Flatbush Zombies will be the first to tell you that they haven’t got their big break yet. But they still know how to party.
On Tuesday, November 4, the Zombies of Brooklyn sold out the Metro Operahouse in Oakland — no small feat for a group that hasn’t been formally recognized by “the industry.” No matter, the group put its expert showmanship on display in full force, bringing down the house full of adoring fans with the help of an energetic boost from their comrades The Underachievers.
The Underachievers were both a solid opening act (the majority of the audience was familiar with their music as well as Zombies’) and a fitting complement to the Zombies as the two groups gave a live premiere of their work as Clockwork Indigo (a play on one of Meechy Darko’s favorite movies, A Clockwork Orange). Meechy, Juice, and Arc of Flatbush Zombies each took turns as the center of attention in a well-paced, high-energy set, chock-full of crowd favorites including “Palm Trees” and “Bliss.”
The concert was a statement of the Zombies’ prowess as a hard-hitting live act, but just as much as it was a statement it was an offering of appreciation for their fans, who came en masse despite their nonexistence on iTunes and Spotify. It was a celebration of the fact that creative independence and success are not mutually exclusive. And it was a truly rowdy celebration at that.
After an exhausting set in the sauna that was Oakland’s Metro Operahouse, Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice, and Erick “Arc” Elliot of Flatbush Zombies spoke with us about how they got their stage names, their favorite munchies, and some weird (and awesome) gifts from fans.
You and the Underachievers are similar in a lot of ways, but what do you think are the most important distinctions between you?
M: I’m Meech, Juice is Juice, Erick is Erick, Issa is Issa, and AK is AK. We all came out of different pussies and all lived different fuckin’ lives. Those niggas ain’t never did what I did and I never did the shit they did. But we experienced a lot of things together, that’s what brings us together and that’s what separates us. Our middle ground happens to be something that we take to heart. Sometimes you like football or somebody; I don’t give a fuck about football as much as I care about my soul and learning and a lotta things that we care about, the same times — that’s why we had the connection that we have. There’s a lotta differences between us and they’ll say that, everybody’ll say that.
What’s the inspiration behind all your stage names?
J: Shit, well my inspiration came from the fuckin’ movie Juice (1992). Juice’s what my friends in middle school called me so it’s gonna stick forever. I kinda want to change my name but it probably won’t happen.
M: I don’t want to tell you how I got my name but I’ll tell you what my original name was gonna be. My original name was gonna be Bishop, from Juice but Juice’s name was Juice. So I can’t be in Juice. Cause Juice is Juice. But yeah. I always liked that movie a lot. Bet you can’t guess why my name is Meechy Darko.
A: My name was God at first and shit. And now I’ve changed it to Architect, ’cause I feel like people trust me, like you have to trust an architect to build shit cause its just a fuckin’ piece of paper and make people invest millions of dollars into building something that’s a fucking skyscraper. And I feel like that’s kinda what I do with music, so, yeah. Architect.
This one’s for Arc. What’re you using right now for production?
A: Well shit I can’t really say exactly.
J: He uses a fuckin’ computer. An Apple computer at that.
A: I like Apple products. I like Native Instruments products. I like Akai products. I won’t mention which ones, but I like analogue gear, I don’t like digital shit really. So, yeah.
You guys have been featured on several tracks from various artists. What have been your favorite collaborations and what have you learned the most from?
J: Personally all my fuckin’ collaborations are my favorite ones. But, I don’t know. Can’t choose. I like everything equally almost.
M: They all served their purposes. I like the song with RZA cause we got that shit early. It took a long time for us to get to RZA, and for us to get on the soundtrack for the first film he’s ever done… I used to watch karate movies that Wu Tang was inspired by as a kid. That’s probably why it means the most to me, I guess, out of all of them. Not really though, all of them mean that I got to work with someone whose music I love and I respect and shit.
So who haven’t you worked with yet that you’d like to?
J: Cee Lo Green, Kendrick Lamar…
A: Bob Scartell.
J: Yeah. Celine Dion for me.
A: The Gorrilaz.
M: Rick Rueben.
J: Rick Rueben.
A: Slick Rick.
Anyone you wouldn’t like to work with?
M: I don’t care. If they’re talented with music, I’ll use it. I don’t care. Play guitar, play fiddle, I’ll fuck with you.
So what do you guys have planned for 2015?
J: New music, European tour too. We’re taking this to Europe, and we’ll work on our album along the way. “Niggas in Paris,” you know. Arc is putting out a book.
A: I got a picture book coming out, I got an instrumental tape, I got fuckin our album, I got everything.
J: Anything you want, anything you need.
M: I’m trying to get into acting. Send your scripts over. I actually want to act, I know I don’t sound enthusiastic sometimes but I’m very serious.
A: I wanna score some shit too.
M: Find some voice acting or something, I know Adult Swim got something for us.
J: I want to be in a Disney Pixar movie.
M: What’s Tyler doing, why aren’t we on there yet? … You want to be in a Disney movie?
M: I’d do that.
You guys have a pretty minimal presence on iTunes and Spotify, and yet your following on Soundcloud is huge. Do you think that has an impact on your fanbase or the audience for your live shows?
A: I think that, I might be crazy for thinking this, but I don’t think so. I think that we’ve been with our fans for the past three years. I’ve been making music for the past six years, but us particularly… People have been following us, supporting us, buying merch from us, and that’s how we sustain ourselves, from that and shows. And I really feel that once we drop our debut album those numbers will move over because we’ve never asked anything from our fans but to support us and to love our shit and we put out good quality music. We don’t drop songs every day but that’s because we put heart and time into this shit. We could literally drop songs every day but we want to make sure that people enjoy the shit that we have, you know what I’m saying? I think the album will reflect that. Numbers and quality-wise, for real.
