I Felt Alive at Flatbush ZOMBiES’ See You in Hell Tour

Let me preface the following “concert review” with a perspective into my personal lens.  I put a lot of physical and emotional energy into going to this show. It was the first concert I attended in solitude since I had what I will call ~a traumatic experience~ a handful of months back. I am working hard toward getting back into the swing of things by moving forward, finding a new normal, and committing to finding happiness in activities I used to enjoy. I also put a lot of emotional investment into getting through this evening unscathed as a way to gauge my “recovery process.” I hope this serves to set the scene and tone for some of the overarching messages I felt transpired throughout the evening. ALSO, disclaimer/trigger warning: I will be discussing alcohol use, drug use, mental health, and other similar topics the artists rap about. Reader discretion advised.

 

I was first introduced to Flatbush ZOMBiES around 2014. My former roommate, Matt, would play their music in the car when we would run errands. Their songs were undeniably catchy, packed with intricate production and diverse rapping styles. I am pro hip-hop groups (see Three 6 Mafia, Wu-Tang Clan, and Dipset). I also have an affinity for Brooklyn and/or New York-based hip-hop artists (see Notorious B.I.G., Lil’ Kim, and Jay Z before I questioned his rationale behind cheating on Beyoncé). The more I explored FBZ independently, the more I began to appreciate the lyrics behind the rapping styles. They spoke about “real” topics, such as mental health struggles, drug use, political turmoil, and current social events. Not that I don’t enjoy me some nonsensical rap I can dance to (see Migos, Rick Ross, and Ludacris), but that’s neither here nor there.

 

In March 2016, they dropped their first album, 3001: A Laced Odyssey. Following the success of their freshman release, they took to the road for tour. I was fortunate enough to catch them at Starland Ballroom in December 2016. That was also quite an adventurous evening. I literally fell OUT of the venue following Matt to the smoking section. I did a poor job of predicting the height of the steps, which I have quite the knack for. But I digress. This album and concert verified my full appreciation and commitment to support them. I vowed to see them whenever I got another opportunity.

 

Their second album, Vacation in Hell, was released on April 6, 2018. As mentioned in the preface, this was in the middle of my own personal vacation in hell. It turned into something I really needed at the time. It was an album I could jam to while relating to the lyrics on a deep emotional level. It stimulated my mind while making me feel less alone in the struggle. It was an album I didn’t know I needed until I had it. I’m not trying to be dramatic. I genuinely connected to the album and the concept. Sometimes the struggle can look sparkly, fun, and glamourous. It helped me work around the pain to experience fun times and gave me some form of solidarity to connect with. I appreciate nothing more than raw art telling it like it is.

 

The trio then announced their tour and I was reminded of the vows I’ve made to myself, which are: go to as many concerts as you can, travel for worthy artists and adventures, and when an artist or group is amazing the first time, see them again. I noticed their concert at the Fillmore Philly was not sold out yet and tickets were not too pricey. I tend to presume friends are unavailable for concerts on weeknights (you know, adult responsibilities and all). I used to not let this stop me from attending concerts but with my new fear and lack of trust, I was nervous to do this on my own. Eventually I convinced myself I could handle it and bought a ticket. I let a few friends know of what I was doing in case they were interested and to let them know of my whereabouts in case something happens (you know, girl things). I told myself I was “fine” going alone. I knew past self would just get a drink, find a good spot, and chill for the evening. I hoped I could maybe, possibly do it again. Being “chill” has been hard as of late, but I figured if I found a nice little corner I could keep to myself.

 

I survived the drive. The venue had ample parking, which is always a blessing for us travelers. I safely avoided the unofficial t-shirt sellers in the lot. I had a lovely interaction with one of the security guards about my essential oil roll-ons while going through security. She told me I was awesome and knew I would be zen tonight. She wasn’t incorrect. I then followed my tradition of finding a “nice little corner” and made myself as comfortable as possible for the evening. “Comfort” is also a newly foreign concept but I’ve learned to manage.

