Flatbush duo Solace and AKtheSavior’s latest record is a culmination of everything that there is to love about hip-hop. Renaissance, the epitome of a project made by rap fans for rap fans, is their best crafted project to date.
Following their 2016 effort It Happened in Flatbush and the conceptual 2015 project Evermore, their new album Renaissance is a testament to how dedicated Solace and AK are to building on their strengths. Both AK and Solace spit caustic verses up and down the album. They’re really out for blood while they “take the game from mumble clowns.” They’ve graduated from the splintered nature of Evermore, and are now weaving the slower cuts in with the bangers to make a textured tracklist. The result is an infallible album that happens in waves as opposed to phases; their most well-crafted project to date.
The Underachievers make you wonder why hip-hop groups aren’t more popular. When Solace and AK go back to back on a track, they give the song an undeniable momentum. AK’s dusky growl of a cadence works perfectly in tandem with Solace’s silver-lining voice. As competitive as hip-hop is, there’s never a moment where one rapper outshines the other. When it comes to his hooks, Solace brings his soul and rides the boom-bap production as if it were second nature. While the record is never thirsting for a feature, when Mello does lay down vocals on her two tracks, they add a nice silky texture to cut through the maelstrom of bars.
Kicking off the project with the aptly titled intro track “In My Zone,” AK and Solace come correct over a beat that fuses a Brand Nubian sample with a modernized boom-bap beat. The lyrics on this first track are immaculate, pivoting between images and metaphors. The title of the project is mostly earned right on AK’s outro: “Remember nights I used to wish to be up in the game/ I’m built for this I feel the blood flowing through every vein.” Though the concept of cultural rebirth isn’t addressed directly on the project, there are moments that suggest the renaissance theme throughout the project, see: the cautionary tale of “Saint Paul.” Subtle, these moments showcase the rappers taking strides towards the next stage in their careers.
The duo tackles social issues with tact and nuance across the album as well. On “Phoenix Feathers,” AK brings up ways to “use the power to exile the hatred,” but he doesn’t absolve himself of any mistakes; he’s not talking down to anyone. Mentions of Trump are sparse, but effective, like a simple bar off “Kiss the Sky:” “With the Trump at the head I’m fearful for the nation.” The duo deals with institutional racism and the prison system on “Break the System:”
Grew up with his daddy, incarcerated out the struggle
With a mother who ain’t love him ’cause he look just like his father
Started failin’ outta school because the times is getting harder
Had to get up on this hustle, chose the dope theme as a startup
All across the project, the writing is precise and meticulous. The punchlines land in as few words as possible. When AK and Solace get introspective, they avoid the theatrics and present their emotions as they are. Renaissance makes me feel selfish. I’m just looking for more stories and more topics. The record has me hungry for the B-sides and for the demos.
While the stretch from “Gotham Nights” to “Any Day” contains the tightest tracks on the record, Renaissance is one of those rare projects where there are no objectively weak songs. Each cut holds its own in terms of lyrics, production, and the snarling delivery both rappers bring to the table. From track to track, there’s a variety of gritty flows and AK and Solace will switch flows right in the verse, working the beat like seasoned emcees. This is one of those special projects where your favorite song will likely change from listen to listen.
The record’s strength is also —in some respects— it’s downfall, when you consider that there are no riotous standout tracks. Certain beats, like “Crescendo,” dip their toes into trap influence, but The Underachievers can go further. They’re more than capable of jumping on a radio beat and bodying it, just to show they can. Solace and AK are both such talented spitters, I’m just waiting to hear them spit over a more adventurous beat or bring in a flow that challenges the ear like an obstacle course.
With Renaissance, The Underachievers are finally putting all their pieces together. This project is the product of looking back in order to move forward, remedying all of their past mistakes, and showing potential for future greatness. It’s not the groundbreaking record I know AK and Solace have within them, but it is certainly a pillar building them up to their classic record. Beyond Renaissance, I’m looking forward to these guys applying this higher level of craft to a fully committed concept album, which might become their magnum opus.