Exploring Narratives with Erick The Architect

“When the music is from the soul, you future proof”

Erick The Architect is known to many as one of the founders and the primary producer for Brooklyn natives, Flatbush Zombies. The trio burst onto the scene in 2012, amassing a dedicated, hardcore fanbase and through their various releases, gave us a refreshing take on hip hop with a their own signature flow and style. The group have performed around the world, placed on Billboard charts and were instrumental in molding a new modern New York sound, alongside the likes of Joey Badass and Pro-Era. In 2021, Erick looks to embark on a new journey – with his solo debut Future Proof EP, bringing us an evolution of his sound and a grounded mentality to match.

I didn’t have the beats, but I had a hobby that’ll keep me off the streets” Erick proudly raps on ‘Fanfare’, a choice track off his first project noir. back in 2010. The project as a whole serves as a snapshot of his life at the time as well as his desire to succeed, even if at the time, it didn’t seem like a viable goal; “I wanted to be transparent with myself and hoped people would appreciate me being honest. I definitely had dreams of being successful but I didn’t think it was a realistic thing.” When reflecting on his early relationship with music, Erick talks affectionately of the artists he aspired to be, from Jay Z to Elton John, Phil Collins to Earth Wind & Fire, with each looking to motivate himself further. This passion for music also saw him working for the likes of Sony Records and Mexican Summer Records at a young age, creating press kits and databasing coding for other artists. This experience, matched with the come up of artists such Danny Brown, J. Cole and Action Bronson gave Erick a window into the world of music, a world he wanted to play a pivotal part in – The Architect was born.

I was more helping artists with their ideas as opposed to helping myself grow and that was killing me after a while. I was giving these ideas to artists and watching them manifest their dreams and I was just sitting on the sidelines.

It was a project alongside grade school friends, Meechy Darko and Zombie Juice in 2012 which Erick pinpoints as a gear shift in his outlook on music. Together, the three combined their efforts on ‘Thug Waffle’ a track produced by Erick, which racked up views by the minute, and introduced Flatbush Zombies to the world. This initial success led to Erick quitting his three jobs and dedicating his time to his role in the Zombies – the group releasing a combined five projects in eight years, including 2016’s 3001: A Laced Odyssey, a project entirely produced by himself which topped the US Billboard Chart for Independent Albums. When reflecting on his journey to this point, Erick explains how these years helped not only shape himself as an artist but his relationship with music in general; “When I did the last song that was 13 minutes long [‘Your Favourite Rap Song‘] and people thought I was crazy – I wanted to show people that regardless of what happened from that point on, that I always cared about the fans and I always put them above everything else. I think that was one of the moments I was like, I really am an artist, and it helped to give me validation for what I was doing.”

One core strand of Erick’s relationship with music is remaining authentic in everything he does. Despite the psychedelic-laced lyrics which remain at the core of the Zombies discography and their outlandish behavior, Erick has always stated that he doesn’t do psychedelic drugs and in fact, played more of a background role in most of the group’s “click bait” antics [“I was back here like, I’ll make the beat for the crazy song about all this stuff or you know, I’ll draw an idea about it”]. In his own words, Erick wanted to reconnect with his roots and showcase them through his solo efforts. Musically, his identity is built on Motown from his mum and reggae from his dad, as well as influences from across the musical spectrum, from Ray, Goodman & Brown, Mary J. Blige and Sam Cooke to name a few. While this may pose a juxtaposition to what we have come to expect from Erick, his recent production and work alongside rock band Portugal. The Man and James Blake are glimpses into what he has to offer;

With these projects, fans are starting to say ‘oh he can do other things’ and now I think I have a platform and a highlight on myself as a solo artist.

2020 threw a curveball for all, with national lockdowns being implemented due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – however Erick felt prepared, hoarding a large number of musical and tech equipment and moving them out with him to LA. The time indoors allowed him to learn how to work more efficiently, connect with other artists and essentially, hone his craft. While his drive is undeniable and his desire to work on a solo project was outlined for all to see – the lockdown gave space, both physically and mentally; “It was like I had arrived. By working with other producers, I could show that I really could rap – not just because I rap on my own beats or am part of a group. I wanted to show myself as an artist and show what I’m worth by myself.” However, one barrier that lockdown has brought about is being unable to connect with fans – something that Erick holds close to his heart.

In April 2020, Erick created his own Twitch channel, amassing over 20,000 followers and nearly 4 millions views on his shows. From his introduction to the platform, he saw a gap in the market, looking to tap into all things creative and bring together a social network. The biggest thing that stands out is its authenticity, inviting fans to hang out, network and be part of his journey. He claims to know many of his fans by first name, who they are and who he regularly connects with. His show ARCHITECTS CORNER, gives fans a first hand look of how he puts together beats, answers fan questions and tells personal stories – further developing the relationship between artist and fan.

It means a lot having one-on-one relationships and friendships with people. I don’t even call them fans. They’re part of my family.

