Though ‘3001: A Laced Odyssey’ is their first official studio album, Flatbush ZOMBiES – the Brooklyn-based trio of Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice and Erick ‘The Architect’ Elliott – first emerged way back in 2012 with their impressive debut mixtape ‘D.R.U.G.S.’. Thematically, the crew may not venture far beyond how much weed they smoke, but with some solid battle rhymes (“Your favourite crew’ll be on milk cartons soon…”) and a skewed, spacey sound – handled largely in-house by Erick The Arc’ – both ‘D.R.U.G.S.’ and its excellent 2013 follow-up mixtape ‘BetterOffDEAD’ sparked a buzz which saw the group steadily build an underground cult following far beyond their Flatbush stomping ground over the next few years.
The ZOMBiES form part of the renowned Beast Coast movement alongside fellow Brooklyn cellar dwellers Joey Bada$$ and his Pro Era crew, and The Underachievers, the duo of AK and Issa Gold who signed to Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder imprint. In recent years this extended family has shaped something resembling a viable and organic forward-looking New York sound for the 2010s which neither directly replicates the white-hot sonics of Atlanta or Houston hip-hop, nor wistfully longs for the Big Apple boom-bap of the early ‘90s.
Touring extensively overseas and forging links with many of New York’s current crop – including fellow LSD enthusiasts A$AP Mob (guesting on the Harlem crew’s banger ‘Bath Salt’) and hipster’s choice Action Bronson (who appeared on 2013’s ‘Club Soda’) – the ZOMBiES later teamed up with their Beast Coast brothers The Underachievers for the fine ‘Clockwork Indigo’ EP in 2014. More recently, they kicked off the year with ‘Glorious Thugs’, a homage to Notorious B.I.G.’s ‘Notorious Thugs’, and current single ‘Bounce’, which trailed the new LP.
The impressive chemistry the trio displayed on their earlier work continues here, as Juice’s hyperactive double-time rhymes and Erick Arc’s smoother flow provide a nice counterbalance to the raspy, unhinged gravel-voiced delivery of Meechy. The autobiographical ‘A Spike Lee Joint’, which features Anthony Flammia, finds the crew smoking weed before church as kids and bumping Eazy-E and Notorious B.I.G. in high school corridors. With the tempo pitched way down, it makes for a more disorientating, almost dream-like twist on those typical ‘back-in-the-day’ reminisce raps.
On cuts like ‘Good Grief’ and ‘R.I.P.C.D.’, the three expand their focus beyond the psychedelic drug chatter to reflect on, among things, the demise of physical music releases, relationships, technology and unimaginative emcees. On ‘R.I.P.C.D.’, Erick forthrightly declares how he’s “selling out all the shows, never selling out who I am”, as Meech proclaims himself “the wickedest man on fire, Richard Prior”, warning that “my semi-automatic will splatter a n*gga like Jackson Pollock”, before revealing how he “wants head like Isis”.
Such abrasive one-liners and below-the-belt shots, matched with a broader bad-bitches-‘n’-big-blunts manifesto, recall the sort of playful black humour that lent groups like The Beatnuts and Cypress Hill their infamy back in the ‘90s. But while sonically those crews tapped into their Latino heritage by fusing soca and jazz samples with lively funk and soul breaks, Erick The Arc’s production is altogether more off piste: woozy synths flutter over mostly downtempo drums, giving off a vibe that is part horror movie, part bad LSD trip. Think a kush-fuelled Giorgio Moroder writing a score for some low-budget foreign slasher flick.
This state-of-the-art approach is perhaps most evident on the superb ‘New Phone (Who Dis?)’, in which an ominous metronome and eerie piano refrain conspire to form a hypnotic, cavernous beat that seemingly stalks the trio as they spit tales of ‘shrooms and marijuana, dropping in a somewhat bad taste gag about Fetty Wap’s eye condition for good measure.
The album slumps slightly around the midway point, with ‘Fly Away’ and ‘Ascension’ ironically creating a dip in momentum. But ‘Your Favourite Rap Song’ offers a suitably rousing final flourish for the closer, resurrecting the energy of earlier anthems ‘My Team Supreme’ and ‘Minephuck’ from their ‘BetterOffDEAD’ tape.
There’s little in the way of happy endings or neat resolutions on ‘3001’, and even fewer concessions made to broader hip-hop trends; no clumsy attempts to shoehorn in a crossover hit or artificially tack on some big-name guest appearances. And, ultimately, the album is all the better for it. If the marquee sounds of Kanye and Drake carry the clean, crisp breezy whiff of mainstream appeal, then ‘3001’ is very much the authentic grimy flipside, a heavy fug of thick weed smoke billowing down Tilden Ave. Pair it with The Underachievers’ equally brilliant ‘Evermore: The Art Of Duality’ LP, which dropped last September, for a fully immersive deep-level sojourn into those murky Flatbush basements.
Words: Hugh Leask (@HughSnoozeULose)
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