On top of that, you guys have steered clear and run with your own label. How do you guys feel that’s impacted yourselves as a group, trying to stay as independent as possible, and how do you feel that relates to the industry as a whole right now
A: I think I mean I don’t know man, I hate the people. I don’t know. The industry… The industry, whatever you want to call it…
M: We don’t know that shit, they didn’t let us in. They didn’t let us in the industry. We do everything on our own. We drop shit on our own. I know niggas in the industry though. And those guys are always complaining about it!
Weed seems to be a pretty prominent theme in your music. When did you guys start smoking?
A: First time I smoked weed was with this guy [Meechy]. I was fifteen, I think, or sixteen. And I started smoking weed for real when I went to college, I guess I was eighteen.
M: My first time smoking weed I was alone, I stole out of my grandfather’s stash. He still doesn’t trust me for it now. I watched SpongeBob and rolled a joint, first time really watching SpongeBob, I still don’t think that show is funny. I didn’t get it and… I don’t remember my first high but first time I really really started smoking weed was when I was working at Foot Locker and I used to just hit up Juice say “yo, tryna smoke after work?” because I was so stressed after school and work. And I used to go to his crib and smoke all my money away. Used to cop dubs instead of ounces like idiots. Dubs from five different dealers, try mad flavors, and get high. The good ‘ol days. In the building in fuckin’ Flatbush.
J: Probably started every day when I was fifteen. Probably the first time we were like what, fourteen or thirteen, just trying it. Something like that.
What’s your favorite thing to do baked?
M: I like to create. I like to…
J: He likes to write.
M: Create shit. You know. Sometimes I like to make love to women. Focus my energy on passion. Three things I like to do a lot: think, have sex, create. And you can create during sex and think during sex.
J: You can also write and breathe during sex. So that’s a good thing. I guess that’s why we’re so great!
What’s your go-to munchie?
A: I was gonna say that!
M: I don’t know, I like chocolate a lot. Chocolate gives you a lot of energy guys, in case you didn’t know. Chocolate, man.
A: My favorite go-to is the Trader Joes potato chips covered in chocolate.
J: I like when you get those.
A: That shit is lit!
M: I like the ginger things from Trader Joes…
J: The cat gingers?
M: No the round shit, the snaps.
J: The snaps.
Maybe something more philosophical. What’s the most bad-ass animal?
M: I think humans are pretty badass.
J: Octopuses are fuckin dope too.
A: I like hippos man.
M: I think my favorite animal is the elephant, maybe. Elephants are pretty badass, they’re just not supposed to be pushed, you know? They’re very intelligent, they’re big but they’re delicate. You could teach an elephant to stand on one foot or feed a baby with a bottle or some shit. I like elephants a lot.
You’re alive 69 million years ago. What species of dinosaur are you?
M: We were just talking about dinosaurs today. I’d be a Wolly Mammoth, is that a dinosaur? I don’t know but it was around dinosaur time so I’m taking it.
J: Is it the Pterodactyl, the motherfucker that flies? Yeah? I’ll be that one.
A: I’d be a Velociraptor, that nigga’s mad fast.
M: But don’t fuck with the Wolly Mammoth nigga.
What’s the most awkward or awesome thing a fan has ever given you?
M: Probably a fan offering me his girlfriend. Yeah. It was weird, man. He was too excited for me to fuck his girl so I didn’t do it. That’s me being honest here. It was very strange and you shouldn’t do that, man. That girl likes you, alright?
J: That’s disgusting, get it together people.
M: I guess he likes our music, so he wanted me to fuck her. I’m their favorite I guess. I don’t know what she told him, she be tellin’ him some shit, I don’t know! But yeah. That was probably it.
J: I mean, fuckin’, three minutes ago some kids tried to hand me three little balls and I didn’t know what kind of drug it was. I didn’t take it though, I don’t know what he was saying. I don’t know what the fuck it was bro, it was like three little balls, they were blue. It was weird as fuck bro.
A: People give me vinyl and shit, that’s cool cause I like that kind of shit. I think it’s cool when your fans or whatever give you gifts that… Like they know what to get you, cause they know you. Like I don’t want some shit I’m just gonna throw away after you give it to me. Anything that I can tell that you fuck with me I’ll want to keep.
What do you guys think the world is going to be like in twenty five years?
J: Hopefully not the same, I’ll be very disappointed if it’s like the same.
A: How long is it before we have like 10 billion people on Earth? Fifteen, twenty years?
J: Hopefully we have some water, you know?
M: I can’t call it man. It may be a very very dark place or a very very light place. It’s all about these days, you know? (Shout-out to Ab-Soul.) It’s about what you make today. I can’t call it bro. Every decision I make in life like taking this spliff here is for the future. We really were just having this conversation, we don’t know. Right now, more than ever I feel like decisions are gonna be made based on what we’re doing… These shows, these interviews, this music that we’re making, these conversations we’re having affect everything.
J: People just need to be more conscious of the shit they’re doing. Even if it’s something bad, just be conscious of it, because nothing is done without repercussions. If you believe in our music or whatever, I hope you take something positive from it, ’cause that’s what we preach — positivity. We’re always preaching for people to be themselves, we preach individuality, you feel me? Hopefully those things will make people listen.
Article and interview by Darius Kay
Photos by Atreyue Ryken