The Underachievers Soundtrack Their Lives to John Mayer

We had no idea.

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The Underachievers and your sister/high school girlfriend/guitar-playing dormmate may have more in common than you’d expect. When you think of two talented rappers who grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, worked and toured cohesively with Pro Era and Flatbush Zombies as the Beast Coast collective, are signed to Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label, and are two of the prime representatives of psychedelic rap’s reemergence, you would not expect that their all-time favorite artist is John Mayer. And believe it or not, that is exactly who Issa’s favorite artist is (and although AK didn’t explicitly say so, we’re sure he likes Mayer a lot too.) We recently caught up with rappers in LA for an eye-opening conversation. On top of the music, we spoke on a few random topics such as AK’s adoration of Dragon Ball Z and his opinion on the anime’ latest films, their stance on spirituality and overcoming struggle, and lastly about Issa’s peculiar selection for his favorite artist of all time. After complimenting us for the query simply because “nobody ever asks,” IG proceeded to give one of the most in-depth and insightful explanations as to why the Continuum mastermind’s music is essentially the soundtrack to his life. And after the interview, we weren’t able to listen to John Mayer the same way anymore.

We’re here in LA at the last stop of your tour. How has the tour been so far?

AK: It’s going amazing so far. We hit a lot of fire cities that was lit as f*ck. My top 5 were probably Montreal, Santa Cruz, New York, Santa Ana and probably Boston.

IG: There’s so many good ones, there’s no top 5 for me right now. Like 20 cities ago I had a top 5 but now there’s at least a top 10. Chicago was lit, Denver, Salt Lake City, Toronto… It’s so hard to choose! Texas was crazy, Albuquerque, Arizona was crazy too. It was great to really see where we’re at right now and really interact with the fans. We did a lot of meet and greets and stuff like that too. It’s been a solid tour.

AK, we know you’re a big anime-head especially with Dragon Ball Z. Did you watch the new movies (Battle of Gods and Resurrection ‘F’) and if you did, what do you think about them?

AK: Yeah I watched them. I like that new Dragon Ball Z material that’s coming out because I’m a super fan, but me personally I thought it was a little too comical. There was less action and more comedy and sh*t so… I felt like that was weird and I needed that old Dragon Ball Z action that I like, but overall it was dope.

Are you guys still doing anything with Beast Coast at the moment?

IG: Nah, just working on our own music.

You guys grew up with Flatbush Zombies. Why did you guys end up forming two separate groups as opposed to one?

IG: That’s just the way it worked.

AK: Yeah we were just both doing music and making our own way.

IG: Actually we did make a group, it’s called Clockwork Indigo.

AK: Oh yeah. (laughs)

What would you consider being the crucial point in your careers so far?

AK: I guess dropping our first project.

IG: Yeah Indigoism probably. Indigoism came out 2013 and life hasn’t been the same since then.

You guys promote spirituality and overcoming adversity in your raps, something you don’t always see in rap music today. That being said, what do you guys think of the current rap scene?

IG: I love it.

AK: Yeah.

IG: With the Internet age there’s a better platform to display all the different varieties of music. It was different just 5 to 10 years ago when releases were being orchestrated by the people in charge. So now even though the same type of system is in play, underground artists can still express themselves and get their music out without having to walk hand in hand with the major labels. So people can complain about the state of pop-rap or whatever but you can still go on the internet and hear music from us and whoever the hell else you want to listen to. I love all types of music from Young Thug, Future — those are probably my favorite rappers right now. We love that sh*t. As long as there’s a balance and some people are putting out music with substance. If there was just trash out and no place to find good sh*t that would be another problem. I guess the problem now is the major labels wanting to mix the mainstream with the underground sh*t.

AK: Yeah just use the Internet people! Find good music.

So you’re not trying to fill a void in rap music, you’re just doing your own thing?

IG: We’re just expressing who we are literally; everything in our music is just who we are. We never attack any other kinds of music and say, “Don’t listen to that” or “this is sh*t, this is what’s f*ckin’ the world up.” That’s never our approach at all. This is just who we are. I like spirituality, I like smokin’ weed, I like havin’ sex with women and that’s just what our music is about.

Can you talk a little bit about the spirituality and how you got into that?

AK: For me it happened naturally, it was just like life experiences. Believing in myself and also my first shroom trip opened up my mind to more spiritual experiences. Since then I’ve just been on my own sh*t trying to learn more things about myself.

You talk about your art being born from your struggle. Do you feel like that was necessary?

IG: I mean it was necessary for us for sure; me specifically because I never wanted to make music prior to going through all the things I went through. The only reason I started making music is because I saw a lot of similarities in the youth today and the friends that I have and I wanted to talk to those kids specifically and I saw music was a good outlet to do that. Same for AK also.

AK: I feel like our lives a lot of people could relate to. So we have a voice for them.

Yeah, I feel like that’s true. You’ve got the meet and greets with the fans and I see how excited they are and they tell you how you’ve impacted their lives. Can you talk about your relationship with your fans?

AK: Fans every day tell us we’ve saved their lives.

