It seems like madness to release music the way the Flatbush Zombies do — one project a year with no outside production and an in-house producer who doesn’t f–k with 808s right now. After delivering several projects like 2012’s D.R.U.G.S., 2013’s Better Off Dead and 2014’s Clockwork Indigo EP, the Brooklyn-bred (hence the name) rap crew has served up their first official offering via Glorious Dead, 3001: A Laced Odyssey.
Cultivating a strong audience through DIY tactics (merchandise before having a fanbase and good ol’ fashioned touring), the Zombie trio — comprised of Erick Arc Elliott, Meechy Darko and Zombie Juice — have been repping the dead to keep their music alive. Here, they detail their mini-hiatuses and break down their long-awaited debut.
Billboard: First time we met was when “Thug Waffles” had just hit the Internet. What has changed?
Erick: The amount of fans that we have has grown. Also, our original fans have grown with us. We’re one of those groups that have a cult following and those kids who were coming to our shows at 17 or 18 are now graduating college. Seeing them mature and bring their kids or their little brothers and sisters out to the shows is pretty dope. Not many groups can say they have fans that follow and support an artist for that long.
Juice: This is true. I just met some people this week who were saying we got them through tenth grade and night school. (Leans into the mic) A big difference is we also got hella better at producing and rapping.
Did you think at the time that “Thug Waffle” would be the start of the Zombies’ generating such a following?
Meech: I wasn’t thinking like that — I was just making music. I didn’t have huge expectations because when you have huge expectations, you’re setting yourself up to be brokenhearted because nothing happens exactly how you imagined it. Really, we just approached it like we’re having fun.
What else can you say about the way you guys approach music as a group?
Erick: As a group, no one person is accountable for anything. It’s cliche to say but you can’t do anything by yourself. It involves a group effort and everyone participating and being enthusiastic otherwise your ideas won’t come to fruition.
Tell me about the album. When I first interviewed you guys, you made it clear that you were not going to be releasing music haphazardly but with purpose. I didn’t think that meant four years until your debut would arrive.
Erick: I think we just read the waves. We went on tour and made music the whole time but it’s like DMX or Nas or Jadakiss. I’m pretty sure no one was in their ear telling them they had to make their first album in two or six months. It was mostly [us thinking] ‘Just go in there and do your thing.’ It could take however long it took. It did take some time for us because we were touring so much but that was helping us make better music. When we first came out, we were performing songs that no one knew and we stopped that for a while because there wasn’t no new music. The whole time [on tour], though, we were making music so we could have this moment now and just hit people over the head with a bunch of new shit and the album.
Meech: Why can’t we drop music when we feel like it? What if I want to drop one song every five years?
Juice: Some people do that shit. Some people haven’t even officially put out an album.
Sade does it. She puts out an album like every ten years.
Juice: It’s timeless too.
Meech: Why can’t I do that? There’s no right or wrong. Do what you want. When you’re ready to release music you’re ready to release music.
Juice: Maybe we didn’t have a big enough fanbase yet.
Meech: Maybe I was tired! It’s a lot of work.
Granted you can release music at your leisure but what about the climate we’re in where music is released so regularly? Some artists are putting out three mixtapes a year plus an album. Is there no pressure to compete?
Erick: It’s over saturation. You don’t need to have that much shit.
Meech: N—as is spoiled.
Erick: Fuck that. When I was younger, it was different. Maybe we’re just old souls in that way. I think if you see me too much, it’s annoying. You wanna miss me. The artists I like, I like them more because they don’t release music all the time. Gorillaz. Eminem. System Of A Down. They disappear then they come back and go on tour or they release new music. I’m not saying that’s who we are, I’m just saying that’s more entertaining to me plus it separates you from everyone who is releasing music on a constant basis. It doesn’t really mean that it’s quality music — it just means there is a lot of it.
Meech: You don’t even really have time to sit with the songs if there are ten more songs coming out the next week from the same artist. Before you know it, it’s too much. It’s not even spaced out enough. I could understand if one artist was doing it. There was a time when Lil Wayne was the only artist dropping that much material. But now everybody is dropping that much material. How can some one who really listens closely to hip-hop really consume all this shit and figure out what’s good and what’s not good?
Juice: How can I be excited to hear it? I just heard you.
Makes sense. The merch seems to be helping you guys advertise the brand as well as adding a revenue stream to your portfolio. You guys have had merch since before you really even had fans. Preemptive strike?
Juice: We made T-shirts before we had five songs. We knew we had to brand ourselves early on. And we wanted to wear cool shit. Same thought process as our music really — we wanted to hear cool shit so we made it. We wanted to wear cool shit so we made that too.
So did you guys get outside contributors for production?
Erick: No it’s all me. We recorded everything in our apartment.
How does traveling the world then coming home to dump your experiences onto a hard drive work for you? Do you feel like maybe you should record more in the moment?
Erick: Well it depends how I’m feeling. Sometimes I like to produce on a laptop on a plane. Actually, I’m lying — every song wasn’t created at the house. One song — “RIPCD”, the third song — I produced that in California. I got an Airbnb then went to Guitar Center and got like $3,000 worth of equipment. I know the return policy because I used to work there so I just went off and made music by myself. When I was done I told Guitar Center, ‘I’ma keep it real, I just was here to exploit y’all. I’m heading back to NYC and I’m returning all this equipment for a full refund.’ They were like ‘Oh, we can ship it back.’ But I was like, ‘Nah.’ They were like, ‘Damn, well I respect you for at least being straight up.’
Why no 808s, Erick?
Erick: I don’t use 808s because once you add 808s to the lows and the mids of all the songs, you can’t really hear all the nuances, the little things happening in between. The 808s swallow everything. It’s dope as f–k and you love the way it feels but that’s the same feeling every time you hear that 808 no matter what frequency you put it in. Right now, I’m more about the things in between.
You guys travel the world regularly. What are some of your favorite spots to hit and why?
Meech: Tokyo for sure. The culture, the fashion.
Juice: Australia. The women and the animals.
Meech: I like Brooklyn, New York.
What was the creative process like for you on 3001: A Laced Odyssey? Was it different because it was an album?
Juice: It was easier for me. I’m getting better and it’s getting easier to tell people more of my story. If you don’t like me on the album then you don’t like my life. It’s pretty simple. I get a lot of my inspiration from life and old, classic hip hop. If you listen, I quote a lot of artists so if you don’t like my verses you pretty much don’t like me.
Meech: My creative process was different this time around because I wasn’t really smoking like that. There were times that made it easy difficult to write. Sometimes, it made it difficult to write. The biggest issue was when I would listen to our music after laying it down because I usually listen to our music high. It was a little different but I wanted to eliminate the whole ‘this is an album not a mixtape’ vibe. Songs are songs, man. Some of the best music we may drop may not be attached to a project at all. You should always give quality music regardless of what scale it’s on.
Flatbush Zombies’ 3001: A Laced Odyssey is available on iTunes here.