- Words Miki Hellerbach
- Photography Cara Friedman
- Styling Olivia Perdoch
- Production Studio Notion
Rapper and producer, Erick the Architect, speaks candidly about his collaborations, time in Flatbush Zombies, the meaning behind his moniker, 'Future Proof EP', and much more.
Erick The Architect has spent the pandemic like many of us did, reflecting and readjusting. He holds robust value to his time of creation and exploration with his mystically transcendent rap group, Flatbush Zombies. Yet, this period of separation from that habitual lifestyle allowed Erick to ponder upon his individual needs, desires, and empowerment. In the most apocalyptic year of our lifetime, Erick dropped two poignantly omnipresent singles, “WTF” feat. Col3trane and “Let It Go” feat. Loyle Carner & Farr. You hear Erick going through his own societal and personal reckoning on the tracks. Thus the range he organically covers feels essential. Erick sounds like a vessel for dignity and empathy, while also being entirely human with unfinished work to be done on himself. These two songs are only the initiation into the fully realized soundscape of his upcoming ‘Future Proof’ EP.
“When I created ‘Future Proof’, the idea of it came from me kind of looking back at history and saying, “What other time in my lifetime have we experienced peril, confusion, and uncertainty about the future?” Then I was like, “Well, 1999 and 2000 were weird years man because people thought the world was gonna be over.” But also some amazing albums came out in those two years. ‘Stankonia’, ‘Like Water for Chocolate’, ‘Who Is Jill Scott?’, and I think ‘Black on Both Sides’ came out then. So you got some of the best artists of all time releasing some of their peak records at that very moment”, Erick explains.
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It would seem that Erick has begun to find what many of us have sought in this time – a therapeutic purpose. Erick wants to take this hazardous and precarious existence and turn it into substantive and classic art. It’s safe to say, the belief in what he’s got coming next is palpable.
While he hasn’t totally abandoned helping others realize their visions [“I’ve been helping Joey (Badass) with his new album. I’m executive producing it”.] Erick is focused on mapping out his personal blueprint much more readily than he ever has before. Simply, like “The Architect” that he is. Erick now refuses to sacrifice his own self-worth for outlying fulfilment.
Erick’s current task is solely his own tranquillity and resulting compositions from that headspace. When we had a Zoom conversation, a solid week before his project’s release, it was impossible to not feel motivated by his energy. I would love to chalk it up to us being kindred spirits, but I think Erick just likes where he’s at so much right now it’s hard to not connect with him on a pure level. See if you can fill yourself up with whatever vibe Erick’s operating on.
Where are you based now man?
I was wondering if you were based in the UK at this point because of all the collabs with artists from there?
I might as well be. I think at this point I have a residency there and shit.
Has it just been a natural thing with these collaborations (Loyle Carner, Farr, & Col3trane)? Or was it your interest in the scene that made them happen?
So the first kind of music I was introduced to was reggae and Motown from my parents. Before I was into hip-hop music I was into soul music. My mom showed me Etta James, Ray Goodman & Brown, Barry White, and Sam Cook. I was introduced to the pinnacle of some of the best music ever made. At the time, I didn’t even know I wanted to make music. I just loved it so much. I didn’t even know that some of the people I listened to were British like Phil Collins and Amy Winehouse, what London was, or any of that shit. I’ve always had an affinity for London culture and I think I have some family out there too. Obviously, because I’m Jamaican there’s an immediate crossover. But as far as a musician, even when we worked on our second mixtape as Flatbush Zombies, ‘BetterOffDead’, I was working with this girl named Espa who’s from London. I’m a big fan of Giggs too and she told me he wanted to do a song with her. I produced the song and Giggs got on my track. I was taken aback that he would even do something with me. Then I worked with Skepta some years ago before he was even a household name. During that exchange, we did “RedEye To Paris.” I made a beat for him and he rapped on it, and he made a beat for me and I rapped on it. That song never came out but that was a dope track too. So, with receipts, I’ve always been working with UK artists. But I think what changed everything was when I met James Blake and Mount Kimbie and moved out here. I’m now officially drinkin’ Ribena and goin’ to Nando’s and shit.
