Rap trio Flatbush Zombies have been carving their way through the soundwaves with trippy personas and outgoing personalities since 2010. Thanks to a flurry of hard-hitting mixtapes that capitalized on the group’s acid-laced rhymes with ear-grabbing instrumentals, the trio added a breath of fresh air to the rap game.
Composed of members Zombie Juice, Erick the Architect and Meechy Darko, each artist brings a distinct trait to the group that captures the strong cohesion needed for success. From Zombie Juice’s unforgiving flurry of bars to Meechy Darko’s distinctly dark and heavy voice, the two provide unique vocals that get them through most tracks. Meanwhile, Erick the Architect — aptly named because of his role as the lead audio engineer — does a passable job rapping alongside the others.
Oddly enough, it was not until 2016 that the group dropped an album together. 3001: A Laced Odyssey was a solid project which aided them through a series of tours, at one point even stopping in Madison. I went to the show and was hooked by the trio’s intense energy, jarring voices and attention-grabbing production.
They return in evolved fashion with their second full-length album, Vacation In Hell, ditching some of the tropes that bogged down their last project while, unfortunately, replacing them with others. The slick, dirty style one would expect from a FBZ project is on full effect, and although the group does little in innovation, it’s hard not to enjoy new content from the trio.
On this latest project, I hoped for an expansion into the styles caught by the group’s earlier mixtapes or the pop-rap, radio-friendly venture that was hinted at with their first album. In some ways, both of these are the case. Erick the Architect crafted a slew of instrumentals across the 80-minute runtime that held my attention and reminded me of a symphonic journey into the trippy landscape I was expecting.
A few of my favorite moments on this project come when the configuration of these tracks make references to Three 6 Mafia and Kanye West. The group’s ambition hits the mark in these moments, and the payoff results in an enjoyable project.
Yet, the themes comprising most of the album feel misguided, and their lack of lyrical depth presents a bloated product. When the group isn’t stumbling over simple rhymes like “I wanna f**k you like a pornstar, a pornstar/ Make you skrrt like a NASCAR” and “I get green n***a, Peter Pan,” they are mismatching the tone of the instrumentals with odd topics.
The track “Trapped” is the worst offender of this issue: A smokey, elongated tone perfect for a kickback is bogged down by the lack of wordplay and Meechy’s out-of-place discussion on suicide.
The album’s themes have the group tackling issues while utilizing some third eye of higher thinking. The streams of consciousness on tracks like “Best American” discuss the systematic oppression of the black community in America — it is a hard-hitting example of FBZ at their best. But other songs such as “Proxies,” which has a take on faith and holy war, reflect the group’s inability to say anything beyond surface level.
That said, Flatbush Zombies still hit some great strides with tracks like “Headstone,” “Facts” and “YouAreMySunshine.” The last of the three is a heartfelt tribute to the late A$AP Yams and is performed solely by Meechy.
As for the album’s features, they, too present a mixed bag. A$AP Twelvyy is passable — if not mediocre — in “Leather Symphony,” while Jadakiss propels the absolute home run of a track “Facts” into the stratosphere.
Ultimately, Vacation In Hell should have been more conceptual. Far too often did I get the impression that there was no real drafting or critical thought put into what was being said. Still, there are moments when it’s irresistibly catchy and enjoyable. The album had potential to be a milestone for Flatbush Zombies, but the end result is inconsistent. None of the tracks are outright bad, but too many of them fail to sink their teeth into the brains of its listeners.
Final Grade: C-