Really, it should have been smooth sailing: The ineffably chill Flatbush Zombies, whose interstellar debut album 3001: A Laced Odyssey came out early this year to raucous applause, were headed to MTV’s Wonderland. Oh joyous day! Between the continued positive reaction to the record, their inevitably great performance, and the pending legalization of recreational marijuana on the Cali ballot, it seemed the stars had aligned for a particularly blissful and informative conversation.
And then, two nights before they hit the stage, the election happened.
Which is not to say that the gentlemen Zombies (that’s Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice, and Erick Arc Elliott) seemed even slightly defeated by the national headlines. On the contrary, their longstanding friendship lent perspective to the situation throughout our conversation. It felt particularly kind that day after the election, when America awoke to find their streets as desolate and their citizens as glassy-eyed as the walking dead.
But that’s just how the Flatbush Zombies are. They’re not here to eat your brains, but to free your mind.
So, this probably would have felt like a really different interview if we had done it a week ago. How are you guys doing today?
Meechy Darko: The first day of the new frontier of “making America great again,” you know? We’re just out here trying to survive.
Have you seen or experienced anything that felt tangibly different?
MD: I don’t think it’s really settled in yet, you know? It hasn’t even been 24 hours. I don’t think it’s settled into people’s brains that we have a new president and his name is Donald Trump.
It feels weird to say that.
Erick Arc Elliott: And he didn’t do shit yet. He didn’t do anything yet.
There’s a strong possibility that a lot of people woke up today and their first thought was, Holy shit, what have we done?
MD: Or what haven’t we done.
At Lollapalooza this summer, your set was early in the evening on the very last day. It was absolutely beautiful out and everyone was having a good time. Toward the end of your set, the way you spoke to the audience was almost spiritual.
Zombie Juice: Well, you know, sometimes we get a little spiritual with our crowd. Never religious — always spiritual.
MD: The message is always plain and simple with us: Be yourself, open your mind. That’s all. That’s our message. And it’s beautiful that when we do shows, kids expect that. We’ve been saying that at the end of our show for the past five years now, that if you don’t get anything out of the show, no matter how fucked up you get — you can be drunk, you can be high, you can be sober and bored — remember that message outside of everything else. And that’s why we try to make sure, every night, we say that shit. Because it’s important.
Another thing about this election, it proved how easily slogans get stuck in people’s heads.
ZJ: Oh hell yeah. Even Obama with the change thing. That was his thing: change, change, change.
EAE: You also gotta remember that we have social media now. We’re all watching television, we’re all on Twitter, we’re all on Facebook, so we’re all going to get that quote and that statement as it happens. It would’ve taken a lot longer back in the day to spread the word. I think that’s what makes this election different, the technological games. [There are] a lot of idiots on the internet, a lot of idiots being persuaded to vote.
At your show, the audience knew every word to every one of your songs. They’re studying you! How does that feel?
EAE: I feel responsible. When people actually sing your lyrics in person, it’s different from them quoting or tagging it online, you know? That’s the most uplifting feeling you can get, when you know that they’re going to say the words that you kept saying. That’s probably in every rapper’s top five moments, to jump on the stage and hear everyone screaming their name and their work.
That’s a lot of pressure.
MD: I think the only pressure we have in the group is the pressure we put on ourselves to be better men, to be better sons and fathers and friends and shit like that. Our music is our music. There’s never any pressure to be, like, whatever level you think your favorite artist may be. We’re not here to compete with nobody. What you think is success, I don’t necessarily think is success. The only pressure I have in life is getting my mother out of the hood and getting her a house, making sure Juice’s son got a million dollars in his saving account, and making sure Erick’s mother is good.
Any parting wisdom for kids in the Wonderland audience who might be feeling weird about all the shit that’s been going down this week?
MD: “Have no fears, I’ll be there” is mine. Fear is just an illusion.
I like this idea that you guys are like sovereign protectors of the universe, telling people to free their minds.
ZJ: We’re on a mission, too, and if I’ve gotta stand in front of the world and get hit by a spirit bomb by the evil powers that be, then so be it, man. I don’t give a shit.