Hip-hop trio Flatbush Zombies (or Flatbush ZOMBiES, as they stylize the name) play Raleigh’s Lincoln Theatre on Saturday – a show that’s already sold out. If you’re wondering how a group you’ve probably never heard of can just show up and sell out a show like it’s no big thing, it’s a very interesting story.
It turns out the Zombies are three childhood friends – Dimitri “Meechy Darko” Simms, Antonio “Zombie Juice” Lewis and Erick “The Architect” Elliott – who of course hail from the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. They formed around the beginning of the decade, building a cult rep with their self-released mixtapes “D.R.U.G.S.” (2012) and “BetterOffDead” (2013), and built enough of an underground audience to start hitting the road.
“I guess, in total, we’ve been on a couple of headline tours,” says the Architect, calling from Dallas. “So we were kind of used to selling tickets – especially because tickets and merchandise are the reason why we’re here – because it was the fans that were coming out.”
Earlier this year, they released a full-length debut, “3001: A Laced Odyssey,” on their own label, The Glorious Dead. The album sold 28,000 copies in its first week, debuting at number 10 on the Billboard 200 chart. Elliott chalks this up to longtime fans keeping the word-of-mouth action going and telling friends they can actually go and buy music from these on-the-fringe hip-hoppers.
“They’ve been following us for years, you know,” he says. “But this album brought a whole new set of fans, which is crazy, because it seems like the tickets are selling out even faster than they normally do.”
As you’ve probably guessed from the title, “3001” has the boys getting into some heady, trippy stuff. Not only did they pick up the name from the Stanley Kubrick sci-fi classic “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but if you play the album and the movie at the same time, you’ll find that both items sync up quite well.
“Yeah, that was on purpose,” says Elliott. “When I started to work on the album, I did the soundscape for the album last. So I basically had the idea of what I wanted it to sound like – kind of like cinema, you know. I wanted it to have a theatrical feel, so the first thing I did was watch the movie with the sound on. Then I watched it again with the sound off, and I was just playing music and recording myself for however long. And then when I stopped and I played it back, it just happened to make sense.”
It has been a long road to respectability for the Zombies. Even with hip-hop greats like RZA (who collaborated with the boys on a track from his “The Man with the Iron Fists” film he directed and starred in) having their back, they still had people dismissing them and their hardcore, often hedonistic music and lyrics. “They think that we’re high all the time and we do all these crazy drugs all the time,” says Elliott. “They misunderstand that we’re trying to talk about many different things, many aspects of life.
“The things that people were saying about us were more gimmicky – like we were gimmicks – and not to take the music seriously,” he says. “(That) we were just kind of exploiters, and we weren’t. We’re hip-hop enthusiasts. That’s why all the OGs and the old cats that have been in the music industry are showing us respect, you know. “
As long as these Zombies continue to walk the Earth alive, kicking and selling out wherever they perform, their growing fan base will overshadow the haters. Not bad for a hip-hop group that confirms they’ve been kinda making it up as they went along.
“Well, what I can tell ya is I think when we came to do this and decided to make music together, a lot of it wasn’t planned – and not that not planning is good – but I think that we followed whatever the universe tells us to do. And it pushed us to try out different things, even if we thought that other people wouldn’t like it.... We never tried to do anything but express ourselves, you know, and people eventually took heed to it.”
Who: Flatbush Zombies, with A$AP 12vy and Remy Banks
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Lincoln Theatre, 126 E. Cabarrus St., Raleigh
Cost: Sold out
Info: 919-821-4111 or lincolntheatre.com