Published May 18, 2018Thursday night's stop on the Flatbush Zombies' "See You In Hell" tour was marked by the highest density of tie-dye, dreads and marijuana that I have ever seen inside Olympia and the restless crowd was composed of at least 90 percent men. After all, this is psychedelic horrorcore drug rap — best not forget it. The packed crowd rumbled with excitement in anticipation of the Brooklyn trio's performance, hot on the heels of their sophomore release, Vacation in Hell.
When the opening notes of "HELL-O" rang, signalling the Zombies' arrival, the crowd erupted into a manic roar. Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice and Erick the Architect burst out of their stage coffins and unleashed their chaotic power and biting talents. The energy stayed high throughout the first few Vacation in Hell numbers, as well as 3001: A Laced Odyssey favourite "Bounce."
Throughout their set, the three MCs took turns in the spotlight and intermittently traded breaks, notably with Meechy Darko sneaking off most regularly. Meech's absences only served to remind us of his indispensability. Without him, the group may still manage compelling beats and dynamic flows, but it just wouldn't be the Flatbush Zombies — the decisive magic of their sound lies in his menacing rasp.
The flighty performers gave the show poor cohesion, causing the audience's attention to lull. The DJ played seemingly random cuts between songs, like "Kids With Guns" by Gorillaz. Meech took issue with the audience clapping off-beat and not moshing hard enough; someone yelled at Meech to turn around and face us, as the enigmatic star couldn't seem to stay focused throughout the middle section of the set.
This unpolished quality and unaccommodating attitude may have taken away from the success of the performance at times, but ultimately the platform belongs to them. Flatbush are their own bosses; they release on their self-founded independent label, the Glorious Dead. The punk ethos has always been central to what they do, and ultimately it's not surprising that three anti-establishment, not markedly ambitious outsiders would put on a less accessible show than another more commercially friendly rapper. Flatbush are distinctly and uncompromisingly themselves.
Nor do they hold back on speaking their minds. Last night, Juice lamented the current state of hip-hop and took shots at mumble rappers: "How the fuck do you call that rapping? How the fuck can you call that a show?"
Erick Arc Elliott got very real with the audience, diving into his dark personal meaning for the word "trap." "It's when you lock yourself up. You're insecure and anxious and you don't even know how you got there. Do you ever feel like that, Montreal?" The response was yes, loud and resounding. The force with which a crowd of predominantly young men echoed this very vulnerable sentiment was striking, even given rap's current emo resurgence, and more broadly, increasingly widespread conversations around mental health. The Architect gave an emotional rendition of "Trapped" to an attentive audience, and afterwards thanked us for our silence; "this touched me," he said.
Following that emotional recharge, fans were ready to mosh again; "222," off the classic mixtape BetterOffDead, was a high point, and Erick the Architect even tapped into the viral BlocBoy JB dance on "Trade-Off." The sprawling 90-minute set finished strong, with two longtime crowd favourites — the explosive A$AP Mob collaboration "Bath Salt" and BetterOffDead hit "Palm Trees." There was no encore, but the Architect graciously stuck around afterwards to meet fans.