Their first video was all fun and games – the twisted kind. Piles of waffles, bowls of marijuana, gold fangs galore. Juice, Meech and Erick Arc Elliott of The Flatbush Zombies are, to put it mildly, a group of guys that don’t seem to take themselves too seriously. Dig around a bit, though, and it’s clear that these pot-fanatic 40 ounce-loving un-dead rappers are part of a new breed of MCs from Brooklyn going deeper.
“I like to touch all sides of the motherfuckin’ spectrum,” says Meech. A two-edged sword is what the Zombies are carrying into battle, attempting to both catch eyes and capture minds. The idea behind the name isn’t just a passion for Dawn of the Dead. Perhaps just as important is the aspect of contagion. “One of the main plays on the whole zombie idea is that it’s about spreading open-mindedness,” Meech continues. “Our job is to spread knowledge.”
Take D.R.U.G.S. The title to their debut mixtape is obvious. And not. Erick explains that it’s an acronym for “death and reincarnation under God’s supervision.” He says that “we’re not promoting drugs. We’re promoting positivity and expansion of the mind.” Meech chimes in: “[The ‘death’ in the title] isn’t about dying in the flesh. It’s about the death of ignorance. It’s about the death of all the superficial shit I have to use for you to fucking like me. It’s the death of all the bullshit that was out before us, and the reincarnation of music and sound, of niggas finally trying to be themselves again.”
The Zombies’ notion of higher living is tied into a form of esoteric spirituality that has caught on with a whole range of young rappers. Flatbush, specifically, appears to be not only a goldmine for the industry’s talent scouts at the moment, but also home to a specific understanding of how the Universe works. “Indigo” is what they’re calling it among the Beast Coast posse, which includes The Zombies, recent Brainfeeder signees The Underachievers and Joey Bada$$ and the Pro Era crew.
It is a shared understanding of a shift of consciousness between children of the internet age. “There’s something special about the kids that were born around the same time that we were,” Erick vaguely puts forward. Meech expounds, “People now aren’t as dumb as they used to be, you understand? It’s an evolution. It’s an expansion of consciousness.” It’s not entirely clear yet, but it seems to be part Mayan prophecy, part esoteric pseudo-psychology and probably even a bit conspiracy theory facilitated by excessive drug consumption. Nonetheless, what’s coming from the Beast Coast camp at the moment is loaded with symbolism. “Lyrical child of the indigo/ Heathens pray to god, I’m only ‘bout the literal/ I can see your third eye, talkin’ ‘bout a miracle,” Erick raps on the Gil Scott-Heron-sampling “Devil in Us.” Their deconstruction of religion on that track is one of the strongest hints that point towards a deeper understanding of the Flatbush Zombies aesthetic.
There’s a noticeable difference in approach to the current rap status quo here. But that’s to be expected. These are kids who grew up in the ’90s, soaking in the genre’s golden decade, and who started taking rap seriously at a time when, in their opinion, content was at an all time low. “I personally started rapping because that shit was terrible,” reminisces Meech. “Erick was rapping for years and we were like: ‘Yo, we gotta do something about this. I can’t listen to this shit.’”
And yet, the snappin’, poppin’ and swaggin’ of the late ’00s has left its mark on these guys too. On their hunt for brains to infiltrate and third eyes to open, The Zombies are well aware of the context they need to operate in if they want to spread their message. Similar to Kendrick Lamar and Ab-Soul in the West, the Beast Coast family is representative of a shift in which the conscious backpack lyricism of old overlaps with en vogue drug rap.
The Zombies are a perfect example, combining their mainstream-compatible tales of inebriation with references to spiritual elevation and expanding consciousness. You can hear it most prominently on tracks like the aforementioned “Devil In Us,” their mixtape intro and “Breakfast At ePiffanies,” but it’s more an underlying current throughout much of their music. The “conscious” intuitively comes with what Meech describes as “the superficial.” “We try to accommodate to the simple-minded and the complex-minded. Nobody wants to hear preachers and pastors and shit.”
Not only is it a matter of not wanting to. It’s also unneeded. Hip hop fans these days are conditioned to decode. Isolated keywords send them to YouTube and Google, allowing them to draw connections and soak in all the research material they can find. The Zombies’ scattered allusions to the indigo concept and third eye-mythology are left generally cryptic, dependent on their listeners’ interest in going further.
After having reeled in a sizable listenership with their debut, The Zombies appear to be headed into a more openly “conscious” direction with the two latest offerings to surface, “MRAZ” and “When in Roam.” It’s an approach they vow to keep up on their upcoming Better Off Dead mixtape, tentatively scheduled for March. Thug waffles are also going to be on the menu, of course, but count on The Zombies to find a way to toss in a few knowledge sprinkles to stick to your palate as well.