 

I’m not going to lie. I didn’t get see the first opener, Nyck Caution. I had to preserve my aforementioned low energy with the drive back and forth along with seeing FBZ. I also do not have a knack for planning my concert timing. I’m either way too early (see my DMX experience) or miss good openers. I did get to see Kirk Knight and his set was enjoyable. I don’t really listen to him but seeing him made me want to check out his music.

 

Flatbush ZOMBiES started approximately 9:30pm, which is beautiful for an old lady like myself. They revealed their stage set up with two standing caskets, one laying casket in front of a hearse, headstones, and some flames, which I thought was a great touch. They opened with HELL-O, which was appropriate and made plenty of sense. Zombie Juice came out of a standing casket with a black heart on the outside to rap the first verse in the song. Then Erick the Architect followed by exiting his standing casket with a purple triangle in front to share his verse. Finally, Meechy Darko stood up from the middle casket and jumped around while rapping his verse. His casket was shaking back and forth while he was jumping around, adding extra effect. They started flawlessly and were in it from the get.

 

They followed up with Chunky, which is the second song off their new album, Vacation in Hell. With that, I was wondering if they were playing the album in chronological order, but spoiler alert: they did not. I must admit I have gone to a few 10th Year Anniversary tours recently, thus clouding my judgment. It really would have been cool either way. I will definitely go see the Vacation in Hell 10th Anniversary tour in 2028… just sayin’.

 

It was then confirmed to not be just a ViH tour when they played Bounce from their 2016 album 3001: A Laced Odyssey.  This is an exciting song live, since they all just literally bounce and shout their lines throughout. It really got the crowd hyped, myself included. Great song placement and perfect for the theme of the tour.

 

What happened next was… fascinating. They jumped back to ViH with Headstone, which I felt was following the flow nicely. Business as usual, they were getting into it with Juice doing his first verse. In the middle of the second chorus, however, the speakers BLEW, making them all jump but recover and attempt to continue the show. The speakers continued crapping out, so they went backstage. Because they played it off casually, I was having difficulty telling if this was a stunt or unexpected. If you’d like a peak into this, my notes read,

“headstone …..? either speakers blew out or it’s an act idfk

OHHH cool okay they put background music on??? k definitely not an act

now everyone lights up ok cool too

damn this kinda blows for them tho!!

and us”

After approximately five or so minutes, the trio approached the stage and Meechy asked, “Still with us?” He then explained how he never went to engineering school, had no idea what happened, and that the techs were “fixing shit” and they would be “picking up where we left off.” He asked us to “pretend it never happened,” but I think it was important to include. As performers, they handled it the best way possible and picked up without skipping a beat. I always value these type of people. They redid Headstone and sincerely acted like nothing happened. It was a great example of real showmanship.

 

They continued the ViH trend for three more songs. Next on their list was M. Bison, which I lovingly refer to as the Gelato Song. I like how in this particular album and on tour, the trio shined light on each individual artist and producer’s talents while performing together. I felt this was a start to Zombie Juice’s spotlight, but each member had their chance later on. They followed up with Vacation, which I highly recommend watching the music video linked here. It’s such a summer jam but totally stays in their Brooklyn drug rap genre. As a kid who grew up watching TRL, I can fully appreciate a well-crafted music video. But anyway, back to the concert. Sans Joey Bada$$ it was still an amazing, dramatic performance. When Meechy shouted, “I just got back from Australia,” I felt that and I’ve barely been off this continent. I remember the set then getting quieter for a few seconds, which was broken by Meechy starting the chorus of Big Shrimp slowly for us to all get into the rhythm. Much like Vacation, Big Shrimp has a catchy chorus while still hitting hard in the verses. Quite a different tempo thanks to Erick the Architect, but still a similar vibe. If you didn’t know, Erick produces all their beats AND has an even portion of the rapping responsibility of his own in each song. He’s quite the powerhouse and force to be reckoned with.

