The collective trio known as the Flatbush Zombies, who take their name partly from their neighborhood in Brooklyn, have returned after two years and multiple tours with their sophomore album “Vacation in Hell,” released on Friday, April 6.
Rappers Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice and Erick Arc Elliott, who is also the group’s producer, still rap about their typical topics of death, hell and drugs. However, the album’s new, fresh sound makes it the group’s best project to date.
The 19-track record clocks in at just over an hour and 15 minutes, but the quality of each song makes the time fly by. Elliott produced all but four songs on the album, which includes features from Denzel Curry, Portugal. The Man and two of the group’s personal favorite rappers, Jadakiss and Bun B.
The first single of the album, “Headstone,” was released on Feb. 22 along with a music video. The Zombies pay homage to their predecessors with references in their lyrics to Nas, Biggie Smalls, Tupac, Kanye West, Wu-Tang Clan and more.
Darko refers to West with the lyrics, “They say Jesus Walks and the Devil wear Prada. But I’m So, So Def, God can’t tell me nothing,” all while his voice in the background mimics the famous acapella chant from West’s “Jesus Walks” for a brief moment.
“U&I,” featuring singer Dia, was the album’s second single, released just over two weeks before the album itself. In the song, inspired by Outkast, each member of the group raps about their lives and how important their brotherhood is to each other.
Darko, the man behind the raspy growl, talks about growing up with his mom and his Jamaican roots before telling Elliott and Juice what he would be willing to do for the two of them, such as paying child support for Juice’s children if something was to happen to him and giving up his kidney for Elliot’s mother if she ever needed one.
The album opens with “HELL-O,” a banger of a song, synthesizers and drums creating a demonic yet head-bopping beat.
They continue on with “Chunky,” a slower track that was also influenced by Outkast, but with Elliot and Juice’s lyrics giving it a much more volatile vibe. Juice discusses racism in the song, as the trio regularly does, with the lines, “This world is backwards, we’re still in shackles. Designed to be confused, they only use blacks. When describing negative views only show blacks, when they violent in their views.”
The group enlists the help of its Beast Coast partner-in-crime and Pro Era leader Joey Bada$$ for the third song, and last single released prior to the album, “Vacation.” The more mainstream song delivers one of the catchiest hooks of the album. The group moves onto “M. Bison,” a song featuring just Juice and Elliott, but again is able to blend the sounds of current pop-rap beats with their usual devil-may-care attitude, such as when Darko raps about wanting to spend the stoner holiday of 4/20 making love with megastar Rihanna.
The production is what stands out the most song after song. Elliott has produced three previous Flatbush projects with a satanic, dark style that sounds like the group has risen from hell, a mantra of the Zombies for years. However, Elliott made this album with a much more trap-based style that is more laid back than previous works, while still maintaining the origins of what made the Flatbush Zombies relevant.
The group formed in 2010 and prior to “Vacation in Hell,” released two mixtapes, an EP with another Brooklyn-based rap duo, The Underachievers and its debut album “3001: A Laced Odyssey.” While those projects had more of a hard-hitting, intense and diabolic feeling, the “Vacation in Hell” production is a smoother version of previous work with songs like “Vacation,” “Crown,” featuring Portugal. The Man and “Misunderstood” featuring Nyck Caution.
The group’s lyricism is still gritty, with themes of drinking, smoking and sex. But, as usual, Flatbush Zombies isn’t afraid to show their personal demons in raw moments throughout the album.
Darko dedicated “YouAreMySunshine” to fallen A$AP Mob co-founder A$AP Yams, as the capital letters of the song spell out his name.
Darko expresses his agony for Yams’ death saying, “No lie, I stopped getting high once we lost Yams. I was there the night he died, he was blue cold in my hands, ain’t been the same since that day, god damn,” and “Missed your funeral, I wasn’t man enough to see you in a coffin.”
The Flatbush Zombies are an acquired taste and “Vacation in Hell” is a different project from the usual hell-raising beats and lyrics I expected. However, the surprising change in style works in the Zombies’ favor, as this album quite possibly solidified their position as one of the best rap trios/groups in the industry right now.