So how did you listen to The Life of Pablo? Kanye West’s seventh record amassed so much attention for Yeezy’s Twitter spats, fashion show launches and infamous lyrical jabs it's easy forget that access to it is limited - at least in a legal sense - to just one website: Tidal.
That approach - also taken by Rihanna for her new record- largely bucks the current trend. The standard when discovering an artist or band in 2016 is to locate their music on Apple Music or Spotify. Even if we might go and buy the CD or vinyl after, that first listen or three nearly always comes through these outlets.
Hip-hop trio Flatbush Zombies have refused to conform to normal methods for much of their existence and not made any of their music available through these platforms: that is, they allowed new single 'Bounce' to be first piece of their music available on both commercial sites.
The Zombies’ rise from the Brooklyn suburb that gave them their name, to potential global recognition stems from an unconventional approach to promoting and releasing their work. They’ve built a fanbase organically and mostly without major label backing.
The collective’s origins lie with Erick Arc Elliott, widely known as Erick the Architect, who started producing beats on an MV8000 when he was 16. Influenced by RZA, Outkast, Brian Eno and funk songwriter George Clinton, Elliott began uploading tracks to his own personal Soundcloud. In 2010, he recruited childhood friends Meechy Darko and Zombie Juice, therefore forming the lineup as we now know it.
Their first live performance took place in March 2012 at the Southpaw club, a few blocks away from the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn. Originally scheduled to be one of the opening acts, Flatbush were bumped up the order, largely due to the popularity of their debut video Thug Waffle, which had dropped just days before. Partygoers chanted “Zombies” wildly in the intervals between other acts and when their new idols arrived on stage, the scenes were reminiscent of a 1970’s punk gig.
A series of singles and an EP titled D.R.U.G.S. followed soon after and the Zombies collaborated with A$AP Mobb, Danny Brown, Action Bronson and Pro Era (the Underachievers plus Joey Bada$$) on various projects. Their close relationship with the Underachievers extended to a joint tour in 2014: the Clockwork Indigo Tour. Flatbush also hooked up with Skepta in March of last year for the single 'Red Eye to Paris'.
Despite cultivating more attention, they’ve maintained an independence and an industrial, DIY attitude to their output. Flatbush’s music videos are notably filmed around the streets/malls of their hometown and have involved the members decked out in fresh Supreme wear, North Face jackets, street sneakers, New Era snapbacks, florescent bandanas and gold grills. That, coupled with the idiosyncratic appearances of the members only add to Flatbush’s authenticity (Juice, for instance, sports a bleached blonde ‘fro and thick beard - sometimes referred to as the Flatbush Zombie, according to the man himself).
Flatbush’s music stands out for the discernible forcefulness and hyper-activeness they convey. Meechy Darko’s drawl and grizzled delivery contrasts with Juice’s higher pitched and chaotic bars. If the duo are the wheels of the group, Erick is the undoubtedly the engine under the hood, powering much of their artistic direction. In his home, he makes and writes music in a room surrounded with personalised words written on the walls to inspire creativity. “I like to smoke weed and watch weird shit or read,” he explained in an interview on a YouTube show called the Beat Suite. “Anything to stimulate my brain.”
Illicit drug use is a major component of Flatbush’s music. Long before A$AP Rocky was recounting his dabbles with LSD, the trio experimented with psychedelics throughout their teens. One recurring thread through all their trippy videos is the presence of weed, and lots of it. In fact, much of their music is seemingly concocted whilst stoned or fucked up: see "I'm like Randy Savage on acid/that's very vibrant and classic" from 'Mraz'.
From their early blurry musings and fascination with Zombies, Flatbush have illustrated artistic progression and unnerving focus in recent times. 'Blacktivist', for example, takes aim at police brutality as well as black on black violence. The video meshes together images of popular culture with 3-D animations and includes the audibly shocking sight of a superimposed Barack Obama kneeling in front of a sword wielding Juice dressed as a freedom fighter.
New single 'Bounce' is the first track to come from their debut album 3001: A Blazed Odyssey which has just been released, and sees them finally alight on Spotify. The presence of their music on streaming sites should increase Flatbush’s notoriety in the UK, and if The Zombies already occupy a prominent place in the New York hip-hop and counterculture scene, 2016 holds the rich potential for worldwide recognition.