Considering how calm and collected he is in conversation, it's hard to believe Brooklynite Erick Arc Elliot is the rapper at the helm of a trio of psychedelic hip-hop renegades. As one-third of the NYC-based group Flatbush Zombies, Elliot has been dubbed "The Architect" and is both an exceptionally skilled rapper and the group's main producer. He is responsible for structuring the group's soulful yet trip-friendly sound, which falls somewhere among Redman, A Tribe Called Quest and the Boot Camp Clik.
As a child growing up in Flatbush, Elliot had dreams of getting involved in music. Even in his early years, he says, he never listened to "the kiddie shit," such as all the cartoon jingles and saccharine songs most children seemed to be hypnotized by. His mother introduced him to Motown and soul, and from there, his tastes evolved and included Tupac, Biggie and other hip-hop greats from the Golden Era of the '90s. He naturally formed an interest in rapping, as well as a desire to create his own beats.
"The beats I was getting were so whack I didn't want to rap on them, I was like, 'Damn, I keep on getting these whack ass beats!,'" Elliot says. "Or, I was rapping on other peoples' beats--Jadakiss, Wu-Tang. They were fine, but they weren't mine, and I wanted to make something that was a representation of me, and I couldn't find another producer, so I had to do that myself."
It was an artistic blessing in disguise for Elliot, as his style of production has become the backbone of Flatbush Zombies' signature blend of progressive, peyote-powered rhythms and old-school MC showmanship that's indebted to both drug culture and East Coast rap's early, sample-filled clamor. It's classic boom-bap, with that genre's collection of dust wiped away and replaced by sprinklings of DMT crystals.
"To copy is working backwards. Life is going to continue to transition to the future, people are going to continue to change, the world is going to change, and I think you have to adapt," Elliot says. He and his Flatbush cohorts--longtime friends and like-minded psychonauts Meech and Juice--have adapted by approaching hip-hop from the smoke-screened left field of the genre, as well as by releasing two polarizing, boundary-pushing mixtapes: D.R.U.G.S. and BetterOffDEAD. Upon the release of their debut, D.R.U.G.S., many critics attempted to pigeonhole the Zombies as "drug-rap," but with their newest release, BetterOffDEAD, they have become more militant and socially and politically minded without all the normal trappings of "conscious rap." They can smoke as many blunts and put as many types of tabs on their tongue as they want, but there's a method to the madness.
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Now, the Zombies are performing in Australia and detonating mosh pits at shows on the West Coast. Elliot remains humble and hungry, but he firmly believes in what he and the Zombies have accomplished and created so far, saying growth is the only possible option from here.
"I have to have the mentality of impressing myself or continuing to progress and become better," he says. "I feel like if I make something I like, I'm trying to outdo that the next time I make something else. There's never complacency or satisfaction. Nothing is more gratifying than music to me. I don't think people are going to forget about us; this is cemented. People are not going to forget Flatbush Zombies."
Flatbush Zombies perform with Bodega Bamz at the Constellation Room, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.observatoryoc.com. Fri., 8 p.m. $20. All ages. For more info on Flatbush Zombies, visit www.facebook.com/FlatBushZombies.