Since you mentioned James Blake, let’s talk about the track, “I Keep Calling”, that you co-produced for his ‘Before’ EP. Were you the one who flipped the Charlotte Day Wilson sample?
It was me. I was in New York and James told me he was at Electric Lady [Studios]. I was like, “Dude I’ve never been before, I heard Stevie Wonder was in there, I’ve heard all these fuckin’ stories, I wanna go!” He was like, “Yeah man just come by.” I went to buy a new synthesizer that day from Main Drag Music in Williamsburg. They sell all this vintage gear. I bought the Waldorf Synth and it was quite expensive. But I knew I was gonna be in New York for a little bit working with James. I had a two speaker set up in my brother’s living room with my laptop and I started working on some house stuff. A lotta people probably didn’t know I was into that shit. I knew the Charlotte Day Wilson song, but something told me that day I wanted to hear it in double time. I created this whole idea that was based on the sample then I went to the studio. With James and I, our journals are our ableton sessions. He’ll be like, “What’re you up to?” and I’ll just open up what I did today or yesterday. When I put on that one he was like, “What is this?! Can I work on this?” I’m like, “Dude, I’m not gonna tell you no. You know that.” He was like, “Do you mind if I noodle around a bit?” Then he re-sang the hook and was like, “What made you even think of this?” I was like, “I don’t know.” I didn’t even know that he would like it. Although James is one of my closest friends, it’s still kind of surreal to me. We have multiple songs that we’ve done together now out there for people to hear.
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They’re all amazing. What prompted your decision to drop solo music separate from Flatbush Zombies?
In a group, you sacrifice a lot of your story to tell a universal one. Doing music for eight years as a group and touring so often I lived a lifestyle that was very awesome. But I didn’t have time for reflection. I wasn’t checking off things I needed individually. I don’t take vacations. Some people tell me I work too hard; like I’m Jamaican and people tell me Jamaicans work ten jobs. I can’t stop.
Right before the quarantine began when I moved out here, my goal was to re-fashion myself into the person I think that I am. I don’t take psychedelics. I’m not the thing that people think that we are because we’re a group. The identity I take on is because I’m at the forefront of the sonics. The lifestyle we promote is not entirely my life. I’m a bit more intimate. I have a lot more to say about my upbringing and dealing with insecurity and depression on a personal level. I have more work to do to show people how diverse I can be.
As far as showing a more personal perspective you wholeheartedly do that on your latest track “Let It Go” feat. Loyle Carner & Farr. Can you speak on the perspective your grief has given you that you rap about?
I worry about where we’re headed if some people that have huge platforms make music about fantasy and forgetting reality. I need to be valiant and transparent with my audience. It’s not a reflection of something I’m tryna brag about. I’m actually trying to cope with my loss. My story is, my mother became blind and my dad is an older man who’s always had problems with his hearing. I’m the last of three sons. My mom passed two years ago. Those were always things I thought about on the road while other guys were taking drugs and fucking girls. I was just worried about my mom. That guilt that I felt every day was weighing on me immensely. I never wanted to bring down the group or any of my friends. Growing up she wasn’t always blind, but when I became a man she no longer could see me. The music I’m making is really a report of what my world is.
For people with disabilities, people try to shush reality because they think people can’t handle it. They whisper, “Is this person ok? Are you ok?” They’re human beings. You don’t have to talk to them like they’re beneath you or they’re scared. They’d actually rather you be honest because no one will. She also had renal failure. So I would go to dialysis and see how people treated people who were sick and I didn’t like that shit. So “Let It Go” was a culmination of all these things that I’ve seen. To be truthful, this is bigger than hip-hop music. My song needs to be big because people need to hear a message that’s not just “turning up.” Where are you turning up? You’re not turning up anywhere right now. I wanna make music that makes you say, “Ima stay home today and ima play this album. Ima go take a drive. Ima see somebody I haven’t seen in a while. Ima go take my dog for a walk.” It doesn’t have to be this whole lifestyle that promotes this top-down Ferrari shit. That’s not realistic. I want people five years from now to say, “That guy made some awesome music in some of the worst times of our world.” Even before this with the Australian fires. Racism didn’t just start. These are all a relative reality, unfortunately, but I hope that we can change that.
