My interview with the Flatbush Zombies was scheduled to take place in the Scoot-Inn green room during their Clockwork Indigo tour. “You should just come on the bus,” their manager, Ellington — a Madbury Club stalwart — told me. Inside the bus, the tables and most surfaces on the inside were covered with art, trash, random knick-knacks and at least one bottle of Hennessy. Erik, Juice and Meech looked exhausted from touring. They stared at me with glazed apathy that bordered on disdain. They expected to have to answer the standard music blog questions. Slowly over the course of the interview, the deadened look of boredom in their eyes dissipated and gave way to a fiery, more impassioned side of the Flatbush Zombies. They spoke richly and freely on racial inequality, what their fans were overlooking in their music, and their goals for the Clockwork Indigo project.
You’re on tour right now with the Underachievers who you’ve collaborated with. How is the process different from when you were collaborating with Trash Talk, a group in a completely different genre?
Erick: We approach music the same way. I was reading this interview with JAY Z. He was talking about when he went on tour with Linkin Park. He was talking about going on tour and the impact it made on people and he was like, when you collaborate with somebody, you don’t want them to be like you or vice versa. The reason that you collaborate with them is that you can bring what you bring to the table and to make a central idea [between the two artists]. You bring what makes you as an individual and what makes you special to a group and then you make music together.
In your interview with Nardwuar, you guys talked a lot about your influences beyond rap. Why did you decide to be rappers amongst the other genres that you were influenced by?
Meech: Either you sling crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot. We don’t have either of those two things so we rap. Where I’m from you don’t have many options. It’s not getting any better when kids from my neighborhood think you can only be a basketball player or a drug dealer.
How would you fix that problem?
Juice: Better school systems is one way. Hire teachers who actually care about the subject [that they’re teaching].
Meech: I had to be in a classroom with 40 other kids. When I wanted help, and I asked the teacher a question if I got it wrong, I’d get attitude. The teacher isn’t going to be able to do a good job when they have to teach 40 different kids and remember 40 different kids names.
Why do you think it hasn’t changed?
Meech: Because I’m from the ghetto. I hate to sound like Tupac but it’s true.
Juice: I also think there should be more male teachers. I feel like the school system is bombarded by female teachers. It’s hard to get male kids to listen to female teachers all the time. I think that there should be more strong male figures in schools as well.
Meech: Especially in black schools where we don’t have male figures at home.
Juice: We need them in the schools and it’s like the board of education hires more female teachers than anything. So there’s a drought of male figures.
Are you guy interested in using the voice that you have as rappers to advocate for these issues?
Juice: Yeah, but we need more then a voice. We need a real paycheck and a voice. It’s going to take time to do anything.
Meech: Sometimes we say things and it gets overlooked. We say brilliant things all the time and people just want to hear about a beautiful metaphor about how I rolled up this weed good. When I talk about where I came from or the struggles I dealt with, people just overlook that. They don’t care about that. If you listen to our music, I talk about it all the time. People just only want to talk about weed, psychedelics, and crazy shit. People never really understand that we came from the ghetto. We came from a struggle. It’s not all fine and dandy and happy.
Why do you think people are paying so much attention to groups who are rapping about drugs right now, but there are no Gil-Scott Heron’s or Last Poet’s who advocating huge causes of change?
Juice: I think there are man.
Erick: I think that music that is more gangster or creates an image for black people to be perceived as gangster is the music that is transmitted across the world. So that becomes people’s perception of hip-hop music. There are people all the time that make references to political, religious things and other things that touch on society. We talk about that [stuff] all the time, but people only notice the part about you that frames you in the image of a rapper. I don’t think there’s a lack of [conscious rappers] I think there’s a lack of attention being paid to them.
Meech: Erick and Juice made a song about their mothers. I made a song about doing drugs. More people are touched by me popping acid then this guy talking about not having his mother in his life, and this guy talking about his struggles with his mother. If that doesn’t prove to you the climate of music, then I don’t really know what does.
Why do you think there’s a focus on these sorts of things?
Juice: Image takes weight over lyricism these days.
Is that a symptom of people’s vanity and materialistic perspectives or something else?
Juice: Sh*t, I don’t know what it is.
Meech: I don’t know. It’s not like that with any other genres. Just hip-hop and pop music. No other real genre is like that. I don’t know why it is. I want it to change but I don’t know.
Do you feel like you have to keep making music about drugs to maintain that image or is that just something you do because it’s apart of you.
Juice: I can do anything.
Meech: I rap about drugs because I want to. I haven’t rapped about drugs in awhile. I might not rap about drugs all next year just for fun.
Do you guys get mad at the fact that rapping about drugs is really hip right now?
Meech: I’m not mad at it. I can say that n****s need to pay respect and remember who was the first. We’re not the first people to talk about acid. We’re not the first people to rap about psychedelics. The reason people are openly taking psychedelic drugs now or talking about altered-mind-state and all this acid sh*t is because of the Flatbush Zombies. I don’t care how confident or cocky it sounds, it’s a fucking fact. The reason people have colored hair right is now is because of Juice. It’s a f*cking fact. I can go onto other things but psychedelics in rap right now is because of Flatbush Zombies. If you do not like what I’m saying right now and you rap about Psychedelics come see me and prove to me that you were rapping about it before we came out. There was nobody popping tabs in videos. There was nobody openly from the ghetto saying, “I’m taking a mind-altering drug.” That’s what I gotta say about that. Pay homage, and pay respect ‘cause I do everyday.
Who are the people you look to pay homage to?
Meech: Erick “Ark” “Elliot, Juice, Notorious B.I.G.
Juice: Same thing. Meech, Erick, Biggie Smalls. Eminem. Only the best.
Do you have aims for what you’re trying to do with your career?
Erick: I want to win a GRAMMY man, and that’s gonna happen. I don’t want to say that, because they say that’s a bad thing to say, but I think that the music that we put out for free is enough to show people that we can sell an album. We’re apart of Beast Coast. We’ve done so much individually and independently. I don’t really think much will stop us. That’s what I foresee.
Juice: It’s good that people attach themselves to the music and want to learn more.
I followed the Madbury Club, which is how I found out about you guys. How does the relationship between you guys work?
Meech: We’re not allowed to speak on the Madbury Club. It’s a secret, like Skull and Bones. I can’t really tell you how you get in. They just find you. It’s like Fight Club.
Would you mind speaking more on you Clockwork Indigo project with the Underachievers, what motivations where behind it, and if there is a political message in addition to drug themes?
Meech: I don’t think it’s very political. The system is political and ethical. For the most part I think we just wanted to make music for our friends and for our fans. We happen to live right across the hall from [the Underachievers]. We smoked weed and just played music very naturally. It’s going to be like the Clockwork Indigo album, whenever that comes, 10 years from now or whenever that is. For me, it was more about making music with my friends then anything else. We were trying to get our point across.