Flatbush ZOMBiES 3001: A Laced Odyssey

[The Glorious Dead; 2016]

Styles: “new” New York hip-hop, street-centricities, psychedelic escapisms
Others: The Underachievers, Pro Era, LSD, psilocybin, weed

Pull up a Google search for “rap” and “ego” and check out the number of results. Like peanut butter and jelly — or soda and prescription-strength cough syrup — the two commingle with seemingly predictable synergy. While having an inflated ego is practically a prerequisite for good music in today’s hip-hop market, it’s also often problematic for both personal and artistic reasons. Take Kanye West, for example, one of the more witty — and conceptually daring — rappers out there. Following a recent highly-publicized diatribe on Twitter, Kanye, the self-proclaimed “Michael Jordan of music,” admitted that his ego is his “number one enemy.” While many spend their entire livelihoods attempting to sort out their embattled ego, be it through exercise, meditation, yoga, or religious ecstasies, Brooklyn’s premier rap group Flatbush ZOMBiES have managed to shortcut all of this with a steady diet of psychedelic drugs. In turn, what we get from 3001: A Laced Odyssey, the group’s debut album, is a journey into their liberated, tie-dyed consciousness and their best project to date.

Now, because Tiny Mix Tapes is a family-friendly publication, and because we here don’t want to corrupt our younger, more impressionable readers, an understanding of Flatbush ZOMBiES’ aptly-titled album requires a note on psychotropics like LSD. The thing about LSD that makes it so essential for big city livin’ rap folk like FBZ is that it’s able to dissociate ego from consciousness, helping one to forget themselves. This creates the illusion that one is experiencing reality unmediated, tunneling into the truth of existence. Meanwhile, hallucinations unfold and senses mix with each other in a phenomenon known as synesthesia. Combined with the loss of ego, which according to Meechy Darko ushered in a sort of rebirth of conscience — hence the group being a bunch of “zombies” — these hallucinations take on a startling reality. This has fantastic consequences when listening to the group’s brand of hip-hop. The most profound effect is that, for FBZ, the music becomes material, an object in the air, one with nature itself, rather than some sort of manifestation of sound waves and whatnot. In such a situation, these sounds feel like living, breathing entities with liberty and will; no different than the clouds, trees, or grass. In more ways than one, rap music ultimately curtails this liberty, while improvisation and free-associative wordplay encourage it.

One listen to 3001: A Laced Odyssey and you can immediately sense Flatbush ZOMBiES’ psychoactive inspirations. The group’s name essentially derives from the concept of ego death, but if nothing else, the drugs provide a wonderful insight into their music. The group’s in-house producer, Erick “the Architect” Elliott, handles all of the instrumentals on the album, and he stays largely true to his namesake, building each track around their collective psychedelic odyssey from the ground up. For a contemporary hip-hop record that’s been crafted in the depressing, industrialized four walls of New York City, the tapestry of instrumentals he utilizes is largely rich, tuneful, and sensibly deployed. Tracks like “Smoke Break (Interlude)” and “Trade-Off” are whimsical and occasionally cerebral but thankfully without the sense of polished classicism that makes a lot of New York hip-hop slightly standoffish. If anything, these tracks have more in common with neo-psychedelia in terms of their willingness to interpolate a diverse array of floating genre retro-isms into a singular vision. Color is certainly the physical feature here that strikes first and most forcefully. As we hear the trio skulk about, furthering their intrigues, it’s possible to become almost overwhelmed by the kaleidoscopic swirls of color that pops from your speakers.

And, of course, there are the rappers themselves: Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice, and Erick Arc Elliott. As a group of childhood friends from the same neighborhood, they clearly have no qualms about working in unison. At the start of their career, they built off the tag-team rap style popularized by New York luminaries Beastie Boys, but by BetterOffDead, their gloriously sick mixtape from 2013, they’d already developed distinct aesthetics, and technique was a central point of divergence. 3001: A Laced Odyssey is the group’s continuation of elaborating on their unique, individual personalities. With their striking differences noticeably on display here, each member of FBZ could also very well represent their drug of choice, as well as its potential side effects. A concept album, A Laced Odyssey is composed of a song cycle that focuses on the group’s highs and lows, based on their personal experiences living in New York City. It’s a musical alchemy intended to depict vivid colors and bizarre, indescribable patterns, and Flatbush ZOMBiES materialize a surprisingly gorgeous and downright frightening object that captures the feeling of mystery of music on drugs in the Big Apple.

Take Darko’s deep guttural vocal delivery and near shit-fit levels of lyrical insanity, which vividly conjures up visions of a bad acid trip. On album opener “The Odyssey,” he wallows in existentialism, posing the question “Why I feel like the past is catching up to my ass?” and by song six, “Ascension,” convincing himself that he’s “trying to be better than God.” Conversely, Juice and Elliott seem like kindred souls on A Laced Odyssey, preferring a more chill, introspective approach to their respective madness, be it in the form of psilocybin mushrooms or their favorite sour diesel strain of cannabis. Where Elliott is an overall adequate rapper, Juice pushes through with forward momentum, loaded with punchline lyricism and tightly-wound wordplay, and he’s happily at home affecting playful, innocent sarcasm. Of course, the group still collectively embraces a heady dose of universal awareness, like on “This Is It” where Juice raps “Expand my conscious, tryna’ walk on water/ Feel the earth on me.” Fortunately, however, FBZ have wisely taken a step back from their usual third eye pontificating without compromising their distinct drugged-out sense of soul-searching.

Links: Flatbush ZOMBiES - The Glorious Dead

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