That’s a good transition into talking about your other single “WTF” feat. Col3trane. You rap about being humbled by hindrance, as well as embracing difference and patience. What are the first steps in your mind towards actual change?
I know this sounds super on the nose, but within the self, right? You have to start with you. My mental state has been shaken by death and reading all this shit. My mental has to be strong or it’ll break me. Since COVID, I’ve eaten a little better. If you’re ordering a bunch of shit all the time are you recycling the stuff? Everybody’s ordering all this shit, I hope you’re recycling man! Everybody’s going through the same thing so I’m like, “Well if I’m doing things and they’re helping me, maybe it’ll help somebody else if they know someone they think is dope does it too.” That’s where it begins, the inclusion is the problem. No one knows. People say, “I’m not gonna do that cuz no one else recycles. No one else makes music that’s deep, I don’t wanna be made fun of. I don’t wanna become a meme. I don’t wanna cry. I don’t want people to know I have feelings so I look weak.” It’s over for that shit. THAT shit is cancelled. In hip-hop, there’s space for all of us.
I came up on hip-hop that was the hardest shit, like Mobb Deep. That’s one of my favourites. I grew up in New York during the crack era. I’m old enough to remember the 90’s and how tumultuous that time was. I’m a product of my environment. I really know these situations. To begin the change is self-reflection. To look into yourself and say, “Am I making things better? Am I someone who just wants to complain and never do anything?” If your shit is fucked up no one is gonna listen to what you have to say.
You talked about being a product of your environment. So what do you think it is about the Flatbush neighbourhood you grew up in that has created so many of the modern waves of NY rap? It’s been The Flatbush Zombies & Pro Era, then Bobby Shmurda, and now even people like Sheff G and Sleepy Hallow with Brooklyn drill music.
New York in itself is a melting pot right? I think they said JFK (Airport) is the most internationally flown in place. It’s ironic because Flatbush is Haitian, Trinidadian, Jamaican, Puerto Rican, Dominican, and has a huge Jewish population. Growing up I didn’t really even understand the difference cuz I thought we were all a family. As a kid, I thought everyone was Jamaican cuz I’m Jamaican. I didn’t even understand islands at the time. I was just like, “This person has an accent that’s similar to mine.” But then this person was Grenadian and I was like, “What the fuck?”
The culture, the exchange, and you got block parties! They’d shut down a whole block so we could play music and dance. Then you got things like J’ouvert, the Labor Day parade where all these people from all these islands come out in support. They’re tryna get down, they’re tryna party. Everybody’s celebrating life and freedom. I was so fortunate, and now I can see it. As far as what plays into why we are all so good, it’s the islands man. That community. It’s something you take with you no matter where you go. I’m not from the south or Atlanta, but the same way I see them put on for their people, it seems like their culture is rooted in the same thing. West Indians have their own kind of mix though. Something in the food. That’s the number one thing I miss man.
Glad you mentioned Atlanta because I wanted to ask about one of my favourite sample flips of yours. How’d you come up with the flip of “Blueberry Yum Yum” by Ludacris for the Flatbush Zombies track “Herb”?
We all love that song, but that’s one of Juice’s favourite songs. This happened pre-COVID and we all kicked it in the studio in my garage here in LA. I remember when I first made the beat Juice just started humming that melody from that song and I was like, “Yo we gon do this?!” Then he was like, “Yeah man let’s take it there.” Growing up listening to Ludacris and watching BET Uncut made such an impression on us. Then we definitely smoke a lot of weed so we were like, “If anybody is gonna do a remix or pay homage to a smoking song like that, we gotta do it!”
Since we are talking vibes and time in LA I gotta ask about the process for coming up with that amazing NPR Tiny Desk home concert y’all did. I’m assuming it was out there. How’d that come together?
