Friday, April 13, 2018

Flatbush Zombies - Vacation In Hell Review

If we're to learn one thing from Flatbush Zombies album titles, it's that their M.O. relies on two predominant factors: drugs and death. The former can be seen with D.R.U.G.S. and 3001: A Laced Odyssey, the latter BetterOffDEAD and Vacation In Hell. The trio of Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice, and Erick Arc Elliott tend to combine those two into untested concoctions, supplementing both the party crowd and the introspective one. On their latest project, a 19-track LP that finds Flatbush returning to the mixtape aesthetic, they do just that. Front-loaded with high octane Hardcore Hip-Hop that'll satiate mainstream listeners, both those headfirst in Trap and those outliving the remaining days of New York street Rap. Back-loaded with conscious and creative efforts that expand Vacation In Hell past the narrow parameters initially inflicted by the trio. It's not Flatbush Zombies' best work, just an LP that grasps consistency in a Hip-Hop age slowly losing focus of it.

Unlike 3001, which found a dozen tracks evenly distributed as a concealing agent towards the album's lack of concept, Vacation In Hell doesn't concern itself with such trivialities. To entertain fans, the first eight songs can be seen as impressionable bangers, filled with gargantuan bass ('HELL-O'), filthy lingo ('Reel Girls'), Trap hi-hats ('M. Bison'), and Pop-flavored hooks ('Vacation,' 'Big Shrimp'). Some of these, especially the last two examples, lend more to Flatbush Zombies abiding by trends than creating their own. 'Vacation' in particular features an autotuned chorus from Zombie Juice that sounds partly inspired by Post Malone, a style that doesn't translate well to the group's explicit blitzkrieg. Most of these bangers falter under the weight of imitation. That's excluding 'HELL-O' and 'Leather Symphony,' as the former finds Flatbush exorcising demons and raising the dead like their BetterOffDEAD days, whereas the latter presents an alternate reality in which the A$AP Mob became more engrained in New York's streets, not less. 

Vacation's intrigue factor doesn't begin until 'Facts,' a cocksure, Jadakiss-assisted track that marks the moment where variation feels acceptable. From there on out, tone, mood, and stylistic choices bounce freely, only uniting on the album's final two tracks; the eulogizing 'YouAreMySunshine' and the ruminative 'Glory.' Arguments can be had that the final five tracks of Vacation From Hell are also its best, with 'HELL-O' and 'Ask Courtney' providing a solid contest against that. From 'Trapped' to 'Glory,' the Flatbush Zombies prove that they're more than a zany, drugged out, by-the-books trio, weaving tales of loss with that of triumph. On 'Trapped's' last verse, Meechy Darko embodies Eminem circa 'Stan,' scribbling his final thoughts on a blood-stricken letter. With 'Best American,' Juice questions our not-so pure intentions, setting aside his conspiracy theorist talk to expose substantive problems. And Erick Arc Elliott proves his versatility with the gamesome 'Misunderstood,' a summer-flavored tune that Nyck Caution does wonders over. 

The success streak continues with 'YouAreMySunshine,' as Elliott leaves Meech with a Soul sample and some rain to pen his most heartfelt piece yet, mourning the death of A$AP Yams, using that as motivation to gather the pieces of his own life. And lastly, 'The Glory' finds each member, along with the normally-ferocious Denzel Curry, to dot memories across the struggles of each respective life. On paper, the pairing had bombastic finale written in ink. Expectations out the window, the end result is much different, and better, extolling a standout verse from Curry that's reminiscent of Imperial's finale 'If Tomorrow's Not Here.' As an EP, these five works would've easily become Flatbush Zombies' best collection. However, 14 other songs exist, of which only a handful deserve recognition. While none are outright bad, getting past the filler possibility proves challenging for the trio. The sexual rendezvous of 'The Goddess' and 'U&I' are stiff and unnatural, as would any romantic unspooling brought on by the same curators of 'Reel Girls.' And the Trap attempts, much like many New Yorkers in today's age, feel tacked on and synthetic. Even their honest works like 'Headstone' suffer from having contrived lyrics we've all heard before. 

Setbacks aside - of which we've come to expect from every Flatbush Zombies release - Vacation In Hell is yet another project from the group that continues to keep their relevance in check. With quality tracks scattering the duration, their place in Hip-Hop won't soon diminish, even if their quest for mainstream fame won't ever come to fruition. With the final fourth a steady stream of meaningful prose that feels honest and not insincere, Vacation In Hell's grim fate finally has the Flatbush Zombies placing seriousness first, their kooky demeanor that got them noticed (and dominates this album's cover) second.


  1. Is Saba’s Care For Me on your schedule? Fantastically vulnerable rap album, extremely refreshing.

    1. It is! I've already listened to it twice and really like it. Been going back and forth on whether I should review it, because I haven't actually heard any other project of his.