It's a good time to be a hip-hop fan. All over the country, artists and MCs are coming together to produce some of the most ambitious and memorable rap music since the '90s.
New York, in particular, is a hotbed of activity, and two of Brooklyn's most heavily hyped crews, Underachievers and Flatbush Zombies, have recently joined forces. They've chosen the name Clockwork Indigo and they've just dropped a self-titled, five-song EP.
To celebrate this new slab, the group's hit the road for its debut tour, the Electric Koolade Experience, set to bumrush downtown Miami's Grand Central this week. So we caught up with Underachievers' Issa Gold to talk about psychedelics, literature, life, Stitches, and the new hip-hop renaissance.
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Crossfade: You and Underachievers' AK and Flatbush Zombies' Juice, Meechy Darko, Erick Arc Elliott must have known each other for a while. Why collab now?
Issa Gold: We knew that if we were going to tour, we wanted to do a collab project together. So when the tour came up, it was like, 'Alright, let's get this project done.' We all grew up in the same neighborhood. Me and Juice lived in the same building and spent pretty much four to five years together, every day, just learning and doing psychedelics. Meechy and Juice are best friends who knew each other even longer before that, and Meechy and Erick were best friends for even longer before that.
You named the tour the Electric Koolade Experience Tour. I love Tom Wolfe and his book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Why the title? Are you dosing your fans with your art?
I haven't really thought about it that way. We don't do psychedelics like that anymore, but that's a perspective I'm going to apply in the future. Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, that book is awesome. My friend Meechy, he has this whole record label thing going, and secretly, that's the name of the record label, so we applied it to this whole thing.
With the name Clockwork Indigo, I'm picking up on a literary influence.
I'm greatly influenced by literature. From four or five years old, I was super into reading. When you read, you get to create the characters yourself. You get to see the images yourself. You make your own world. Your imagination runs free. I always say Harry Potter fueled my imagination from a kid and shit. Literature as a whole, I mean from fiction to nonfiction, has been a big influence on my life. I can't lie, I haven't read a lot since I became a rapper, but prior to becoming a rapper, it was books every day, like a book-a-day-type shit. I was trying to figure out answers to questions that I've never been able to answer.
That's the thing about hip hop, it's a celebration of words and music at the same time.
That's why I'm a rapper. I understand now. You just said some genius shit, because I couldn't figure. I could piece together reasons through my past why I'm a rapper. I don't like rap at all, I don't really listen to rap ever in my regular-day life. I always wondered what made me fall into rap. I know it's because I can't play the guitar or sing, because if I could have done that, I would have done that. Now that you put it that way, it makes sense, because I'm a very eloquent person. I love words, so it only makes sense. Hip-hop is a celebration of words, and then music is a universal language, so that's why I'm a fuckin' rapper.
When did you start?
Probably six months before we dropped our first video, but I started seriously rapping maybe two months before we dropped the first video.
I had a plan, that's why. Most rappers who think they're good, they just rap, but I used my brain and came up with a rational plan that had no other chance but working, and it worked.
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What was your plan?
I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew who I was, and I knew the message that I was trying to spread. I was in school trying to get my PhD in some social science to write books and try to spread the message that way. I realized music is my biggest passion, even without a way of making it. I knew that music was the universal language, so while I was in school, I was thinking, "Hmm, how can I start making music and use that as a gateway to get my message out."
I was reading The Celestine Prophecy and The Alchemist. They're such simple books that I recommend to everyone on the planet. These books literally changed my life. They made me think the whole point of life is to create an impactful goal and then to fuckin try to go after that. If you die trying that goal, at least you die trying to do some sick shit, and chances are you're probably going to make some strides to do some shit.
My goal is so save this generation, well not save my generation but to influence them with this message. I'm going to try. I genuinly don't think I'm going to do it, but look what's hapened so far in the past two years of me trying. That's how I got to where I am now.
The plan was to target a specific demographic that was exactly like myself. Most artists go after everyone, but there's 20 million people in the world exactly like me. Why would I want to target 2 Chainz fans or Kid Cudi fans when I can target the 20 million people who are exactly like me? I just made everything I was doing target to that specific demographic. I knew that visuals is the way to really go viral in terms of music. It wasn't music anymore, so I focused on putting out hardcore visuals. It was like a solid, rational plan. I saw my Zombie brothers, A$AP, and some other people, how they had a cult following, and worked.