IG: Thousands and thousands of kids have told us that. It’s like the main reason why we do our music. We try to create outlets for them. That’s probably the best part of the tour. Not that I hate touring, but it’s so hard for me, the amount of energy… Yo my girlfriend sent me some crazy sh*t today. A video of Michael Jackson before an interview saying how much he hates touring. Then he’s like, “You know what I got you guys.” They turn on the camera and he flips it on and is like, “I love touring.” (laughs) The tour part is hard, people think it’s an amazing experience, but when you think about it you’re traveling every day, day to day, going to new cities. Performing every night. It’s just a lot. That part gets strenuous. But meeting the fans and knowing we’re affecting them is the best part. We’re super huge music fans, we probably are bigger fans of listening to music than making it. Well I know I am. We understand the relationship people would love to have with their favorite artists or the kind of relationship we have with our favorite artists is the same relationship we want to give to the fans. Already knowing how crazy it would be for both of us to meet an artist we love, we met Local Natives before, that’s a good example. That was f*ckin’ insane. So when we meet fans it’s just like the best part because i know how sick it is for them. A few out of every hundred fans might get a bad meet and greet because we might be crazy tired. They might think we’re the worst human beings and assholes and they say, “He wouldn’t take a picture with me!” Meanwhile there’s like 35,000 pictures of me with fans. You can’t make everyone happy all the time.

Could you imagine impacting that many people’s’ lives when you were starting to make music?

IG: I could’ve imagined it only because I know how much music impacted me. Music literally saved my life, maybe even more than psychedelics, more than everything I’ve learned. Music was the soundtrack to me when I was depressed, sad or mad. From that perspective, I’d say yes, but did I ever think I could personally do that? No. Not in a million years.

You talked about being fans of music maybe even over being music artists yourself, which artists are you listening to now?

AK: My playlist is always the same people.

IG: Yeah I was lookin’ at my playlist! It’s Coldplay, John Mayer, Local Natives, Jason Mraz, Sampha, Kanye West, Freddie Gibbs. Who else is there… Lumineers, Vampire Weekend.

AK: That’s about it. Little Dragon, Sampha, N.E.R.D., Local Natives, same sh*t.

IG: Yeah I’m just waiting for Coldplay to drop a new album. Vampire Weekend just dropped something… Yeah all the people I like drop sh*t so I stay listening to them. We’re pretty much set. Lumineers is some new sh*t I just got into it, niggas is nice. John Mayer forever for the rest of my life until I die for sure.

I actually got a question here about John Mayer.

IG: Yeah that’s my favorite f*ckin’ artist of all time. Ever. There’s no John Mayer song on the planet that I don’t know. I know every Coldplay song created too. And every Vampire Weekend song. When I like something I binge on that sh*t and go super hard. John Mayer is my favorite artist of all time, period.

Yeah, my girl put me on the John Mayer Trio, it’s good sh*t.

IG: Ahh the John Mayer Trio is f*ckin’ fireeee! Amazing! Steve Jordan and Pino Palladino. What’s the John Mayer question?

What is it about John Mayer’s music, why do you like it so much?

IG: Good question, nobody ever asks that. The thing about John Mayer, besides the fact that he makes acoustic guitar music, which I absolutely love. That’s my favorite kind of music, anyone who does that I’m automatically a fan. There’s a weird relationship I have with John Mayer’s music where every song he’s ever done has related to my life in some way or shape or form. He’s the artist with like the real soundtrack to my life. Song’s like “Stop This Train” which is a song about getting older and that sucking, to “Man On The Side” which is about dating someone and being in the middle of a relationship. “Why Georgia” is about dealing with the present and wanting to go back to the past but you can’t really go back. Every song he ever made, I’m not going to name every song but they all relate to my life. He really makes music from an obscure perspective that love songs aren’t really supposed to be made from. It’s really good to hear and he’s amazing on the guitar. A lot of people correlate him to his famous songs which are “Your Body is a Wonderland” and “Daughters”, which are good songs but when people hear John Mayer they just think of those songs and think he’s just some pop-singin’ mof*cka, but like it goes so much deeper than sh*t.

That was kind of how I thought about him until I got into the Trio stuff he did.

IG: Same, I swear to god. I was listening to R&B crazy when I was 14 or 15 and that was my sh*t. Then it was funny, a black kid who showed me too, he said listen to a John Mayer song. I was like John Mayer?! He played “No Such Thing” for me and it was over after that. I’m 25 now and I’ve been listening to him for 11 years now.

What are your plans for 2016? What should we be on the lookout for?

IG: Making more music. As much as possible. Lords of Flatbush 2 is coming out. We’re working on all types of secret sh*t.

AG: New merch.

IG: Oh yeah, new merch coming. New music coming. Books coming. Anime’s coming. Website coming. Merch coming. Merch. (laughs) Just more music and trying to expand and get bigger and really figure out better ways to put out the message we want to put out. Whether it’s through music or other forms. We just want to keep spreading the music we’re spreading and keep inspiring people..

AK: To be themselves. That’s it.

Photography & Interview: Aaron Miller

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