 

The ZOMBiES switched back to 3001 with This Is It. Opposite to their Vacation video, this music video is stripped down with the three in black and white, no background beyond their individual dancing, rapping, smoking, outfit changes, and other dramatic effects added with moments of solidarity. Similar to this video, they all support one another while individually rapping live, giving quite the unified feeling. Somehow they do an amazing job of highlighting their individual talent while showing genuine symmetry. The whole bigger than the sum thing, but its even more than that. The sums are pretty damn incredible, too. It was a perfect song to play in ~the city of brotherhood~ or whatnot.

 

They stayed on the 3001 vibe for two more songs, following up with New Phone, Who Dis? where the term Zombie Mami came to exist (dammit, I NEED that necklace) and Ascension, which began the trend of each rapper having their own individual spotlight in their set. This began Meechy’s spotlight and was an exemplary intro into his harsh, raspy style. Presumably to show diversity in his style, he flipped back to ViH with Facts unfortunately not featuring Jadakiss. Similar to how he introduced Big Shrimp, Meechy Darko aka “Count Rackula aka 2Cup Shakur aka Durt Cobain aka” started Facts without the beat, which allowed the crowd to join in the rap-along. This concluded the first spotlight, which led to a lovely transition supported by a sample of Jimi Hendrix’s If 6 Was 9. I think the love for Hendrix was collectively felt within the crowd, myself very much included. He’s one of my personal favorites. Maybe that’s my own projection.

 

Zombie Juice aka Bud Bundy’s spotlight then commenced. This is not to say that none of the men didn’t say anything prolific before this moment, but it was definitely one that stood out prominently in my memory. Juice had the crowd repeat after him, saying,

“I,”

“I,”

“love,”

“love,”

“myself,”

“myself,” and made the crowd do it several times, just in this one instance. If anyone needed that reminder and the repetitive nature of that reminder, it was me. If no one else was grateful, at least I was. Juice then jumped into Leather Symphony without A$AP Twelvyy. I believe this was chosen to show how he makes a dang catchy chorus while having a hard-hitting, creative verse included. He then went into what’s being referred to on Setlist.fm as Unreleased R&B. The video links to M. Bison, which is inaccurate. Anyway, my notes simply say, “bust that pussy open 4 me,” so I’m pretty sure that was the gist of the song. He closed out his spotlight with Lava Prod. By The Architect which was released last summer. He assisted in cultivating self-love in the crowd with the “I love myself” callback again, then let The Architect take the stage with a sample of Kids With Guns by Gorillaz bringing him out.

 

Erick The Architect began with Proxies, which features a lot of samples he regularly uses in his beats along with his intense signature introduction. Beyond that, he is great with his rhymes. He’s just great. Before getting into his next song, he took a second to “talk about mental health,” which incited cheers throughout the crowd. He then noted how mental health is quite the real and tough issue to experience and shouted out to anyone who knows someone going through mental health struggles, even if the person was themselves. I wouldn’t dare attempt to butcher and fake quote the words he specifically used. He then asked for light either via a cell phone or lighter for the next song and transitioned to Trapped. Though mental health struggles come up in plenty of their songs, it was an appropriate time to discuss the topic. Full disclosure, much like Juice’s request to feel self love, this hit me. I had been struggling quite tremendously for the months leading up to this evening. It was another moment of harmony, one that actually brought me to tears. Only a few. Enough to wipe away subtly, or so I thought. After this, I noticed the couple in front of me hugging in solidarity, and the dude next to me got his lighter out. Remember how I thought I was being subtle?

 

The mood was switched with the transition to 222 from BetterOffDEAD, which was way more boppy and lighthearted (in FBZ’s own special way) to bring the remaining members back on stage. They reunited over 3001’s Trade-Off, which is yet another song that highlights their uniqueness with their own separate version of the chorus and verses. This song pulls no punches, which are some of my favorites from them personally. I think this song has particularly witty lines throughout, partnered with an intricate beat. The men then discussed their opinions on the concepts of power and influence. Of course my sociological brain always gets too into these one-sided conversations artists have on stage. I really wish I could sit down, chill with FBZ and talk further about their opinions on the topic with them. But really, if you guys want me to come to Brooklyn and chill, LMK. I’ll be there whenever you’re down. After the ZOMBiES’ lesson on power and influence, they got back into the See You in Hell vibe with Best American. How appropriate. I really, truly, deeply love political rap. This is a solid example of political rap at its finest. I promise to provide a list of other wonderful political rap songs in the future.

