While the best rap verses can have great displays of creative lyricism, I feel like I’m constantly criticizing people’s concept execution and song-crafting. It usually feels like I’m listening to collections of songs by the same people rather than whole albums. This is fine on stuff like the Demigodz’ latest album, but with other releases it’s painfully obvious that the artists tried and failed to do more.
Enter Flatbush Zombies. Rappers Meechy Darko, Juice, and rapper/producer Erick Arc Elliot, have embraced the horrorcore vibe that I associate with Gravediggaz. They were dope on Camouflage Dons off Statik Selektah’s Extended Play mixtape, but on a 19-track release they’re considerably less impressive. Why?
Well, they’re inconsistent rappers. But, moreso than their spotty individual skills, my problem with Flatbush Zombies’ Better off Dead mixtape is that the conceptually interesting songs are sometimes the weakest. Although it’s being called a mixtape, BoD is really an unofficial album. It doesn’t have any features, none of the beats are hijacked, and like a hand-crafted album, some of its songs flow seamlessly into the next song. So it occupies an album-shaped space in my head and I’m forced to judge it as such. And as a horrorcore album, BoD fails. Where I expected to sometimes be freaked out with its weirdo adventures, a lot of what’s here instead left me bored.
For example, Nephilim wastes its foreboding beat with verses that go nowhere. Erick’s verse made me hope that Bliss would be about stories of self-destruction, but instead it devolves into a celebration of teenage nihilism. The last verse is literally composed only of fuck yous aimed at everything that Meechy could think of at the time. Drug Parade‘s title displays the positive attitude that these guys take towards mood alteration. But apparently neither Meechy nor guest rapper Danny Brown have anything at all interesting to say about drugs. A story about fun high times or bad trips would have been a much better use of that beat.
At least those songs had ok-to-good beats. When Erick’s MPC falters the results are TERRIBLE. Thugnificense and Palm Trees are God-awful songs with deadly boring verses and the worst hooks that I’ve heard in a long while.
But there are a few bright spots on Better off Dead. Amerikkan Pie is a cool song about what’s wrong with mainstream America, where everyone sticks to the topic for once! Death isn’t really about death but the random verses are still good. Similarly, Regular and Complex and Club Soda don’t seem to about anything in particular, and the beats aren’t very horror movie-ish, but they bang and the verses are very good. Except for Action Bronson’s part of Club Soda. He repeats his weak intro lines then lazily walks through a time-wasting verse filled with his usual random boasts. I’m really starting to get sick of that guy’s style. He’s like mid-career Ghostface minus the interesting flow.
Anyway, Flatbush Zombies seem to do best when they use the horror vibe as a background for their introspective, not really horrorific, rhymes. While Death, as a whole, wasn’t about anything, the individual verses explained a bit about who the rappers are as people. I’d be happier if more songs had ended up that way. Or they could have dropped the horror aesthetic altogether and made more songs like Regular and Complex and The Results Are In, another song with no topic but a dope beat and good verses. As it stands, Better off Dead can’t decide whether it’s a poorly executed horrorcore or middling regular rap. There’s plenty here worth hearing, but in the future, I hope Flatbush Zombies nail down their style so we have less garbage getting in the way.