That was in L.A. in a house next door to one of my friends. He was just like, “I hear people playing music there all the time and it’s really beautiful. You should come and take a look.” When I walked in I was like, “Holy shit this looks like music should be made here!” I know that we’re a super masculine group. A lot of girls listen to Flatbush Zombies, but it’s definitely a more male-dominated band with the listeners. What is the most sultry and sensual thing we can do? Get some beautiful women to showcase their ability to sing and play instruments. I felt like it was really important. I took each song and I was like, “I want you to sing and reinterpret the original song and you have my full blessing to make it soulful.”
I wanted something that people would click and be like, “Oh they’re gonna jump up and down and kick and break stuff!” Then be like, “Nah motherfucker this is more Jay-Z MTV unplugged.” A little vibe where people could watch us at any time of day. The words already have a lot of weight. Sometimes just the changing of the pace or the environment makes people listen a little deeper. I was like, “If we do this shit I want people to click on it thinking they’re gonna get one thing and maybe walk away with a different perspective on us.”
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Definitely! I think your intention with that and proving the Flatbush Zombies aren’t one dimensional also applies to how you’re approaching your new solo stuff and yourself in general. Why does the job title of “Architect” fit you?
It’s funny cuz in the hood you’re not supposed to give yourself your own nickname. It’s against the rules and shit. But I did it! It mostly came from my favourite movie of all time, which is The Matrix, because of all the screens and computers and shit. That’s me. Also, I thought it had a nice ring to it. But it never really came to fruition until I started to produce records for my group, and also other people. I’ve had sessions where people are confused as to what’s goin’ on and what I’m doin’. Then towards the end of the session, you’ll walk away with something I guarantee you’ve never had from a producer before. I look at it as a blueprint. I’m always drawing and writing. I think like a real architect. They have their blueprints and you trust that guy a lot. Anything that involves an architect is expensive. Period. You don’t go to an architect to build a cup. You’re gonna go to build a skyscraper or a statue.
I’m also a Leo so we’re known to be observant. Sometimes I can be extremely quiet. Some people thought I was shy or timid. I’m not, it’s just I don’t wanna talk to every person. I have so much to say and sometimes I feel like me over-explaining something will create a hole for myself cuz now someone is aware of what I’m fully capable of. Every job I’ve ever had once they find out you can do something else they try to pay you the same to make you do ten jobs. My mom always told me, “Shut the fuck up! Do your job and say less.”
Well, I wanted to get your breakdown of the very blueprint-like lyrics from “WTF”. “Shadow lurkin’ for the perfect murder. Fuck with us, we gon’ crash the server. No Glocks, just Mr Robot. I hate to say it’s true, but I got evidence on you.”
We have to pick sides when someone is doing something we overtly disagree with. That was the premise. Not only am I gonna pick my side, I have a reason for it. It’s not just reckless dislike. I can actually show you why I don’t fuck with you and if you don’t fuck with me because of that, then it’s all good. I think this is a time to choose red or blue you know and not even republican or democrat. I mean like black or white you know? Evil versus good, whatever the fuck it is. Picking is more necessary than to be undecided because at least I know where you stand when I’m around you. I relate to gang culture a lot too because the person that’s the most threatening is the person that don’t fuck with anything. If you don’t fuck with any gangs we don’t know where you belong. That’s what I was referring to is that duality. Kendrick said, “You all democrips or rebloodicans,” and I thought that was so smart.
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Ok so since we talked lyrical dissection now I want to switch to tone and sonics. In those realms, what are your goals for ‘Future Proof’ EP? Then why have thus far Col3trane, Loyle Carner, and Farr fit so well into that space?
