Review Summary: Erick "Arc" Elliot turns heads once again, this time with the help of a more consistent effort from MC's Meechy and Juice, conceiving one of the best Hip-Hop releases of 2013.
When Flatbush Zombies released their first mixtape "D.R.U.G.S." last year, it showcased producer Erick "Arc" Elliot's talent, but ultimately was brought down by the inconsistent rapping of it's other two members, Meechy Darko and Zombie Juice. More times then not, Elliot would craft these abrasive, in-your-face, multi-layered beats that would be immediately ear-catching, however it would seemingly drown out whoever was on the mic. Not a fault to Elliot, rather to the MC's rarely being able to craft a hook or verse that truly took the attention away from the production. As a result, the album became a forgettable affair, with exception to a couple of tracks, and left many in question. With more then a year of growth and experimenting, however, we see the New York collective correct their faults, turning in one of the best releases this year in BetterOffDEAD.
And it is vividly apparent from the start. Amerikkkan Pie
throws acid laced guitar strings, a creeping piano loop and an opera-esque "Ohhhh-ohhhhh's" to go along with machine-gun hi-hats and bass pounding beats. Clearly Erick Elliot didn't lose any momentum from their first tape, instead expanding and diversifying his sound to another level. No, the surprising part about Amerikkkan Pie isn't its production, it is in the MC's collective verses and a hook that is actually sonically appealing and memorable. From the moment Meechy unleashes his first verse to Juice's eccentric final verse, it captures the listener in a tandem that was thoroughly missing throughout most of "D.R.U.G.S." And it doesn't stop with the opening track. In fact, it gains speed until the the final track closes. BetterOffDEAD is a mixtape that grasps the listener from the first track and never lets go. There is much praise for the vast improvement in Juice and Meechy, as both their electric personalitys' shine just as bright as the excellent production. Where Meechy often raps in this bubbling baritone that is as comical at times as it is frightening, Juice is truly his counterpart, rapping in a high pitched, ever-changing, paranoid tone. Together, their seismic differences in tone come together very well, creating a playfully fun and interesting listen.
Indeed, an ability to mesh these contradicting sounds into a cohesive whole is what makes BetterOffDEAD an enjoyable experience. Throughout the record, we are shown Erick Elliot's diverse skill set. Tracks such as Regular and Complex, 222
and Palm Trees
show him crafting very calm and serene soundscapes and samples. Elsewhere, he shows us the other spectrum of his skills with the haunting tones of Nephilim
and Amerikkkan Pie
or the boom-bap takes on Death 2
and Club Soda
. Erick Elliot's work on this tape is awe-inspiring, in the most non-hyperbolic way possible. It is one of the most diverse and creative Hip-Hop works this year, if not the best of them all. While Elliot is still the star of the show, Juice and Meechy perform admirably. Flatbush Zombies lyrical approach never make you think, "Man, these guys are really socially conscious." It is a shock-rap, fun-filled take where the MC's aim is to present you with syllable twisting, play on words that act as more of an ear appealing second layer to the beats rather than lyrics that try to paint a story.
And if there is a complaint, it is in the somewhat too immature nature of the lyrics. Tracks like Bliss show an over dependence of the word "fu
ck," even though it is obvious they are conscious of its use, it can still be quite grating. Also, the voice-mail at the end of G Tears is completely unneeded, again Flatbush is conscious of this, for at the end Juice states that he was just talking so that Elliot could change up the beat. It is in these moments where you can tell that they are straining for laughs that makes you roll your eyes and ends up being obnoxious instead of creating laughs. Thugnificense
uses a very druggy, auto-tuned chorus that Future could sue over and the track Drug Parade
, while having an absolutely hilarious Danny Brown verse that sees him singing, is reminiscent of the faults that plagued D.R.U.G.S. where the beat is just too abrasive and in-your-face for the MC's to compensate for.
BetterOffDEAD never challenges you to think about the bigger questions in life. It never makes you assume that there is something grand behind what it is saying. Because there isn't. It is a mixtape that is pure fun, in every aspect. Whether it is making you cringe at the disgusting narrative in one song, or making you laugh unbearably at the sheer absurdity of the lyrics in the next, it is an albums that keeps the listener intrigued until the very end just because of its craziness. Flatbush Zombies realized their faults, and where other would stay at the same medium or digress, they ascend and in the midst of it find their sound. BetterOffDEAD is a mixtape that should find its way onto many "Best Of" lists for 2013, and it shouldn't be missed by Hip-Hop enthusiasts nor music enthusiasts in general.