. DJ Drama and Don Cannon host the mixtape, with Migos and French Montana providing features on “Lil Niggaz” and “Fly High”, respectively. Young Chop produces a few tracks, and the rest of the beats (courtesy of C-Sick, Dree the Drummer, and more) mostly align with Chop’s sound. Unfortunately, there’s no “Dis Ain’t What U Want” replica, although “Rumors” tries. There’s some cool to be found amidst what’s essentially 18 tracks of nonstop hype music, such as Durk’s spacy, Future-ized hook on “Feds Listenin'” and the dark frenzy of “Don’t Know Me”. It’s pretty much what you’d expect in terms of lyrical quality and repetitiveness, but it’s still a promising display of Durk honing in on the development of his strange sound. –Will Hagle

MellowHype – INSA (I Need Some Answers)

MellowHype - INSA (I Need Some Answers)

Grade: C+


As MellowHype, rapper Hodgy Beats and producer Left Brain have always been more conservative than Odd Future counterparts like Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt. That trend continues on INSA (I Need Some Answers), the riskiest line of which might be this: “I’mma go to hell before I go to church” (“Gang”). Even though it’s dark at times, the tape does little to diminish the duo’s weed-rap rep. Hodgy might uncork a flurry of consonance or a blink-and-you-miss-it turn of phrase (“I’mma be ballin’ while these bitches tetherin’”), but he’s usually at his most charming when he sounds the most stoned. Left Brain’s production, meanwhile, is breathable even when it’s also churning and angular (“FIFAFOFUM!”). Songs like “The Daze”, “DLX”, “Nowadays”, and “Gang” are seamless and perfectly enjoyable as summer hip-hop songs, but there always seems to be something missing — maybe a sample or even a frequency range. It’s not really a disappointment, because this is the straightforward direction they went with 2012’s Numbers, and they’re improving it. But where their initial approach was busier and more assaulting (see 2010’s BlackenedWhite), this one is short on exciting ideas. –Michael Madden

OG Swaggerdick – Game Boy Colored

OG Swaggerdick – Game Boy Colored

Grade: B+


OG Swaggerdick is part of an important new wave of hip-hop coming out of Boston (see also Michael Christmas), and he’s making a play to become rap’s court jester, laying on the shtick thick as hell while maintaining an undeniably hot flow on his debut tape, Game Boy Colored. The recipient of a recent Noisey profile, OG deserves all the attention he demands with his top-notch Vine account, his ridiculous method of rolling out the mixtape (playing it through a boombox on a crowded public transit train full of uninterested commuters), and the overall absurdity of Game Boy Colored. I mean, Bauce Sauce, Twitter boss and thinkpiece lord, is on a track about Lunchables. Everything is ultra-weird and that’s how it’s supposed to be with OG. –Pat Levy



Grade: B-

There isn’t much about Ontario singer PARTYNEXTDOOR that screams originality. His sound is somewhere between The Weeknd’s 4 a.m. R&B and Drake’s “You should be with me, girl” raps, but he makes it work in a way that doesn’t leave the listener wondering why they bothered with it instead of listening to the predecessors. His lyrics are almost always aimed at a girl, crooning her into thinking that he’s the right guy for her and that accepting any other man would just be taking the second fiddle. Rich in confidence and sexual lyricism that’s become popular with rappers like Antwon and Danny Brown, PND is trying to make a name for himself in areas that other rappers have kind of already claimed. It’ll be interesting to see if he chooses to start branching out into new sounds with future releases. Can’t fault the hustle on TWO, though: It’s an album worthy of repeat listens. –Pat Levy

Prada Mane – Blue Prada


Grade: C+


Whenever Himanshu “Heems” Suri’s Greedhead label puts out a record, you can be sure it’ll be rooted in a strong New York sound and that it’ll be the most Internet thing you’ve heard all day. Prada Mane’s Blue Prada is no different, with spacy beats provided by a lush list of guest producers and a Brooklynite’s take on the Yung Lean aesthetic and style. The pedigree of the production takes the spotlight on these 16 tracks, with burgeoning talents like Yung Gud, Suicideyear, and Eric Dingus stopping by to lay down their signature sounds for Prada to lazily flow over. Everything about this tape just screams, “I’m the NY Yung Lean,” from the lyrics mostly just existing to accompany some great beats and elicit a few laughs to the #sadboy sensibility to the fact that, until recently, Prada’s SoundCloud profile picture had Yung Lean in it. As this website’s biggest Yung Lean stan, I see the merits and appreciate this mixtape more than most others will, but it just could’ve been executed a little better. –Pat Levy

