Flatbush Zombies Ascend to New Heights on ‘3001: A Laced Odyssey’
While Flatbush Zombies have only even been together as a group for a few years, it's felt like an eternity at times waiting for their debut studio album to be released. They built a cult following after the release of two excellent mixtapes, 2012's D.R.U.G.S. and 2013's BetterOffDEAD, as well as their high-energy live shows. They released a short EP with fellow "Beast Coast" movement members the Underachievers in 2014, but for a while, very little was coming from the Brooklyn, N.Y. trio aside from a few one-off tracks to remind us that they're still kicking.
The rappers that came up in the Beast Coast movement along with Flatbush Zombies have been making major moves in that time since BetterOffDEAD came out. Joey Bada$$ has released some acclaimed projects including his excellent debut album, B4.DA.$$, last year. Members of Pro Era outside of Bada$$ like Kirk Knight, CJ Fly and Nyck Caution have put out solo tapes. The Underachievers released two studio albums as well as some solo projects. Flatbush Zombies seemed to be left in the dust compared to their associates. Now that the Zombies' highly-anticipated album, 3001: A Laced Odyssey, is out, they're showing once again why they're the most exciting act coming out of that scene.
The Flatbush Zombies' music is a delicate balancing act. On one hand, they make goals to make real New York hip-hop that continues the long tradition of hard-hitting, lyrical rap music established by the city's great MCs. On the other hand, Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice and Erick "The Architect" Elliott don't want to be derivative carbon copies of generic New York hip-hop. They take that long history and influence and twist it and turn it into this dark, psychedelic vision.
This balancing act is witnessed as quickly as the album's introduction "The Odyssey." On the first verse of the album, Zombie Juice name-drops some of the city's greats like Jadakiss, the Notorious B.I.G. and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (as well as great rappers from other regions such as Eminem, Tech N9ne and 2Pac). A few seconds later, Erick the Architect compares himself to much different figures. He calls himself "the Jamie Hewlett of rapper music," choosing to put himself in the conversation with comic artist and Gorillaz mastermind Hewlett instead of other rhymers. In the next breath, he talks about how he's influenced by visionary director Stanley Kubrick (the LP was inspired by his film, 2001: A Space Odyssey). Flatbush Zombies look to the artists that paved the way for them, but they also expand their horizons to make themselves stand out in the crowded New York scene.
They have progressively become more cohesive as a unit with every release. On earlier projects, there was a lot more unequal ground. Sometimes the rappers' verses got completely outshined by Erick's hazy beats, or Meechy Darko just completely stole the show from everybody else on the track. Since we've last heard the group, they've built a lot more chemistry with each other to the point where there's never really a weak link. Erick the Architect is more of the conventional guy of the group (if there is such a thing) and his beats bring everything together. Zombie Juice brings a more philosophical, spiritual approach and is just a tad bit more unhinged than Erick. Then Meechy Darko is the wild card of the trio, with his untamed growl of a voice providing an intensity and feeling of uneasiness that makes their sound more distinct. There are times Meechy actually sounds like he might be possessed by a demon.
Speaking of demons, darkness, hell and Satan are some of the biggest themes on this album. On "The Odyssey," Meechy proclaims, "My only mission is to burn in hell instead of prison/That's why I'm spitting shit that make Jesus question religion." "Fly Away" has Darko questioning existence itself. On the very next track, he says he has ascended and that he aims to be better than God himself.
The group blends those spiritual and existential themes with stories of success, drug references and a dark sense of humor to tackle various topics. "A Spike Lee Joint" is inspired by Meechy's own nasty run-in with the famed director. "R.I.P.C.D." details the music industry's evolution in recent years. Album closer "Your Favorite Rap Song" is simply a showcase of how well the three can spit just about anything that comes to their head.
When it comes to the production, the lyrics fit perfectly over the soundbed. Erick uses different styles to accomplish the dark tone of the album, from the twisted soul of "A Spike Lee Joint" to the sinister trap sound of "Ascension." Without his unique touch, the Zombies' aesthetic wouldn't be nearly as effective.
3001: A Laced Odyssey is a perfect first step in a career that is still blooming. On "Ascension," Meechy brags that he hasn't even entered his prime yet, and it's believable. These three artists are more than capable of evolving even further and may have only shown a brief glimpse of what they can do at this point. The Flatbush Zombies have only just begun taking listeners on a sonic trip.
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