As an outsider, it seems New York is having a hip hop renaissance. Is that true?
It's really happening! We all know each other. We're all friends, from the Pro Era to A$AP, the Zombies, us, Tan Boys. There's a good spirit in New York in terms of music right now. There's not unity, but there's a core unity inside of New York going on, even down to Action Bronson as an artist. New York is really together.
Even outside of New York, lyricism is coming back.
Yeah, I mean, the renaissance isn't only going on in New York. There's Chicago, with Vic Mensa, Mick Jenkins, and Chance the Rapper who's a fucking king right now, and Alex Wiley and Kevin Gates, and even the fucking thugs over there, like Fredo Santana, Chief Keef, and them. Then you go to the South, with Florida's Denzel Curry and Robb Banks, and Atlanta's kids over there, like Two-9. It's everywhere.
It's a good solid underground hip-hop world that's slowly branching off into the mainstream, in ways that we don't even really want it to happen, but it's just happening. Chance the Rapper is opening the doors for all of us. Joey Badass is trying to break down doors. Even A$AP Rocky who's chillin. In the West with TDE and Schoolboy Q, they're really creating this new world. The underground touring world is becoming a more popular sound in the mainstream world, which was not really known back then.
So far it's stayed pretty authentic.
When I say mainstream, I don't mean Taylor Swift mainstream. I mean Schoolboy Q has a song on the radio, but he's still killing on the touring route. Before, you were either a touring artist or a mainstream artist. There's a lot of artists out there that are way more famous than us, but they're not selling out venues around the world. That bridge is being broken down, I already know Vic is going to break down even more doors, because he's able to tour well, but I'm sure he's going to come out with a radio single really soon. You don't want to be mainstream. It's not the goal, but music is universal.
The music is so good, it can't be ignored.
I blame Kendrick. He's risen the bar every time he does something. I know every rapper looks in the mirror whenever he drops something. I think he's the greatest of all time, probably. He's amazing.
You gave a shout-out to South Florida's Denzel Curry and Robb Bank$. You guys have ties to the scene down here. What are you looking forward to from our crowd?
I love it down there. I like Florida a lot. Denzel Curry is possibly my second favorite rapper right now. I think in like two, three years, everyone is going to be using his flow, like how everyone uses the Migos flow right now. I think he's an amazing kid, too. I put him on my last tour, our first headline tour, I took him on it. We had a lot of fun. I actually like Robb Banks, even though he dissed off the Zombies, so I'm not even supposed to say that. I met him at one of my shows, and he was chill and shit. I've always liked his shit. I even like this dude Stitches. I don't like him, but I like his shit. I don't like it, but I like it, you know? I don't know what I like about him, but I like it.
It's hard not to yell along to that shit.
I just hope it's authentic. People try to tell me it's not authentic. I hate all the gimmicks, but it's whatever. Everything in rap is a gimmick now.
In turn, what can we expect from your show?
A lot of high energy. I think we have two of the most - I can't even say that right now, because a lot of the upcoming artists have live shows. Pretty much the general thing to do is to have turnt up shows, so I can't even say that we're the most turnt up. But I think us and Flatbush Zombies definitely bring a very electrifying show. For us to be together is just really high energy. It's really good show. Every night it's really fun. There's just a lot of mashing, a lot of high energy, a lot of jumping around. Smoking, too. They smoke a lot of weed, too.
You put this together for the tour, so does that mean you made it really fast? Do you have plans to continue this maybe for another tour?
Everything you just said right now is correct. We definitely did it fast. There's also maybe eight songs that didn't release, and we already have plans for releasing more songs, probably releasing another tape and of course touring again. This is never going to stop. That's why we named this group. If it was just going to be a tour and a project, it would just be the Electric Koolade Experience, but it's called Clockwork Indigo and a brand is being built. We plan to come back to it over the course of the next 10, 15 years. We're just going to keep building on it, and get our shit together.
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Clockwork Indigo's Electric Koolade Experience. Featuring Underachievers and Flatbush Zombies. Presented by Dope Entertainment. Thursday, November 20. Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets cost $20 to $50 plus fees via ticketweb.com. Ages 18 and up. Call 305-377-2277 or visit grandcentralmiami.com.
Follow Kat Bein on Twitter @KatSaysKill.