 

I did not anticipate the song that was to come on next. The beat for LUAM came on and the crowd started dancing hard. According to Setlist.fm, AK came out to join in this performance. I honestly was way too into it to notice but I trust them. If you’re unfamiliar, Flatbush ZOMBiES also are in Clockwork Indigo with The Underachievers. Check out their EP if you haven’t already. This then led to another sampling, this time featuring System Of A Down’s Toxicity. Oh yeah, SOAD is another band I casually loved growing up so I was not mad about the throwback on this Tuesday evening. Some of my favorite memories are of my friends drunkenly screaming along to Chop Suey! while out on the town. If you’ve ever been out in downtown Asbury Park, you’ll know what I mean.

 

They followed up the sample appropriately with S.C.O.S.A. an early jam of theirsThis assisted in keeping the crowd dancing and grooving. Another surprise followed with Bath Salt by A$AP Mob, wherein FBZ is featured. If only A$AP Mob came out, all of my dreams and fantasies would be fulfilled. They “concluded” their set with the last song on ViH, The Glory, a wonderful choice to bring the crowd down to earth before the encore.

 

Per concert tradition, the trio left the stage just to hear the crowd chant their request for “one more song.” The couple to my left and I joked about wanting two, or three, or ten more. They of course returned on stage to close out with arguably their most popular or recognizable song, Palm Trees. This influenced another collective cloud of smoke to end the evening, which was fitting for the closing song. They officially ended their set thanking the crowd for sticking with them through the technical difficulty, noting to request at least two more songs for next time, and leaving the crowd with the concept of, “open your fucking mind.”

 

The concert was in fact a mind opener for me. Not to say I keep my mind closed, but I am always seeking experiences to make me further reflect on life, people, music, traveling, society, and within myself. I got enough people-watching out of my system for a bit. I enjoyed the performance of one of my favorite hip-hop groups. I actually survived the evening relatively unscathed. I only cried once! That’s pretty solid, all things considered. I kept to myself for the most part but did have lovely interactions with the people I did speak with. Overall this was a successful date with myself and I think I would go out with me again sometime soon.

 

See? I survived. I lived. I felt alive.

I Saw DMX Three Days Before He Went Back To Jail. I Swear It Wasn’t My Fault.

One of my favorite hobbies is going to concerts and music festivals. I was fortunate to be raised by parents with the same hobby and saw Journey, Steely Dan, and other awesome bands as a kid. They also recognized my early passion for artists like Britney Spears and 98 Degrees and took me to see them, as well. Bless their hearts. Hell, my family even ditched back to school night when I was a freshman and my brother was a junior to see The Who. Beyond enjoying concert going, my brother played drums all hours of the day and night while we were growing up. This gave me exposure to all different genres since he would listen to anything he could find with an intricate or unique drum beat. I also have an affinity for any music that will make me dance. This led to me being exposed to a lot of hip-hop and rap in my early teens, where I credit my deep love for that particular style. As I do with everything, I take this passion as far as I can. I chose to spend my money going to Bonnaroo over going to prom. I went to a music festival in Montreal before I went to college. At this stage in the game, I attempt to go to a concert around once a month or so. I chalk it up to self-care and sticking to my roots.

 

Back in December, I was searching “local” venues’ schedules as I usually do. For me, local means anywhere within a drivable distance or a train ride or two away, particularly Philadelphia and New York for bigger acts. I try to research upcoming shows every few weeks or so, just to make sure I don’t miss anyone good. In one of my routine searches, I stumbled upon FREAKIN’ DMX playing at the Theater of Living Arts in Philadelphia. I immediately thought of all my amazing and tolerant friends I could convince to accompany me to such a magical evening. If my true friends know me, they know that any time DMX comes on anywhere I have no choice but to dance and rap along. I am obligated to do so. I have no say in the matter. But I digress. While fantasizing about seeing him live, I remembered my best friend /slash/ former roommate, Matt, still needed a birthday present. What’s a better present to give than one you want for yourself AND get to enjoy together? None. He took me to see Tegan and Sara’s The Con X Tour for my birthday, so I thought it’d be an even trade-off. I immediately sent him an emergency text informing him of his gift and he was down. Fantastic. I frantically ordered the tickets and knew X was gon’ give it to us.