In music, the canvas you put it on gives it the power. I’ve been friends with Col3trane for several years but with his identity as an artist, he hasn’t made a song like “WTF” before. I know him personally and know he doesn’t like a lot of the shit that’s goin’ on. Even though I approached him with the record he reinterpreted a melody that I had written and sent me back the concept. I was like, “Damn Col3trane, usually, you be singin’ about love and these girls, but you wanna go there?!” Then we did it relatively fast cuz we did it in the peak of everything that was goin’ on with the protests. We were like, “Fuck bro, if we’re gonna say something we gotta make it beautiful.” I don’t wanna just be screaming at the top of a mountain. I think you can whisper and accomplish the same thing. It was an ultimatum though. Like, “If we don’t start changing these things we might walk away with a lot of scars we can’t heal from.” I love that song because it feels like an r&b record that wrapped up 2020 in a nutshell. It’s this kind of anti-war song that’s pleasing to listen to even though it’s very honest.
I think I’m occupying a space that most artists are not. Loyle’s British but kickin’ shit like Guru. He reminds of how Guru of Gangstarr was gonna tell you something about himself, but also promote a message that’s not violent. There’s nothing wrong with being someone idolized for being positive. In a way I see myself in that. So he’s someone at his core who has a similar style. Whether it’s a song or my nature, I feel attracted to people who care about the soul of their music.
Part of the reason I chose to do this kind of music at this time is there’s a lot of the same things being said and repackaged and repurposed. I don’t think any song on here is me saying the same thing twice. I’m barely cursing on the whole project. I wanna make music I can play for my 13-year-old nephew. Flatbush Zombies is not for a 13-year-old. You’d have to sit down and have a conversation afterwards about why you have to wait to do some of the things. As opposed to the music I have myself, yeah the songs called “WTF,” but my 13-year-old nephew would understand it’s an emotion of extreme passion and it’s powerful when it’s surrounding something of intelligence.
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Ok, final question. How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist and a person in the time since finishing the last Flatbush Zombies project, ‘now more than ever’ EP, to now having completed your own solo project, the upcoming ‘Future Proof’ EP? These two projects sort of hugged the pandemic.
We began this interview talking a lot about self-worth. From ‘now more than ever’ to ‘Future Proof’, I’ve definitely grown in leaps and bounds because of my confidence. I’m important because I exist. I didn’t need to sell millions of records or work with James Blake or perform at Coachella to feel that way. Although the options we had to reach out were limited, at the beginning of the pandemic a lot of people I hadn’t spoken to in a long time were hitting me up like, “I love you, man.” To be honest, now I’m like that all the time. Like when we get off this interview I’ll be like, “I love you, bro.”
My mental-state now is at the best it’s ever been. When you’re in a group it’s always about finding stuff for three people to do. Not everything I wanna do they wanna do, and not everything they wanna do I wanna do. I’m sure A Tribe Called Quest or Wu-Tang had the same issues. Self-identity is so hard to establish because you’re so concerned with what everybody in the group thinks you should be doing. As a human being, I definitely have reflected on the fragile state of everyone feeling lost and confused. If people are asking me questions about that I wanna at least tell them, “Bro, I’ve been there.” I don’t know if I could’ve done that a year ago. Maybe because I didn’t want to share that about myself. Now I see the power of me exchanging that with people. Speaking to family and grounding myself in things that really matter.
I’ve lost a lot of people in the last two or three years of my life and it’s been a lot of freak shit. My brother’s Godmother died from a heart attack and she was perfectly fine in health. We just think she was stressed out cuz of covid. She was always watching it on TV and I’d tell my dad, “Turn that shit off. Go listen to Bob Marley. Go meditate. Go watch something mindless.” All the flack we’ve given to reality TV. Now I love reality TV! Me and my girl have been watching Black Ink. We would never have watched these shows, but now it’s good to not take shit so seriously. We know it’s fake man! So that’s what makes it kind of cool. You need to feel good. You deserve to smile. You need to make time and put yourself first unapologetically and I’d never done that my whole life. I saw a reiki healer and she told me, “You care about people a lot but you need to worry about yourself. You can’t be this pillar of hope for anybody else if you’re in shambles.” So I had to get my shit together bro. I imagine the first show for any artist like me with a message is gonna be a lot of tears man. I want people to say, “Future Proof bro, that shit made me feel like there was hope for us.” The songs are affirmations.