It should be no surprise that The Underachievers have caught on so quickly; they released their debut mixtape “Indigoism” to largely positive feedback. A crisp, unrelenting flow over a series of airy Clams-like beats (ex: T.A.D.E.D., Herb Shuttles) struck gold in the music blogosphere. Now they have a tour scheduled to begin in the next month with Flatbush Zombies and being headlined by the likes of Joey Bada$$ and the Pro Era crew.
This “Beast Coast” collective is on fire, but little is known about where they came from due to their rapid rise to fame. As referenced often in their music, these groups come from an area of Brooklyn which they refer to as Flatbush. Based around Flatbush Avenue, it also includes areas such as Prospect Park South, Beverly Squares, Edward R. Murrow High School (where you can find Joey Bada$$ throughout the week), and Brooklyn College. Flatbush serves as the stomping grounds for many of these popular Beast Coasts artists, as well as an incubator for fresh new music. The environment that these artists come from is important because it can help us understand more about them and helps derive a context from the lyrics they provide us.
Originally, the area was primarily Dutch with a sizable population of Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, and Jews. A dramatic demographics shift began to take place during the early 1970’s, though. Many of these immigrants began to leave to different neighborhoods, seeking to live near more culturally homogenized areas. With the suburbs becoming more attractive, it made more sense for them to relocate out of the city. Transportation made the city more accessible and technology was allowing for less centralization of business. To fill the void, an influx of Black and West Indian residents began to move into the area, leading to a significant change to the culture of the area.
This large demographic shift left a strong impression on Flatbush, partly for the worse. The once affluent Prospect Park soon began to see abandoned homes and buildings as its doctors and lawyers followed others to greener pastures. Many of these homes were replaced by lower income residents who could not afford the upkeep on the homes. In turn, crime rates also began to rise; much of this could be due to the drug epidemic that the introduction of crack caused in the 1980’s and 90’s. Erick of Flatbush Zombies recalls his opinions on the violence saying that “You always had to bring a body guard… Anything can happen at any time.”
This gritty backdrop sets the tone for much of the music that comes from the area. The Flatbush Zombies’ mixtape “D.R.U.G.S” encapsulates the drug use in the area and even glorifies it. References to drug use are very clear and range from alcohol to L.S.D., making a few stops in between. Their new single “MRAZ” follows the crew through a LSD trip as they record their video. The Underachievers have also embraced this culture, linking their drug habits to their self-proclaimed Indigo Child status. They believe that drug use allows them to open their third eye; a belief that would inevitably stem from a combination of their upbringing and the inevitable charisma that rappers must possess. Even the young Pro Era discusses smoking weed and going to high school. Drug use is nothing new to them and they are simply reflecting the world as they see it through their music.
Flatbush’s imperfections have shaped the perceptions of its residents, resulting in a rap-movement unlike any other currently. These influences are what make these artist unique and it is important to understand them in order to fully appreciate their music. Flatbush has set a stage for a new movement of hip-hop that will surely not die out anytime soon.