'Each brings idiosyncrasy to the group' (Graphic by Jesus Acosta)

The Sum of Their Parts

With their new album, ‘Vacation in Hell’, dropping April 6, The Flatbush Zombies offer a solution to hip-hop’s problem with carbon-copy personas.

Music x

With their new album, ‘Vacation in Hell’, dropping April 6, The Flatbush Zombies offer a solution to hip-hop’s problem with carbon-copy personas.

The Flatbush Zombies are a rap trio from New York City that fall under the Beast Coast movement, a grouping that includes Pro Era and The Underachievers. And while there are plenty of interesting facets to their squad, from their status as independent music makers to their clever blend of ’90s boom-bap and trap elements, what really sets them apart from their competition is their mastery of persona.

Each brings idiosyncrasy to the group: Meechy Darko is the gravelly, aggressive, offensive yet simultaneously goofy beast; Zombie Juice is the poetic, strange, experimental philosopher; and Eric “The Architect” Elliott is the smooth, lyrical, melodic straight man, as well as the team’s producer. They complement each other brilliantly, but more significantly, they contrast each other starkly.

Many rap collectives struggle with such heterogeneity, including some of the other members of the Beast Coast movement. The members of Pro Era, for example, all started in an extremely similar place musically, working heavily from the “purist” hip-hop jazz rap of the ’90s. When they broke out though, only Joey Bada$$ and Capital Steez had flows that felt different than the others.

Migos is probably a better example. The Georgia rap trio is not only responsible for some of the most popular hip-hop music of the decade, but also for popularizing the triplet trap flow that has become a staple in mainstream rap. But despite being so important to the scene as a group, each member of the trio — Quavos, Offset and Takeoff — sound almost exactly the same.

Their monotone seems almost intentional, as if the three members are each one-third of the same consciousness, but the lack of individualism is sometimes ineffective. Especially when, as you move from song to song, it starts to feel like the only noticeable differences are the production and the hooks.

Pointing this out isn’t as much of a criticism as it might sound; in general, it’s much more important to carve out a niche as a group rather than have distinct parts within a group. But my point is this: No one, and I mean no one, does persona quite like The Flatbush Zombies. Listen to their most recent album, “3001: A Laced Odyssey,” or the mixtape that preceded it, “Better Off Dead.”

Their dramatic flair is incredible and absurdly entertaining to take in, and track for track they adapt their caricatures accordingly.

Take “R.I.P.C.D.” from “3001.” Eric starts the boom-bap beat off with calm, clever rhymes deconstructing the repetitiveness and unoriginality of many popular rappers. Zombie Juice then bursts onto the cut with extremely fast, trippy, vivid bars.

He tells the listeners to “feast on his blood” as he leaves this dimension, and that he thinks that the world is “lost like a sea ship, walking to hell with the demons.” This segues beautifully into Meechy’s braggadocio, breathless, ridiculously offensive verse. I’d give you a snippet of his lyrics, but it wouldn’t do them justice. You should just listen yourself.

They rap in a way that’s reminiscent of how voice actors explain that their characters are different than impressions, how you have to be able to actually speak in the voice of the character. The Flatbush Zombies are exactly that: a trio of beautifully realized MCs from another world.

With any luck their upcoming album, “Vacation in Hell,” which drops next month on April 6, will be just as bombastic.

Leave a Reply