Vacation in Hell, the second studio album by the Flatbush Zombies, holds distinction as being debauched and confessional — yet aware and part non-fiction. The group showcases a mélange of styles. They display a mélange of styles and pay tribute to a myriad of influences throughout, especially on the pure rap single, “Headstone.”
But despite Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice and Erick Arc Elliott all being on the same harmonious wavelength (credit their Brooklyn upbringing and taste for macabre raps for the synchronicity), the album’s strongest moments do occur when the trio invite guests along their intriguing journey through the underworld.
“Vacation,” the project’s lead single, features the ever potent Joey Bada$$, spitting blades: “Yeah, cruising in my own lane, had to take the scenic route/My reality is what most you niggas dream about/Fake niggas only ride for you when they need the clout/But leave your ass for dead when you’re bleedin’ out…” Zombie Juice supplies an eerie chant that buoys this track.
The venerable Jadakiss joins Meechy Darko on “Facts,” which features a chilling piano loop and referendums to 2K18 rap fakeness while party girls that like to “ski” are toasted on the Bun B-assisted, “Reel Girls.” And while “Leather Symphony” with A$AP Twelvyy may come off as standard issue braggadocio rap, the song showcases Zombie Juice embodying the crew’s purpose in Hip Hop culture.
Per usual, Arc Elliott handles the majority of the production while avoiding the pitfalls of uniformity for projects scored by the same beatsmith. The bulk of these tunes lean heavily in the pseudo-trap direction, but skittering drums, faint violin samples and echoings akin to a Gregorian chant all command highlight reel space.
As always, the crew uses its platform to address social issues like racism (“Chunky”) and the school-to-prison pipeline (“Best American”). They also address their own battles with suicidal thoughts (“Trapped”) and outright sadness, epitomized by “YouAreMySunshine.” The moving ode to influential A$AP Mob founding member, A$AP Yams, finds Meechy tearfully recalling his friend’s passing: “Missed your funeral, I wasn’t man enough to see you in a coffin/But I give you this offering and hope that you forgive me/Cause truthfully in my eyes, you was king of this city…”
Yet, there is exuberance as the album’s primary drawback a few tracks should have been pruned. “Best American” is a noble attempt at social commentary, but it doesn’t break new ground. “Courtney,” which features a controversial but much-bandied about conspiracy theory surrounding Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, feels unfocused. And “The Goddess is one of a zillion Hip Hop tracks that pay homage to women. The insipid chorus doesn’t do the song any favors, either.
Nevertheless, Vacation in Hell is a worthy effort that showcases the individual strengths of each Zombie member, from Arc Elliott’s compelling concoctions to Meechy’s raspy, full-throated raps and Zombie Juice’s sing-songy hooks and spiritual-political leanings.