 

January 27th rolled around and I was ready to GO. Traveling to concerts in Philly always feels like a mini-adventure for me since it takes over an hour to get there from ~The Jersey Shore~ and somehow just ends up being an escapade because of the antics I get into. Luckily, Matt lives closer to Philly so it helped break up the trip a bit. I stopped to pet his roommate’s dog. Again, another thing in life I’m just obligated to do- pet all the animals I have access to. We switched drivers and headed into the city of brotherhood for some shopping, sushi burritos (which are AMAZING), and DMX-ing.

 

We got to the TLA around 8 pm, hoping the opening acts would have at least started. This was true, however we didn’t get the memo that this DJ, which Matt and I recall to be named Dirty South Joe was going to play for over two and a half hours! I’m not complaining yet. The DJ played a chill mix of current songs and old jams. It allowed time for Matt and I to dance around and be silly. It was a decent time killer and gave everyone plenty of time to drink and smoke copious amounts of whatever they wanted. For real, people were even smoking cigarettes inside. I’m sure it was due to the frigid temperatures, but still. Other people were fully capable of stepping outside. As suspected, this led to quite a handful of people having too much fun and being escorted out of the venue. I even pulled a Social Worker Assist and helped a security guard by talking to a kid who was too high to make sure he was okay. Turned out he didn’t eat enough, hit his pen too hard, and fainted in the crowd. I even had an extra drink than I had originally intended (bought for me, you know how it goes… guy ~accidentally spills his drink on me and friend takes it as an opportunity to buy me a drink sort of gig~ even though I was with my male friend).

 

Around 10:30-10:45 pm, the crowd began to verbally express frustration toward the length of time we had to wait for His Royal Highness by booing and shouting other obscenities. We then heard people mumbling, saying he canceled his show the previous night and didn’t announce it until midnight.  Since it was ~Matt’s birthday present~ I gave him the responsibility to decide what we were going to do. I will find any excuse to pawn decision-making onto someone else but this seemed valid to me. He suggested we wait it out a little longer, and thank goodness we did. The way the rest of the night unfolded was worth the over four-HOUR wait to see DMX for a multitude of reasons.

 

As I mentioned before, the longer they kept the crowd waiting, the more vocal about their frustrations they became. In hopes of easing the crowd, X sent out some artists to spit rhymes while we continued to wait for him. People were openly booing the supporting rappers seemingly nonstop their entire performances. Of course Matt and I were laughing at the social scene we were witnessing and basking in all the opportunities to people watch. There was a dude wearing a backwards tucker hat with the words Sick Day printed across trying very hard to hit on multiple girls. Sick Day actually climbed under a railing and stuck his head through to talk to a girl. If you’re reading this, Sick Day, thank you for the pure entertainment. Matt also photobombed pictures of girls posing hard to make me laugh. A girl sitting next to us was complaining on Instagram Live about the wait. You know, the usual drunk and annoyed concert crowd.

 

It was around midnight. Matt and I mutually confessed how hungry we were and debated what would possibly still be open by the time we get out. I checked in again to see if he wanted to keep waiting and he said he did. We ultimately remembered Wawa is always there, no matter the time, to save the night (morning, technically). This ended up being the moment the crowd was SO PATIENTLY waiting for. DMX finally emerged onto the stage. We were genuinely surprised to see DMX at his own show.

