Minds Wide Open: Clash Meets Flatbush Zombies

Brooklyn hip-hop crew talk comics, recording, and defying expectation...

With minds as psychedelic as theirs, you wouldn’t be blamed for imagining the inside of the Flatbush Zombies’ tour bus looking something like a scene from Terry Gilliam’s 1998 film adaptation of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.

Their debut album, '3001: A Laced Odyssey' escorts listeners on a cinematic trip through Brooklyn and beyond. Scored by Erick ‘The Architect’ Elliott, the sonic landscapes constantly flit from grimy vignettes of New York streets to transcendental scenes drawn from the minds of three of hip hop’s most overtly creative musicians. Tonight, in the middle of a world tour, Meechy Darko, Juice and Erick are slumped, exhausted, on the faux-leather sofa of their mobile home-from-home, exuding the afterglow of their blindingly vibrant stage show.

“No point in mentioning these bats” said Fear And Loathing’s protagonist, as he proceeded to fight them off with a blind thrashing of his right hand. Just like Hunter S. Thompson’s tripped-out take on Vegas, there’s no point in mentioning the spectres appearing from a different mental plane; when talking to the Flatbush Zombies, it’s best to just assume that they’re there. That’s not just because these are three guys who profess their admiration for all things psychedelic and other-worldly, but because their thinking is never limited by something as petty as reality.

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Now that 3001: A Laced Odyssey has had some time to sink in; how do you feel about the way that it’s been received?
ERICK: It’s lit. The fact that we dropped the album in March and we’re touring off of it into September and October is crazy. People’s minds and attention moves so quick nowadays. Especially young people. So for them to still be that excited about the album is wonderful. It means it was good. A lot of people don’t last 2 weeks after their shit comes out.

One thing that struck us about 3001 was how cinematic it is, with rises and falls in tension, as if it has a tangible arc of energy. How has this approach affected your live performances?
ERICK: Arc? Pun intended? You’re right though.

When we made the album, we were already thinking about how we would perform it, and I think a lot, in our younger days, we would just be like “Turn up. Turn up. Turn up!”

There’s nothing wrong with that, but I think that what we learned is how to have more control of the crowd, who get tired as well as us. That comes from us changing how we regularly come and go on and off stage. Instead of always being three of us, there can be one then two then three and so on. We didn’t really think or consider that before we started touring the album. That’s the best way for people to see us.

On the album’s opening track, Erick introduces himself as ‘The Jamie Hewlitt of rap music.’ Where is the connection to Hewlitt and Gorillaz? Are you working with those guys?

ERICK: Let's just say that this year I met a lot of my favourite people, my idols and stuff. One of the people I met was Dan The Automator. I actually said this to him that when I first listened to the Gorillaz album at high school, everyone thought I was weird for liking them. They were like; ‘Why would you listen to something that’s not rap?’ It was something that was considered white people music, and on top of that, they’re all cartoon characters.

The thing is that I’ve talked to them and even on our album, we have identities with two different characters, but it’s the same thing. Like I know what Meech looks like in real life, but when illustrated he’s someone different. And it’s cool that it’s not us like this. It’s almost saying that you’ve fallen in love with the idea of somebody, and that’s what Gorillaz is all about. That’s what we do nowadays with social media and all that shit, you don’t know the person – you just like the idea of them.

So why not just make it a drawing? For us to create the chaos that we put on our cover, would take far more imagination to replicate, but with drawing you can be anywhere, represent anything.

What did you think when you saw yourselves in illustrated form for the first time?
MEECH: It was funny because what you end up seeing first is never the final product. The sketches were hilarious and there was one sketch where my character was short and fat. Fuck, why? It was fun and cool, almost surreal because it’s interesting to see which parts of you someone feels stand out the most: What you think stands out most about you might not be the same thing as what everyone else thinks.

We’ve heard talk about an incoming Flatbush Zombies comic book, possibly even an animated film. Can you confirm or deny either of these?
MEECH: We really want to, man. We want to, but we have to write it. However, if the fans keep asking for albums, every fucking day like they do, then it might be difficult. The day after the album came out, people where asking us when the next one is coming out. Just give us some fucking time so we can write these scripts and comic books and give you all this other cool shit.

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There’s a quote from a recent Reddit AMA, where one of you guys says ‘We are not who we were yesterday.’ If that’s the case, who are you going to be tomorrow?

ERICK: I don’t know who said that but let's just pretend I said it. For me individually, I was given the opportunity to become part of this group some years ago, and I’ll never forget where I came from. I want to be an example for people to do what they want.

I’ll never let anyone make me think I’m doing too much, because I have aspirations outside of music, and I hope that because of where I come from, how I look, my hair and all that shit, I hope people look and will say: “Theres a chance for me to do what I want too because this person came from a different lifestyle, and they can push forward to become a photographer also, or an illustrator or a writer.”

I feel like when rappers do other shit, in the media it’s always “Rapper such and such… makes comic book” for example. People are out to put you in a box which always discredits whatever you want to do next. Look at Kanye. They always need to include that in order to qualify what you want to do next.

I want to exclude myself from that because I have my dreams to become more than just what I’m known for. Because if I can become what I foresee myself to be, rather than what I was yesterday, then I’ll be the first person to do it. Individually. As a group, we’ve already started to make that mark, we just need to capitalise and continue creating an impact.

How would you say you measure success? What is it that you’re aiming for?
MEECH: Making music that we like, that I love. Other people loving it is good to. If I made music, and everyone in the crowd loved it but I hated it, I’d feel like shit. I feel bad for every artist that’s performing music that they don’t like: That’s hell. A whole tour, people love that shit, they’re buying that shit, and you have to go on stage and perform a bunch of shit that are not you, and you don’t like it.

I actually enjoy what I do, and people love us for that and give us love. Not many people can wake up and be like damn, someone that doesn’t even know me loves me, and we got that.

What’s next for Flatbush Zombies?
MEECH: I’m trying to do movies and shit man. You feel me?

ERICK: We need a Grammy, I’m not going to stop. You can mark that, write that I’m not going to stop till I win. And when I win I’m not going to stop until I get another one. It’s not about recognition, it’s about what I told you, It’s about making a mark for other people. It’s not for me, its about making a mark for other people, those who think they cant do it.

MEECH: Those who think they have to do it a certain way.

ERICK: Yeah fuck that. You have to reach that level to have the right influence other people, and if I can’t do that shit, then it don’t matter. I can sit and ramble about my aspirations but it don’t matter if I’m not proactive. If it doesn’t come to fruition then it doesn’t matter.

MEECH: It’s just the beginning you know.

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Words: Robbie Russell

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