The "Thug Waffle" Guys Made A New Album: Flatbush Zombies’ BetterOffDEAD
Remember that time Pusha T and No Malice were Clipse? And that time Talib Kweli and Yasiin Bey (Mos Def, at the time) formed Black Star? And that time “Watch The Throne” was, like, pretty good? If you ever wind up at a party talking hip-hop with me — and it is my sincerest hope this should never happen to you — I will inevitably say something like “I wish more rappers would form duos and release weird joint albums” because that is what I talk about when I’m drunk and talking about music, but also because often in hip-hop, as in freeze tag and orgies, the more the merrier. Except when it’s not. Enter the Flatbush ZOMBiES.
The yes-it’s-technically-lower-case-“i” ZOMBiES’ sophomore tape is a far departure from their first release. See, “BetterOffDEAD” is a fun if inconsistent mixtape with stand-out songs that make it worth parsing through the slush, whereas their freshman effort “D.R.U.G.S.” is a fun if inconsistent mixtape with stand-out songs that make it worth parsing through the slush, and one of those songs is called “Thug Waffle.” None of DEAD’s 19 tracks stand out as obvious-single material quite so well as “Thug Waffle” did, though “Palm Trees” and “Drug Parade” make valiant efforts. The latter even features a “wait, that was the whole thing?”-length verse from Danny Brown, because you know, it’s an album about drugs so legally Danny Brown had to show up.
Back to the rap duo thing. The ZOMBiES have a problem with consistency in track quality. Sure, okay, hip-hop isn’t really an album-oriented medium, unless your name is Kanye West. So what? Well, the track-consistency problem is pretty directly related to “whose voice am I hearing more,” which is to say, Meechy Darko is a much better rapper than partner Zombie Juice. It’s not that Juice is bad! Mostly! It’s just that he’s — wait for it — really inconsistent! Which leaves some tracks feeling like well-balanced team efforts, and other tracks feel like watching a community theatre actor be outperformed by Philip Seymour Fucking Hoffman! Which can be distracting!
Eric Arc Elliot returns to produce the bulk of the album, as the parentheticals after almost every song so chipperly remind you. Most of the album’s beats sound like they were lifted in part from a haunted music box found in Elliot’s creepy grandma’s creepy attic. This is an overwhelmingly positive thing. Elliot’s insistence on rapping along with Meech and Juice on several of these tracks, having apparently fallen prey to the dreaded Pharell Williams Syndrome, is not. Mostly because this leads to even less time per track for Meech to be rapping, though (wisely) it’s largely Meechy’s voice on the hooks. I don’t mean to sound like a fanboy — the sonic and technical superiority of one group member over the other is actually that obvious.
The main defense that can be mounted for Juice’s continued presence on an album that clearly favors Meechy’s talent (his verses open and close the album and he provides all of the memorable hooks) is simply that the presence of a duo makes the repetitive themes more fun. Much the same way buying from your dealer seems less sketchy when she’s playing xbox with her girlfriend rather than having to force pothead smalltalk with you alone. Having another presence on the album makes it easier to rap about The Other Dude lacing your joint with PCP and not telling you, and gives listeners a glimpse into a unique friendship and wait seriously did he say PCP? As a prank? Just like, casually? Daaaaaaaaaaang.
Besides less thwumping and more haunted music-box vibes, BetterOffDEAD is a solid second showing that focuses so much on taking drugs it is actually worth noting that yeah, they rap about drugs an exceptional amount, so be prepared for that. Don’t actually take most of the drugs they discuss taking while listening to this album, though, since the Twilight Zone–inspired producing is probably meant more to remind you that these guys do drugs rather than to inspire you to take them. Unless you want to have a Twilight Zone-y trip, whatever, I don’t know your life. Just don’t expect any references to breakfast food from this mixtape, and you won’t be disappointed.
BetterOffDEAD is available for free at the ZOMBiES website.