Slim 400 – Keepin’ It 400

Slim 400 – Keepin' It 400

Grade: B


Bompton’s Slim 400 is a signing of Pushaz Ink, and, in turn, he’s very much operating within DJ Mustard’s vision for West Coast g-rap. But while there’s only one Mustard beat on Keepin’ It 400, the rest of the producers, including Kreep and Trey Sizzle, supply Slim with top-notch mimicry: handclaps that hit like firecrackers, tinkly piano sequences, and classic West Coast synth wheeze. As a rapper, there’s no question Slim is less capable than YG (who appears on one song here, “Bompton City G’s”), but he’s funny, finding equal joy rapping about impending shootouts and first-night fucking (“What’s a night without condoms?” he asks on “Just for You”, genuinely baffled). In light of YG’s My Krazy Life, which turned out to be a better album song-for-song than anyone could have predicted, it’s easy to see what might have been. But the tape still thrives thanks to Slim’s entertaining personality and emphasis on g-rap essentials, including unshakeable confidence and irresistibly mindless hooks (“Get Money, Fuck’n Bitches”). –Michael Madden

Waka Flocka Flame – I Can’t Rap Vol. 1


Grade: B-


He can trap, but he can’t rap – or so they say. Throughout his career, Waka Flocka Flame has been ridiculed for his anti-lyricism style. I Can’t Rap Vol. 1, then, largely a collection of remixes and freestyles featuring some of the biggest instrumentals of this year and last (including “Move That Dope”, “Believe Me”, and “Blood on the Leaves”), is both tongue-in-cheek and an attempt to reverse that image. At the least, these verses hint at the possibility of Waka finding a long-term balance between his repetitive grunt-rap and relatively bars-focused writing. That’s not all the tape does, of course: There are vulgar displays of power, too, with the crunk bulldozers “Pussy” and the Ron Browz-featuring “Hundredz” being low even for Waka – which is not to say I don’t like the tracks, because I kinda do like them. Altogether, I Can’t Rap adds a fold or two to a surprisingly long career that, in spite of all its excitement, has always needed more substance. –Michael Madden

Trappers and Philosophers: Conscious Uncoupling

By Michael Madden

If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn.

–Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

trappers philosophers The Plug, Vol. 2: The Underachievers New LP Reviewed, Commons Uncommon Influence, and MF DOOMs Best CollaborationsIn 2008, after a decade and a half of smart rap records, Common set out to make his first fun album, Universal Mind Control. Oddly enough, UMC is the opposite of a political record, even though it was recorded during the run-up to one of the most anticipated elections in American history and released one month after Obama was elected. Still, it was what Common wanted: danceable, feel-good, and star-powered, with features by Kanye, Pharrell, and Cee Lo Green. If the typical Common fan expects all three characteristics from a Common record, he doesn’t expect them how they appeared on UMC, which remains his poppiest album.

It was also the most recent Common album at the time of The Incident.

In 2011, Michelle Obama – who, in case anyone missed it, was and is First Lady and a Harvard Law grad – invited Common to “An Evening of Poetry” at the White House. As these things go, there was backlash. I’ll now defer to A&R expert Sean Hannity, who, on his Fox News show, Hannity, invited two panelists, Bucknell professor James Peterson and SiriusXM host David Webb, to debate Obama’s cordiality.

“This is the guy that we don’t want our kids to listen to,” decided Hannity, his evidence being Common’s use of “nigga,” his occasional lyrical horniness, and – most imposingly – his poem “A Letter to the Law”.

OK, “A Letter to the Law” is suspect – at least if you have a hard time sensing Common’s sarcasm. In 2007, he performed the poem on HBO’s since-canceled Def Poetry Jam – which invited well-known rappers and poets to vent purposeful thoughts, ultimately becoming conscious-rap a capellas. Hannity’s main complaint had to do with the line that references the burning bush in Exodus 3, which, in the poem, doubles as a George W. Bush bash. There are also the lines about cop killing, which Hannity interpreted literally but, in the pro-Common understanding, satirize over-aggression. At any rate, Hannity was adamant that Common should be kept out of the White House.

The funny part is that Obama was inviting Common, who seems so innocuous in the grand scheme of things. Instead, it was as if she had invited Lil Wayne and promised him the bar would have enough codeine. What did Hannity want instead? Look at this guy!

