In the early 2010s, hip-hop’s birthplace saw the rise of a new class of rappers who embraced their New York roots. Among them were A$AP Mob, Pro Era, The Underachievers and Flatbush Zombies. Each collective has found their own way to put a new spin on their New York roots. Flatbush Zombies stand out as not only the most unique group in the bunch, but possibly one of the most unique hip-hop acts active right now.
The trio — comprised of Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice and Erick Arc Elliott — find solace in the idea of death and rebirth through psychedelic drugs. After the trio had transcendent experiences in their early teen years, they adopted the moniker of zombies; their old selves had died and come back with new life. On their second studio album, Vacation In Hell, Flatbush Zombies take a slight detour from their dark corner of hip-hop into a more accessible space.
Vacation In Hell isn’t bad, but it surely isn’t great. Individual songs like “Ask Courtney” “M. Bison” and “Big Shrimp” capture the essence of BetterOffDEAD, one of their early tapes, with improved senses of confidence and abilities to develop interesting content. The front half of the album is dynamic, featuring exciting, unique production and ravenous verses from the trio of rappers. However, the second half of the record lacks pacing and flow, ultimately bringing the project’s quality down.
It takes a lot of patience to work through Vacation In Hell. It runs for an exhausting hour and 16 minutes, making it their longest project to date. It spans 19 tracks in total but would be better off if a third of them were left on the cutting room floor. “Reel Girls” with Bun B, “U&I” and “Trapped” — while still decent songs — don’t fit on the album. They feel wildly out of place and meant for a project of an entirely different mindset.
One constant throughout Vacation In Hell is Meechy Darko’s powerful presence. His grave voice has always made him stand out the most in the group. Couple that with his charisma and lyricism and he becomes the highlight of most songs. Vacation In Hell acknowledges his heightened skill level and gives him the most time to spit on each song. This time though, Zombie Juice and Erick Arc Elliott diminish the skill gap between their unofficial lyrical leader.
When all three members turn on their inner Biggie Smalls, the results are outstanding feats of lyrical dexterity. The album’s first single, “Headstone” is nothing but references to some of hip-hop’s greats: Mobb Deep, 50 Cent, Outkast and Noreaga to name a few. It’s a song made for hip-hop fanatics to blare through speakers while still being entertaining to uninformed ears.
There’s nothing inherently bad about the Zombies’ new approach to music — in fact, songs like “Vacation” with Joey Bada$$ and “Leather Symphony” with A$AP Twelvyy are radio-worthy bangers that have a place at any party. But for the most part, their attempt to mix their deathly personas with pop sensibilities works as well as putting out a grease fire with water.
The most blatant attempt at a crossover hit is the collaboration with Portugal. The Man, “Crown.” Fresh off of a Grammy nomination, the rock band contributes a hook that is nothing but uninspired. “But I don’t doubt we could stick it out/ So when you hold me, hold me closer/ Severed is the head that wears the crown,” they sing out following equally generic verses from all three of the Zombies. The strangeness of “Crown” is its inability to capture the listener’s full attention, and it’s not because of a lack of talent among the groups. The vocal contributions on “Crown” are bland. The song is nearly five minutes long, and there isn’t a single layer that warrants a runtime of that length.
While the second half of the album trails off a bit, it also holds some of the more redeemable tracks on the album. If you manage to make it there, “Misunderstood” “YouAreMySunshine” and “The Glory” with Denzel Curry make for a pleasant conclusion to the album. Though the end runs too long with no change in its pace, the latter is filled with admirable sentiments of self-reflection and introspection. Unfortunately, they are too numerous to have a sizable impact in the album’s final moments.
Flatbush Zombies’ sophomore album, like many albums, has its highs and lows. The lows are forgettable but not entirely unforgivable. Some of the highs reach peaks that few rappers have reached so far in 2018. All in all, Vacation In Hell offers up some strong additions to the Beast Coast discography.