Over a year ago Flatbush Zombies made some waves on the internet with their stylish debut video “Thug Waffle”. It was a mediocre song that seemed to get attention because it came across like New Yorkers yet again not sounding (or looking) like typical New York rappers: code of the current gatekeepers for something being that “authentic” new-new. A couple of months later their tape D.R.U.G.S. dropped to a lukewarm response, partly because it actually was backpack-rappity-rap NY shit; full of recognizable samples like Portishead and Roy Ayers. The tape itself was quality with a couple of great songs, which later in 2012 found the Zombies killing guest spots alongside ASAP Mob and Bodega Bamz. Yet as this New-New York/Beast Coast movement has gained momentum, the Zombies have been relatively quiet in the Pentium-processed, ADHD-promo and hype vortex of the internet rap world.
With BetterOffDEAD, the Zombies seem to have emerged from the internet-rap grave hungry to feed off the life of any doubters and competition. This is rap music pushing against the grander posturing of the mainstream rap world and regurgitating the dizzying political and cultural climate of contemporary America. “Nephilim” sounds like gothic boom-bap made for giants stomping out a forest. Meech and Juice vigorously spit demented spiritual battle raps through Erick Arc Elliott’s haunting sample and plundering drums. “G Tearz” later follows with its soothing melodic piano loop and thick-as-Nicki’s-ass low end that puts the head nod factor at 10. Midway through the album, “Palm Trees” slows things down with its ghostly background harmonizing and catchy hook as Juice, Meech, and Erick speak on how putting one in the air helps them brush off the haters. These gems highlight a sonically versatile tape that blends together will with lyrical style and nuance.
Furthermore, one of the things that is apparent throughout BetterOffDEAD is not only the improved rapping of Juice and Erick, but how the latter’s production is marauding for the spotlight. Erick’s sound mines the old and new and gives his buddies the perfect textures for their words. “Regular and Complex (GNB)” is that psychedelic-bap that nicely filters the main loop, while adding proper accents to its lo-fi essence. The song itself feels like waking up from the haze of a drug bender. It’s an emotive and evocative production style with the proper balance of grit and grime that hopefully gets Erick more attention and work.
The real star here though is Meech, sounding like a lost member of the Gravediggaz, drawing from the lessons of Biggie, Guru, and Nas. Meech is a classic New York lyricist that places wit and cleverness on equal scale with personality and the ability to relate to his listener. His mind/pen bounces around topics of race, drug use, his hometown, and sex, with agility and flair. On his solo track “GOD Blessed The DEAD”, he aggressively paints vivid macabre images of his rapping abilities that are in fear of no one. On “Mraz” he nimbly dances with words like “I am like Randy Savage on acid/ That’s very vibrant and classic / A walking disaster, hazard to any rapper,” and on “My Team, SUPREME” he just murderously rides the beat to a definitive close. With no hesitation I’ll say that Meech’s performance on Better Off Dead has only been bested this year by Chance The Rapper, Run The Jewels, and Mr. Muthaf-ckin’ eXquire.
To close, Meech, Juice, and Erick drew from the state of Brooklyn, sprinkled it with some Charles Manson, Maury Povich, Baby Boy and Carrie, and out-classed their contemporaries. BetterOffDEAD is a whirlwind of rage and desire that has cohesion and identity in vapid and soulless times. It’s not existential crisis, but a warped call towards passion for life and better art. I really hope critics, fans, and the general internet give BetterOffDEAD its proper due. It’s easily one of the year’s best rap albums, and outside of Kismet, arguably the best long player released by any of the new crop of NY rappers within the past three years.