Between Common’s 2011 The Dreamer/The Believer and his new Nobody’s Smiling, a movement called “drill rap” boomed in Chicago. Drill is so violent that it essentially incriminates itself, spawning interest in both exploitative television networks and genuinely interested documentarians (WorldStarHipHop, Vice). With Nobody’s Smiling, his first album since turning 40, Common stands in as an antidote to all that: a positive influence. The album is such a success (it’s my favorite of his since 2005’s Be) partly because he understands there are no easy solutions to the bloodshed.

common - nobody's smiling

To help him find the answers, he looked to see who’s really in the field – amongst the violence every day – to set the tone on the very first track of the album. He tapped the always-fiery Lil Herb, 18, for the song called “The Neighborhood”, probably Herb’s biggest guest appearance to date besides Nicki Minaj’s “Chi-Raq”. One of Herb’s most striking observations is about the lack of framework and subsequent violence in his city: “It ain’t no conversation, they just let them heats ride.”

Herb has a song of his own called “Fight or Flight”, off Welcome to Fazoland (still my favorite rap project of 2014), in which he discusses stereotypes in a way that’s effective for its bluntness more than any poetic touches. I mean, why bother with anything but the same rhyming words? Herb raps, “It’s hard for a young, black nigga like myself/ Where the police compare oneself with everybody else.” The tension in his voice heightens: “So that means if you yourself, they think you’re everybody else.” Ironically, Herb’s concerns echo Common’s early material, including one song that lamented the very traits of g-rap that Herb both endorses and inverts.

It’s strange to think Common released “I Used to Love H.E.R.” in 1994, back when he was still known as Common Sense. That’s “I Used to Love Hearing Every Rhyme”. The song is an homage to the creative expression of rapping – or, at least, rapping before it became a violence-infested means of monetary pursuit. But you don’t learn the concept until the end of the song. The whole time, Common had been employing an extended metaphor: a woman. “What I loved most, she had so much soul,” Common raps about rap. The way it wraps up ensures you leave your first listen knowing you heard more than a corny love letter. Indeed, “I Used to Love H.E.R.”, with Common’s laments and the fittingly mournful No I.D. Beat, was a turning point for conscious rap, paving the way for later lyricists to chase any idea they may have, no matter how ambitious it seems.

As a hip-hop fan, my definition of “conscious rap” might be sympathetically broad, but, to me, a conscious rapper is one who tries to combat rap’s most judgmental spectators. He or she (the MC) acknowledges that “rap” often connotes less-than-ideal personal traits such as misogyny, aggression, and materialism. Finally, he or she becomes lyrically competitive, wanting to sound more intelligent or otherwise capable than the next rapper.

Someone like Bishop Nehru, the 17-year-old who is readying an album with MF DOOM (no, it’s not a Make-A-Wish), has no choice but to use his words as a ticket to the next stage of his career. It’s not like Bishop has a bullish, Waka Flocka Flame-intense voice that commands attention from the first syllable. He doesn’t pretend to have a gimmick such as a cocaine-chemist pedigree. He just raps and, not coincidentally, he spits gems: “They want us on porches, they want us to forfeit/ Luckily we ignored it and still found all of this.”

In Cali, Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt and Long Beach’s Vince Staples avoid blatant sociopolitical talk, and yet, they can make you stop and think if only for 15 stoned seconds at a time. “Breaking news: Death’s less important when the Lakers lose,” Earl deadpans on last year’s “Hive”. On Earl’s “Centurion”, Staples is more abrasive and gnarly: “The money coming in, spend it all on guns and rims/ I ain’t nothing but a nigga/ Ain’t no reason to pretend.”

Denzel Curry

That kind of “why not so serious?” attitude is also building inside 19-year-old Miami native Denzel Curry, who went to high school with Trayvon Martin the school year before he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a man who many have called a “fake cop.” Every line with Curry seems to be a matter of life or death, whether it’s about crippling daily pressures or the beautiful things that keep him going. He’s deft with a character study, too – see the murderous “Dark & Violent”, off last year’s Nostalgic 64.

Is Common, at 42, a godfather of all this? Intentionally or not, he is the antithesis of many stereotypes and, in turn, a possible “gateway” rapper” for listeners previously kept away from the genre by those stereotypes. Nobody’s Smiling reaffirms this. The album is notable for many things, and one of the less mentioned is the absence of Common’s father, Lonnie “Pops” Lynn, who occasionally appears on a given album’s outro as a voice of reason. Common becomes that voice on album closer “Rewind That” as he details his relationships with No I.D. and the late J Dilla with all possible reverence. Even as he’s talking about members of his own generation, he’s expanding on the compassion that ultimately fuels his younger guests, too. The kids, as it turns out, are alright.

