This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Genre: Hardcore Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “Hell-o,” “Vacation (featuring Joey Bada$$),” “Leather Symphony (featuring A$AP Twelvyy),” “The Glory”
The shroom- and acid-loving trio Flatbush Zombies captured my interest when I first saw them perform at Tyler the Creator’s FlogNaw Music festival in 2016. While their live stage performance was pummeling, concise, and well choreographed, upon diving into their recorded work, I found it to be a mixed bag. On the one hand there was the tight and varied production coupled with brutal vocal delivery and lyricism by Meechy Darko and Erick Arc, but on the other was the overall lack of experimentation and blase feeling of their debut, 3001: A LACED ODESSEY. Brooklyn natives Dimitri Simmons, Antonio Lewis, and Eric Elliot (aka: Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice, and Erick Arc Elliott, respectively) have displayed their chops when it came to creating fantastic mixtapes, as seen on the fantastic BETTEROFFDEAD, and while elements of 3001 were enjoyable and promising, it ultimately felt like a let-down. Thankfully, their latest, VACATION IN HELL, shows Flatbush’s progress as rappers, lyricists, and musicians, contributing to a far more varied and captivating full release and a great deal of progression for Zombie Juice.
Admittedly, getting through VACATION IN HELL the first time is difficult due to the downright addicting nature of the intro track “Hell-o.” Erick and Juice begin the track with a fantastic back and forth, trading off bar after bar, giving the track a real sense of urgency that’s only furthered by the shrill yet melodic instrumental and driving bass. One can easily hear that they have known each other for a very long time, and the chemistry displayed by the trio really shows. As with each Flatbush Zombie project, Juice has improved significantly with far better flows and lyricism, like on “Leather Symphony,” where he single handedly carries this first bar and chorus.
My personal favorite of the trio, Meechy, spits his delivish flow with a four-packs-a-day delivery, sounding murderous with lyricism to match. VACATION IN HELL, unlike 3001, has a great deal of features in the 19-song tracklist, and many fit in perfectly with the Zombies. Not only do the features add a great deal to the songs, but they deliver real moments, such as the closing track, “The Glory,” which features Denzel Curry absolutely stealing the spotlight. It opens with a buttery smooth instrumental paired with samples of seagulls cawing softly, with subtle sea sounds making it feel like a sunny summer day. Each rapper displays a fantastic sense of charisma and restraint on the song, making it feel intimate and laidback. Surprisingly, Meechy and, even more so, Denzel Curry, give some of their most reserved performances, with Meechy giving a few great quips about dating and the savage cycle he is caught in: “Kick her out of the crib and scream, “baby come back” / Then kick her out again, I’m crazy like that.” This self-reflective lyricism makes it a fantastic closing track, with Denzel Curry’s feature being the piece de resistance on it. Curry is rarely so restrained, with his most recent singles carrying his trademark lightning-fast flow and brash delivery (“Sumo” and “Uh Huh”), but it’s great to hear that he has not fully left behind his more held-back and melodic delivery. It’s commendable that Flatbush utilize him in such a way, choosing to place him on a somber and thought-provoking ending rather than a dirty banger like most would do.
It can be said across the board that Flatbush Zombies do not disappoint when it comes down to pure hip hop instrumentals. In the age of trap, it is so refreshing to hear such a wide variety of sounds and sampling choices used, with each track as unique and varied as the last. As Meechy so eloquently says on the opening track, “Hell-o,” “Man fuck that (*mumbles*) that mumble rap / It’s the skully low rumble rap.” In such an oversaturated genre, it’s fantastic to break up the monotony, especially with their use of piano ballads, a high point being “Leather Symphony,” with the track still having a sense of tension and anxiety yet a slight tinge of melancholy. The use of more acoustic instruments really shows a greater sense of experimentation that isn’t being displayed in mainstream rap and, moreover, in the group’s past work.
Where many MCs let the production do the heavy lifting, Flatbush Zombies show a great deal of restraint on many cuts, allowing for their lyricism and pure rapping skills to do the brunt of the hard work. While there is a great to deal to praise, there is the odd hiccup occasionally with a corny line being thrown in, which takes me out of the experience, such as on the track, “Reel Girls”: “I wanna fuck like a porn star, a porn star / Make you skrrt like a Nascar, baby ass large.” While the occasional corn ball line has me rolling my eyes, it is never long before I’m sucked back in with either the constantly grade-A sound or the rock-solid rapping.
It is indisputable at this point that Flatbush Zombies have carved out a niche and are here to stay, and while I was apprehensive at first, with the release of VACATION IN HELL they have proven their place. Erick, Meechy, and Juice are each such characters that without one of them, Flatbush Zombies would not be the same caliber they are now. To hear rappers of this level work together so harmoniously and so consistently is a real treat, and it would be a real shame to sleep on this project. Above all, though, Juice’s smile on the cover is downright infectious and it’s worth a shot for that alone.