If Brooklyn psych-rapper AK had a pullstring, he'd blurt out this phrase with every yank. For the Underachievers — who headlined the Mainroom at First Ave Wednesday night — keeping it lit is really only half the mission, as so much of their appeal rests in digesting their mystical ideologies. Their latest album, Evermore: The Art of Duality, balances between reflective, lyrical asides and hissing, acidic bangers, but in the live context, the Underachievers don't waste much effort on expounding their message beyond those two concepts.
AK and his rhyming partner Issa Gold have a spiritual connection to their fans. When your music comes with a dogma, indoctrination listeners comes with the territory, and being a fan of the Underachievers is an identity. The indigo children in attendance were throbbing well before AK and Gold took the stage, chanting "UA! UA! UA!" until the pair sauntered out to the stage.
The layoff between third act Pouya and the Buffet Boys and the Underachievers was cut drastically short due to a late start (AK and Gold apparently arrived 45 minutes tardy to the pre-show meet and greet), so the momentum of the previous set was still palpable.
Gold popped out with his hand raised like the velvet-tongued pedagog he is, and AK shook his dreads as the fans grunted in exasperation. The first three songs were a blur — they played "Flexin'," I'm sure, but the rest was a smear of bass rattles and pitter-patter verses. A constant hail of emptying water bottles filled the air. During "N.A.S.A.," AK took a second to shout out Minnesota, the first cogent moment of the evening.
"Where my motherfuckin' indigos at?" yawped Gold before launching into Indigoism statement track "Gold Soul Theory." It was an unnecessary call-and-answer, since the noise was so high in the room that all vocal chords in attendance were already worked down to ribbons.
Though things were decidedly more up-tempo than the Underachievers sound on wax, there was still a trademark fluidity to the set. Early on, AK took a miscue as a chance to freestyle 16 bars. Gold took a couple moments to laud First Ave's light guy for his work on the boards.
Love would be a recurrent theme throughout the set. AK and Gold's affinity for one another — a camaraderie elaborated in "The Mahdi" — is obvious. The childhood friends work in languid syncopation, never stepping on one another's lines and always propping their companion up for maximal hype. They led chants for their crews Beast Coast and Clockwork Indigo, even taking a turn at "LUAM" from their collaborative EP with Flatbush Zombies.
At one point, Gold reached down into the crowd with a nearly papal look of appreciation as the attendees clawed at his arm. When the Pouya and the Buffet Boys rushed the stage during "Herb Shuttles," Gold took a second to put them up, claiming they'd be stars soon and that they were "turnt up as an elevator."
As the short, 40-minute set began to wind down, Gold descended into the photo pit to leave one last message with his followers. He urged them to become "one superhuman race" so that they can evolve and challenge society. He told them to go out and "do some different shit," like becoming a physicist or an artist. With that, they set into "Take Your Place," a proclamation of faith in their fanbase and their elevated way of life.
Through their interactions with the crowd, it became clear that the Underachievers believe in their fans as much as their fans believe in them, and the reliance is mutually sustaining. Keeping it lit as fuck is just how the New York City rappers choose to express their love.
Critic's bias: I've been drowning in the Underachievers' indigoism theory ever since I interviewed AK last week. It's become a prominent lens for me to see the world.
The crowd: As I rolled up to First Ave around 8 p.m., there were a pair of ambulances and a cop car blocking a portion of 7th Street. The paramedics were struggling with a young man, trying to get him strapped to a gurney into an ambulance. It looked like his neck was made of pudding, and he was kicking limply like a dog being held above the water.
The doorman at First Ave said his friends couldn't even sit him upright in a chair. It was a scary scene, and there were probably a dozen other people in attendance that could've been loaded into the ambulance with him.
Overheard in the crowd: "Where are all the black people at?!," a six-foot-something, dorky-lookin' white guy. All the black people surrounding him responded emphatically.
Notes on the opener: Have you ever wanted to see a pint-sized James Franco rap System of a Down's "Chop Suey"? If so, you might wanna check out Pouya and the Buffet Boys. Also, Bodega Bamz likes hockey, so I ride for him forever.
Random notebook dump: Congrats to the Lynx! Glad I got out of downtown before the game ended and the celebration began.