Label: Brainfeeder

The debut album from Brooklyn duo The Underachievers has been one of the nicest unexpected treats of the year. At first listen, it seemed easy to dismiss rappers AK and Issa Dash as nostalgia obsessives bent on reviving the legacies of '90s acts like Freestyle Fellowship and Souls of Mischief (who are both certainly influences). But further attention brought reward: The Underachievers have something original to offer.

From the first bars of opening track "Philanthropist," their nimble wordplay and double-time flows establish the tone of the project. But it's more than just the lyrics, the production (provided by Mr. Bristol, Rich Flyer, The Entreproducers, Bruce Lee Kixxs, and Juice and Lou Chapo from Tribe Gang) paints a hazy, psychedlic backdrop that meshes well with the lyric themes of mysticism. Even if things wear a bit thin towards the end of the 17-song-long album, it's refreshing to hear young rappers so clearly value the craft of MCing, not just posturing. —Insanul Ahmed