The Flatbush Zombies Consider Themselves Better Off Dead

We caught up with the Brooklyn trio and talked about the last year of their life—and of course, drugs.

Hip-hop’s infatuation with drug talk is nothing new. But these days, it seems like the entire genre is trippy, mane. And there might not be a more blatant manifesto of a generation’s intoxication than the Flatbush Zombies’ debut mixtape, aptly titled D.R.U.G.S. Released last summer, it served as the world’s first introduction to these three Brooklyn-bred bros and their unique strain of psych rap. There’s Meechy Darko, the group’s de facto frontman with the grainy, gnarly voice and short, ODB-like dreads; there’s Zombie Juice, Meech’s bottle-blond sidekick with the higher pitch and impressive beard; and there’s Erick Arc Elliott, the Zombies’ secret weapon: the man behind their boisterous beats, who’s just as game to join the other two on the mic. Unfortunately, his hair is pretty unremarkable.

I met up with the Zombies at Converse’s Rubber Tracks studio, where a team meeting was already underway. As Juice rolled a joint on top of a copy of The Walking Dead, Volume 15, the Zombies, their DJ, Zion, and their manager, Phil, went over set lists and logistics for a couple upcoming festival gigs in Scandinavia. Oh, and some dude in Paris wants to make them custom grills. A lot has happened for these guys since leaving Flatbush, and with a second mixtape on the way, the Zombies are ready to rise again.

Noisey: It hasn’t even been a year since D.R.U.G.S. came out, but it feels like a lot longer than that.
Time flies when you’re doing good and getting high. It feels longer, but it feels fast as fuck.
Erick: You look at the dates, and it’s just like, “Oh, shit, that happened four months ago? Wow. It doesn’t feel like it.”
M: It’s weird. That shit is very weird. I’m never gonna get used to the time shit.
Juice: ‘Cause it’s not real.
M: You never get used to it. I’m never gonna be able to even fathom how fast we’re doing shit or how long ago we’ve done it.

How would you characterize the last year? What changed for you?
South by Southwest last year, we could walk the streets and do stuff. This year, we can walk the streets and do stuff, but people know who we are a little bit more. It’s the same, but not really.
M: Don’t be so modest, nigga.
E: Nah, I’m not finished what I’m saying! Basically, we treat our position the same as if nothing has changed. Obviously, more people listen to our music, but we never change really how we receive it. We’re always appreciative of all that shit. That’s what I meant.
M: More people love me, more people hate me. It’s growth, it’s life.

On “Palm Trees,” your new single, Meech says, “It’s funny how rappers be on their druggy shit.” What’s so funny about that?
You know what’s funny about it. Two years ago, most rappers wouldn’t even talk about a molly or even know what that was. You know exactly what I mean, and everybody knows what I’m talking about. I won't say names or anyone like that, but you know who it is. Niggas fake the funk and be on the wave for fuckin’ six months, and then be born again Christians next, and then be punk rockers next, and then be fuckin’ whatever’s cool, whatever’s hot.

Why do you think hip-hop is so psychedelic these days?
A lot of it is trendy, and some people don’t even know what psychedelics are or what they do to you. A lot of people are more open-minded, but I think a majority don’t even know what the fuck they’re talking about.
M: I can’t tell you why. All I know is I dropped a tape called D.R.U.G.S. not too long ago, and now niggas rap about acid.

The name Flatbush Zombies comes from the idea of ego death, right? What was that experience like?
It comes from a lot of things, but mostly, yeah, it’s the rebirth of a new state of mind, a new state of consciousness, a new state of living. It sounds crazy, but it’s just a super humbling experience. Imagine if somebody woke you up with a shotgun and blasted half of your head off, and then you woke up six months later in the hospital. You're still alive. You're gonna be like, “Wow, that was a life changing experience.” You're gonna be a different person after that. That’s pretty much what happened to me: a shotgun blast to the fuckin’ face.
J: We’ve all done it in different times, different places.

When you’re tripping, are you able to rap and make music? Or are you more in your head?
When I’m on shrooms, I have to be silent as fuck, ‘cause you don’t really need to talk, especially when you’re with people that you really fuck with. You don’t really have to say much; you’re connected by the brain. On acid, I can do anything in the world. I can dunk from the freethrow line. I can climb trees, shit I can’t do.
J: DJ Zion just reminded us that he’s seen us make music on acid.
M: What song?
DJ Zion:Chuch.”
M: “Chuch” was on acid, yeah.
J: We performed on acid in Toronto.

Were you bugging out?
Nah, man.
E: It was regular.
M: It’s not like I was in the sun, like Woodstock, and I’m seeing mirages and shit. A few times I would look at Juice, he’d look at me, like “Yo, we’re tripping balls!”

They say Eminem did the whole Slim Shady LP on ecstasy. He’d go in, rap, black the fuck out, and then wake up and listen to what he recorded.
We don’t plan it.
M: It’s never really a plan. It sounds like Eminem planned to get fucked up while he made that album on ecstasy, whereas us, acid finds us whenever it’s ready. Shrooms finds us whenever it’s ready. And we just do it. It can be selective if you wanna be that kind of guy. I think we write rhymes under the influence, tuck them away, and then see them later, like “Oh, shit,” more than record it.

A-Trak recently wrote an article in the Huffington Post that opens with the following lines: “I don’t know anything about drugs. Never tried them. Yet as I write this, I am trying to sign a group with a song called ‘Bath Salts’ and an album titled D.R.U.G.S.” What do you think of his point that we need to have a conversation about drugs in hip-hop?
He’s right. That’s why I make music about drugs. So we could talk about it.

What about the Lil Wayne part, the dangerous part?
I mean, I can’t judge another man’s shit, ‘cause who am I to say that my shit’s not dangerous? I influence people as well, so I can’t point a finger at Rick Ross for dropping a molly in a bitch’s drink.
J: Basically, the reason why I didn’t wanna do this interview is so we wouldn’t have to name people. And all these questions is about people.

Lemme put it differently. You have a kid, right?

At what age would you think it’s OK for him to smoke weed or try mushrooms?
16 years old. He can smoke weed and do whatever he wants to do. Probably not psychedelics, but definitely weed. When you’re 16? I think that’s fine.
M: I be bumping into people who did psychedelics in their teens. They be telling me they tried this shit at 15 and shit. I think 16’s a good age. 17’s cool.

You’ve got a new record coming out, Better Off Dead. Could you explain the title a little bit? Are we going back to ego death again?
No. I’m better off the way I am. I don’t wanna change for shit. That’s pretty much what that’s saying. And it’s also saying there’s a lot of other niggas that are better off where they are that died. ‘Cause this fucking place sucks.
J: Think of all the greats that’s dead, and now they’re at peace. Such as Michael Jackson.
M: Kurt Cobain.

See, now you’re naming names.
[Laughs] It’s different though. Rappers is different. Naming rappers? I don’t like naming rappers. It just gives the rapper power.

Nick Harwood just changed his Twitter handle. He's on Twitter — @NODJCDQ