The Time We Faced DOOM: The Metal-Faced Villain’s Best Collaborations

mf doom

The London-born, Long Island-raised Daniel Dumile, best known as MF Doom, has been hip-hop’s metal-faced villain for a decade and a half. But that only begins to list the traits that make him unique in the strictest sense of the word. He’s also endlessly inventive, not to mention mythic because of the backstory, adopted from classic Marvel character Doctor Doom. Like stealthy comedians – and DOOM is hilarious – he knows cussing and other forms of filler only blur creativity.

It helps when these things rub off on DOOM’s collaborators, too. Fortunately, he’s now apprenticing the prodigiously talented Bishop Nehru, who’s putting Rockland County, New York, on the map. What’s more, Bishop won’t turn 18 until later this month, which means he’s both hungry and impressionable. The two have released two singles so far, the enlightening “Darkness (HBU)” and the not entirely humble “OM”. On both, you can sense Bishop’s already-focused vision and DOOM’s guiding hand.

The pair have a nine-track LP called NehruvianDOOM set for release in September, but it’s not the first time DOOM has teamed up with another artist for an entire project. His most notable collab is, of course, Madvillainy, his 2004 album with production mastermind Madlib. If you let that inspire you to trace DOOM’s career all the way back to the beginning, your destination is … well, technically, it would be 1973, the birth year of his younger brother and fellow K.M.D. member DJ Subroc (born Dingilizwe Dumile).

Here now are five other notable points on DOOM’s collaborative timeline, plus a rundown of notable MCs who have guested on at least one of his dozens of inimitable songs.

mrhood The Plug, Vol. 2: The Underachievers New LP Reviewed, Commons Uncommon Influence, and MF DOOMs Best Collaborations

1991: K.M.D. (Kausing Much Damage) release the not-a-word-wasted Mr. Hood, their debut album and their only full-length before DJ Subroc dies in 1993. They cast New Rochelle four-piece Brand Nubian for the track “Nitty Gritty”, which is six minutes long to include each of the combined six MCs.

mfdoom album

’98: Dumile links up with Bobbito Garcia and releases his first solo singles on Garcia’s Fondle ‘Em Records. Of course, he’s no longer rapping as Zevlove X; he’s reinvented himself as MF DOOM, which will be the name on his first solo album, ’99’s Operation: Doomsday. The album itself features collaborations from artists who’d be absent from later DOOM albums, including Cucumber Slice (aka Bobbito Garcia) and E. Mason.

madvillainy cover The Plug, Vol. 2: The Underachievers New LP Reviewed, Commons Uncommon Influence, and MF DOOMs Best Collaborations

2004: DOOM and California producer Madlib release Madvillainy, expanding the parameters of indie rap. The verses are consistently funny, and Madlib’s sample collages are inimitable. A sample of the title instrument leads “Accordion” forth, while the pair burn an acre of trees (so to speak) on “America’s Most Blunted”, featuring Madvillain’s helium-head alter ego, Lord Quas/Quasimoto.

dangerdoom The Plug, Vol. 2: The Underachievers New LP Reviewed, Commons Uncommon Influence, and MF DOOMs Best Collaborations

’05: DOOM teams with Danger Mouse, who helped produce Gorillaz’s ’05 album, Demon Days, to release The Mouse and the Mask. The album, the pair’s only full-length to date, sounds like a DOOM record rather than a more expansive Danger Mouse concoction, with cameos by the cast of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim late-night programming block.

bishop nehru doom The Plug, Vol. 2: The Underachievers New LP Reviewed, Commons Uncommon Influence, and MF DOOMs Best Collaborations

’14: DOOM announces he’ll release a project called NehruvianDOOM with young New York rapper Bishop Nehru, who’s barely 17 at the time. It’s a real-life collaboration after Bishop rapped over two DOOM beats on his debut mixtape, 2013’s Nehruvia.

Guests of Honor: Other Notable Collabs

MF Grimm

mf grimm

Best Line on a DOOM Track: “Me against the whole world? It’s a little deeper/ Me against myself, I fight the grim reaper” – “I Hear Voices Pt. 2” (Operation: Doomsday; ’99)


Image (1) rza_MAIN-e1351541492895.jpg for post 264651

Best Line on a DOOM Track: “The flesh is weak, it’s a struggle for peace/ It’s a daily conflict between man and beast” – “Biochemical Equation” (Wu-Tang Meets the Indie Culture; ’05)

Ghostface Killah


Best Line on a DOOM Track: “Sending shots like check day, FedEx expressway/ Boom bow bing/ You heard the gunplay” – “Angelz” (Born Like This; ’09)


Image (1) raekwon-2011.jpg for post 280293

Best Line on a DOOM Track: “I’m thirsty, hungry like a Somalian/ Prolly with them niggas with the waves in they dome like tsunami” – “Yessir!” (Born Like This)