By Jose Castillo, A&E columnist
When beast coast rap trio Flatbush Zombies released its first mixtape, “D.R.U.G.S,” in 2012, it was everything you would have expected out of a project with such a name: Colorful, cocky and festive. While the mixtape itself was not as revolutionary as the trio may want you to believe, “D.R.U.G.S” proved to be a solid, entertaining listen from beginning to end. A subsequent sophomore mixtape titled “Better Off Dead” released the year after was still ambitious and featured much cleaner production. As a fan, I anticipated a new album coming soon. I didn’t know I was going to have to wait three years for it.
Finally, earlier last month, the Zombies bypassed record deals in order to self-release their first LP, “3001: A Laced Odyssey,” and boy, was it not worth the wait.
The album’s title comes from Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 epic “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which I thought implied the album would be somewhat story-driven or conceptual. However, the real reason why the Zombies paid homage to the legendary director was because they decided to equate name-dropping with producing a project with actual substance.
The album’s first track, “Odyssey,” makes a reference to Kubrick right off the bat, as well as to Gorillaz member Jamie Hewlett, Tupac and notorious cult leader Charles Manson. This attempt to make the Zombies seem deep and artistic ends up coming off as cringe-worthy. Member Meechy Darko delivers a confusing verse that mixes drug usage with cartoonish violent scenes. He also states that he only spits rhymes that could make “Jesus question religion.”
The biggest issue I had with this album was that members Meechy, Juice and Eric hype themselves up as the best rappers, but in the end never deliver anything substantial. If a line isn’t about drug use or violence, it’s probably the Zombies calling out mainstream hip-hop for not being original, while they themselves avoid taking risks.
I would not even mind the lyrics so much if the production wasn’t as dull as it was on this album. Track after track, the Zombies spit mediocre bars over boring beats for minutes on end. All three members rapped on the majority of tracks, so a common beat became almost unbearable by the second verse.
The album does have some high points, however. Anthony Flammia’s guest appearance on the album’s fourth track “A Spike Lee Joint” brings new life to the project and mixes well with the spacey ambience of the beat. It’s perhaps the first instance on the album where the Zombies really sound unrestrained. The following track “Fly Away” takes chances as well, as Meechy unexpectedly sings over piano patter. Track six, “Ascension,” delivers a mean punch, where Meechy actually comes off as sinister. However, all of this happens over the course of about 10 minutes of a 60-minute-long album.
After a glimpse of innovation began to show in the project, it was crumpled by an interlude titled “Smoke Break,” as if this album had taken up so much of the listener’s time that it would warrant a break. While most of the remaining tracks are a bit more encapsulating than the first half of the album, it is the length of each song that puts the final nail in the coffin. Each track goes on without much purpose, and verses made by the trio seem like a time-filler. The final track, “Your Favorite Rap Song,” is 13 minutes long, the final eight minutes of which are awkward voice messages left by fans saying the album will be a hit.
Overall, “3001: A Laced Odyssey” lacks in substance and risk-taking, straying much from the precedent the trio set for itself in its previous projects. When the Zombies decide to release a second album and are in need of another Kubrick-inspired title, I hope it’s somewhere along the lines of “Ears Wide Shut.”