How Flatbush Zombies got upstaged by their less-talented opener
Even diehard rap fans will tell you: There's something about recorded rap music that often doesn't translate well to the stage. It makes sense for a lot of artists; for those who rely on a carefully chosen vocabulary, much of what makes an artist great can get completely lost in a noisy venue. Some rappers are magnetic in the first place because of their personality and energy, such as Flatbush Zombies, who were backed by Dizzy Wright and local artist Rimes on 4/19 at Cervantes'. Coming into the show, and even after seeing Wright perform, who had the audience in the palm of his hand at all times, I thought the Flatbush Zombies would somehow be even better. They weren't. They weren't bad, as far as rap shows go, but as seems to happen so often in this genre, with some exceptions, they didn't hold up to their recorded quality.
From the "Thug Waffle" music video by Flatbush Zombies
Lyrically, it's hard to argue that all three of the Zombies aren't leagues ahead of Dizzy Wright. Likewise, production from Erick "The Architect" Elliot is in general more sophisticated than Wright's, and is highly tailored to Meech and Juice's unique, powerful styles. On paper, the Zombies are the superior act, literally: Their names topped the bill. But there's no getting around the fact that they put on the second best show, and it actually makes sense. The Zombies' performance was highly emblematic of the hit-and-miss rap show, whereas the Dizzy Wright show characterized everything that works in current mainstream hip-hop.
The current rap landscape has shifted in a way that has relegated detailed, lasting music to a less important space than songs that capture the short-term memory. A single banger will open more doors for an artist than a well-thought-out album. Even for an artist like Kendrick Lamar, who can accomplish both of these feats equally well, Section.80 didn't garner the attention that "Swimming Pools" did. Flatbush Zombies, who broke into the scene on singles like "Bath Salt" and "Thug Waffle," but built their fanbase on the strength of full albums, can't escape the cloak of their own complexity. It makes for great music, it absolutely does, but it alone doesn't make for a captivating live show to the unseasoned fan.
What a lot of rappers don't understand, and what the Zombies are still learning, is that a successful show is about the holistic experience rather than simply the music. A great concert isn't made with lyrics because, unless you're in an intimate or empty venue or you come in with prior knowledge about what the lyrics are, you can't understand them most of the time. Similarly, the sophisticated beats that the Architect constructs are great to vibe to, but they don't reach nearly their full potential when the rappers are having to crank up their microphones' volume just to have their voices heard, drowning out the details that make the production so great. No matter how good a poet an artist is, he probably isn't going to be able to rock a room full of rap fans looking to get rowdy with just well chosen words and a vague hodgepodge of drum, bass and synth. For all the thousands of words delivered at any given rap show, few will stand apart from the rest. For this reason, for now, the hook is king. And Dizzy Wright has some great hooks.
The Zombies also did a lot of things right that put them way ahead of the game, even, and perhaps especially, when it comes to live shows. For one, as huge fans of pro wresting, they utilize a similar performative component in their rap style. Juice, the group's most eccentric member, sporting purple hair and an helluva beard, kicked off the show by introducing the rappers as Bruce Buffer might for a UFC fight. Even as a fully complementary group, the Zombies emphasize their individuality and relish showmanship. They kick about like giant swaggering roosters and leap from the stage like Olympic divers. For the Zombies, who are so idiosyncratic and distinct from the masses of rappers who seem mostly the same, when they're performing, they're at their best when they bring the ruckus. The Flatbush Zombies are great lyricists, just like pro wrestlers are great athletes. But it's not athleticism that makes the WWE so much fun to watch.