The Flatbush Zombies who I first encountered in the “Thug Waffle” video were, and are, as much a collection of freaked-out signifiers as an actual rap group: Unruly twisted mini-dreads, massive beard, out-of-focus Ol’ Dirty Bastard eyes, grungy skater clothes, hair-bleach, gold fronts, biker-punk vest-spikes, slurry broken-teeth voices, constant references to shambling reanimated corpses. They seemed bent on convincing the world that they were out of their minds, and that’s honestly a pretty good attention-grabbing hook for a New York rap duo. And it’s helped that all their music videos have been great: Sharp HD-camera Tumblr-rap takes on classically grimy ’90s New York street-rap. There’s cynical marketing stuff going on here, sure. And now that the group’s D.R.U.G.S. mixtape is out, it’s pretty evident that they’re not a great rap group quite yet; they’re still figuring out their lane. But it’s still fun to hear a couple of talented rappers who happy to portray deranged pill-gobblers, who never try to be anything deeper. D.R.U.G.S. turns out to be a fun psych-rap ride, and that’s really all it has to be.
D.R.U.G.S. is a low-budget home-recorded affair, and it sounds like it: Distorted voices, barely-quantized drums, only one guest-rapper of any note whatsoever (Kilo Kish). Erick Arc Elliott, the mostly non-rapping member of the trio, produced almost the entire mixtape, and he really serves as the MVP here. His beats are all dazed synth-bubbles and ferocious noise-stabs, and his drum-patterns have more to do with mid-’90s Southern rap than with the NY boom-bap that he was presumably raised on. And considering the group’s outspoken zombie fixation, it’s nice to hear a bit of Dario Argento/Goblin freak-drone in their production, though it never overwhelms the music. .
There’s also a strong ’90s-revival aspect to the rapping here, right down to the goofy-ass acronym of a mixtape title. (It stands for Death and Reincarnation Under God’s Supervision. I mean, obviously.) But this isn’t the rote, straight-faced ’90s revivalism that the New York underground spent the last decade-plus pounding into cliche. Instead, the wobbly voices and tortured metaphors here invoke the days when a deeply strange individual — like, say, Heltah Skeltah’s Rock — would find a home in a knucklehead rap crew as long as he spit hard enough. The lyrics, from crazy-eyed Meechy Darko and massively bearded Zombie Juice, are mostly unserious shit-talk. They sound like they’re dirtbags having fun airing out each other on a living room couch, which probably isn’t that far from the reality. They’re fun
D.R.U.G.S. isn’t some game-changing masterpiece, but it’s fun. At this point, it’s probably best to think of it as a document of a talented rap group just starting to come into itself, or as a companion piece to those great music videos. At the moment, though, the mixtape landscape is pretty barren, with DatPiff’s home page mostly dominated by grim-faced professional bores like Lloyd Banks and Cassidy. In a context like that, colorful dorks like Flatbush Zombies stand out, and I’m happy to have them around.
Download D.R.U.G.S. for free here.