The idea of being so open and honest resonates with his fans and Erick looks to utilize his platform and music as a sounding board to speak on real life issues and topics – his notable projects over the past 12 months bringing that into full perspective. In June 2020, the Flatbush Zombies released their latest EP, now, more than ever, a fitting title for a project that hones in on topics from the pandemic to systemic racism and police brutality. One on track ‘iamlegend’, Erick proclaims “I just hope I see the day when niggas ain’t shootin’ it out, Cause it might change how we gauge the future for our sake”.

While the project dropped at a pivotal time, with the recent murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Erick is clear that speaking on these subjects should be done more consistently; “Unfortunately things that are daunting as far as racism will always exist until we exterminate them. I think that the project was a small glimpse to what is possible from us as entrepreneurs, especially us being black and being from the hood. We raised a lot of money to bring awareness to something and it felt pure. It’s cool with the cars and the girls but I just think like how much partying is anybody doing without feeling uncomfortable right now? We have to keep our minds clear despite all the bad news we hear and we have to find a way to maintain peace within ourselves”.

Towards the back end of 2020, he also hooked up with regular collaborator Nyck Caution on his track ‘Product of My Environment’, with a truly honest and refreshing verse about his come up and reflecting on his emotions. While hip hop and rap music has always promoted idealistic fantasies of masculinity, Erick looks beyond that and shows how music can serve as a cathartic release of emotion. “I think the older you get is just like damn son, I wish an artist will offer me a nugget of advice or real knowledge. Even on the outside, they might live a lifestyle that’s super masculine and at home they’re crying at night watching fucking Moonlight – but they’re not gonna rap about that because it’s not hard or tough and people might make fun of you”. Erick’s reluctance to conform to stereotypes or norms is testament to his passion to create long lasting music – music that looks to inspire and motivate others along the way as well.

It’s about understanding why you do something and remaining true to that, regardless of what comes your way or others might say.

Future Proof, the aptly named project from Erick which dropped this month seems like a manifestation of his journey to this point. On naming the EP, the inspiration came from a lyric on the project [“when the music is from the soul, you future proof”], itself inspired by Erick’s reflection on history – more specifically times when the world felt in crisis. He highlights 1999/2000 and concerns over Y2K, when people thought computers that operated government records, utility systems and banks would crash and cause apocalyptic chaos and how some of his favorite music was released during this time – Jill Scott’s seminal Who is Jill Scott?, Common’s spiritual Like Water for Chocolate, Erykah Badu’s powerful Mama’s Gun and the divine musings of D’Angelo on Voodoo. By looking at things on a wider perspective, Erick reflects on the movements of society and its impact on music.

In more recent unprecedented times, Erick has compressed his thoughts and feelings on the world, with a positive steer towards protecting ourselves. “Since Covid, my eating habits are a little better, my feelings about how I feel about myself have improved and my mental stability has improved despite all this shit that has to happen. I had to ground myself and focus on the things that empower me because of how fucking fragile we are right now. So future proofing to me was like, we have to prepare for an imminent future that we don’t know and there’s a lot of question marks and fear that we don’t really know how to explain.”

The project, only 5 tracks long, makes the most of its run time. Each track is a dedication to its subject – from exploring ourselves and our habits [‘Selfish’], to conquering fears and expectations [‘I Can’t Lose’], the project feels therapeutic, for not only its listeners but for Erick himself – “I want to know people who listen to my music and know that I have helped them”. One of the tracks, ‘Let It Go’ released last month feels very personal, with Erick reflecting on tour life, the effects of it and hardships faced in life. Guest spots are given to FARR and Loyle Carner, who add an additional element and layer of intrigue. Across the project, Erick enlists the support of some of UK’s finest and underground talent, from Pip Millet, Sophie Faith and Col3trane, showcasing his aim to diversify his sound. He is clear to point out that putting on UK artists is not “for clout” and recalls some of his favourite UK acts from Amy Winehouse, Gorillaz and The Beatles to Wiley, Jorja Smith and Skepta (who the Zombies collaborated with on “Redeye to Paris”). Most of his connections have grown organically through friendships and an appreciativeness of their sound.

I hope that all the collaborations that I did, help to introduce all these artists to a different audience of people – that’s what’s important for me.

With the release of Future Proof, it truly feels like the best is yet to come for Erick, as he continues to shape his identity within music, connecting with artists and fans alike for inspiration and motivation. He hopes to take his music on the road and perform live in the future [“it’s a beautiful feeling to know that someone is giving you their attention, especially when you have profound things to say”], incorporating a live band and putting on “a show”, as well as putting together a feature length project. Alongside this, Erick wants to support the people around him, working on upcoming projects from James Blake and Joey Bada$$ and helping to grow the next generation of the scene he cares so much about; “I really want to give my time to new artists. I think I have a lot to offer after doing this for this long. This is the most that I’ve seen myself be so productive, so I’m interested in helping other artists take that stage and me being part of that”.

‘Future Proof’ EP is now out on all good streaming services.