Album Review: Flatbush Zombies – Vacation In Hell

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After struggling to make the leap from mixtape acclaim to commercial success on their debut, Beast Coast trio, Flatbush Zombies, find solid footing on their latest album: the raw and psychedelic-tinged, Vacation In Hell. Though it suffers from a long run time, the Zombies’ new project sees them returning to their grimy New York roots, achieving an agreeable mainstream sound in the process.

Flatbush Zombies are among the most skilled East Coast MCs in recent years, though not always entirely original. And that’s not to a fault. Flatbush has always shown a knack for being in touch with past eras of hip-hop. They’re music is often littered with clever cliches (if that’s a thing) and well versed references to classic works from ‘90s forefathers like Biggie, Ice Cube and Scarface.

It’s a concept the group has nearly worn out, but on tracks like “Headstone,” the album’s lead single, the slickness in which all three members trade lyrical nods to some of rap’s most iconic records still feels exciting – much in part due to eccentric vocal deliveries on the group’s behalf. “They say Jesus Walks and the Devil wear prada, but I’m so-so def, God can’t tell me nothing,” Meechy Darko irks.

Odes to their favorite albums are just one of the ways Flatbush remains connected with their peers. Just as they are fond of honoring the past, Vacation In Hell presents that they are well-connected in the contemporary rap scene as well. Familiar friend Joey Bada$$ stops by to bless “Vacation” with an entertaining and bragadocious verse, and Bun B drops in for a typically trill guest appearance on “Reel Girls.” Even more interestingly, the Zombies landed a feature from Portugal the Man on “Crown,” a straight forward yet motivational cut guided by a southern flavored instrumental.

On their previous album, Flatbush sounded unsure of themselves as they made the transition into more commercial terrain. They lacked the confidence and explosive character that made their first two tapes so invigorating. Vacation sees them regain that swagger, this time, boldly projecting it onto Erick Arc Elliot’s updated production pallet. The previously mentioned “Headstone” and the melodic “Big Shrimp” are two tracks that figure to play well with current rap audiences.

This idea applies to the majority of the project’s sound. Vacation is built over a plethora of dark, bouncy trap beats with a mild, psychedelic flair. While it is executed fairly well on this new album, I can’t help but think it would be beneficial to the group to venture out and seek new sounds and production styles going forward. I believe Erick to be a talented producer, but unless he makes a conscious effort to push some boundaries and experiment more with his beats, I think the group will struggle to progress in the future, artistically speaking.

However, the Zombies’ knack for staying on trend is always tasteful, and from the perspective of the group, they’re still in a position where they may be looking to score a major record deal. Plus, both Meechy and Zombie Juice are such eccentric rappers that the Zombies’ music is far more heady than your average modern trap artist. Meechy’s performance on “YouAreMySunshine” stands out on the back half of the record, as a sentimental tribute to the late A$AP Yams. “Missed your funeral, I wasn’t man enough to see you in the coffin,” rings cold like icy wind chimes.

“Trapped” has the makings of what could have been the most dynamic song on the record, but the slow building tension plateaus halfway through and unfortunately, never goes anywhere. The slack is picked up though, by both the riveting “U&I” and the warped “Best American.”

Whether you look at Vacation and see it as a return to form or a settling into the current rap landscape, Flatbush Zombies sound as true right now as they have ever been. They stick with the trends and they rap their ass off in doing so. This album doesn’t push the envelope, but for those who can appreciate Flatbush and their uncoventional artistic personas, their references to classic hip-hop and the afterlife, Vacation should be a mainstay in this year’s rap rotation.

Favorite tracks: Vacation, Headstone, Facts, Crown, U&I, YouAreMySunshine

SCORE: 7/10

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