 

It was well worth the wait. I have to say he did put on an amazing show. He seemed to genuinely enjoy performing and knew exactly what he was doing. It appeared to be second nature for him. He exuded confidence while also remaining humble and appreciative of the fans. Matt and I started watching his performance from the balcony then ultimately made our way down to the crowd to bop around to One More Road To Cross. After performing his first few songs he began discussing how much he loves performing. He said, and I quote, “When I’m on stage in front of a room full of people that love me, it’s better than the best pussy I ever got in my fuckin’ life.” The crowd exploded with cheers. I was hysterically laughing, NOT because I didn’t appreciate the sentiment, but because HOLY CANNOLI DMX IS LOW KEY HILARIOUS! He then told us “we knew what time it was,” and proceeded to climb the speakers on stage right. Matt commented that he “hopped on like an old person,” which was a fair and funny observation. He is 47. After some brief crowd hyping, he jumped into Ruff Ryder’s Anthem, which made everyone go wild.

 

I admit I didn’t do my due diligence of documenting every song he played as I wasn’t intending on writing a review in the first place. I’ll blame it on the anticipation, extra drink, memory problems in general (a familial disease we call Can’t Remember Shit) and the need to jam out with my best friend for his birthday. I promise to improve on the memory-recall thing for next time. I do prominently remember him going into What These Bitches Want with lots of pent-up energy. He seemed to feel really passionate about these women mentioned in the song. It’s another one of those giggle songs for me. We were then blessed with Party Up (Up In Here), which is arguably one of his most recognizable songs. Even my mom knows the line, “Y’all gon’ make me lose my mind, up in here, up in here.” It is also the song I am particularly under obligation to rock out to, regardless of where I am or who’s watching. I have friends who first met me in such instances. The crowd mutually rocked out together and shouted the lyrics with the dawg himself. This trend continued with a follow-up of X Gon’ Give It To Ya, another classic to get down with.

 

I could tell the concert was coming to an end a little after one am.  He was starting to give some parting words and was transitioning to his last song.  He closed with Slippin’, which ended up being quite the predictor of what was to come for Earl Simmons in real life in the next few days and months to come.  The crowd was filled with lighters and cell phones beaming light at X whiles he performed one of his most personal songs.  He was continuously singing, “Yo, I’m slippin’, I’m fallin’,” throughout the closing of the show. Maybe it was a cry for help. Maybe it was an acceptance of his reality. I haven’t figured it out yet. The lights came on soon after and we made our way out.

 

Matt and I felt truly lucky to have seen him in all his glory. He put on a spectacular one hour and 15-minute performance despite the over four-hour hold up. We felt it was totally worth the time and hunger. I felt accomplished for providing an awesome birthday celebration. We quickly made our way to the nearest Wawa, much like most of the remaining concert goers, to prepare for our trek home. It was a successful evening on our side. While writing this article, I asked Matt for his most memorable moments from the evening since 1) he was sober, 2) it was ~his birthday present~ and 3) for added commentary. He mentioned the dude fainting and someone thinking Matt was proposing to me in the smoking section outside, which I had previously forgotten about. He bent down to tie his shoe as I was innocently standing next to him. A nearby woman shouted, “Oh my god, are you proposing to her?!” We cracked up. Of course someone would look at us and be like, “Yep! Marriage proposal in the smoking section!”

 

Three days later, I was doing my typical Instagram-Tumblr-Twitter surfing rotation and came across a tweet from @TheSource saying Rapper DMX Heads Back to Jail After Failing Drug Test. My first reaction went something like, “Duh. But damn. What?!” I forwarded the article to Matt, jokingly saying it was “all his fault.” Matt’s reply was, “He was sad that he had let me down.” All jokes aside, the article further explains X apparently went on tour without the consent of the judge and without his Mobile Drug Counselor, thus why he was ordered to take a drug test and presumably what led to his failure. The Source article cites Simmons’ one-year-old was hospitalized in mid January with a high fever, which led to his relapse.

 

DMX ended up back in jail because he tested positive for cocaine and oxycodone. His court date to determine his sentence for his 14 counts of tax evasion (totaling 1.7 million) was set for March, wherein Prosecutors were pushing for a five-year sentence even though X pled guilty. It appeared to be another example of throwing the book at a celebrity to deter others from making similar mistakes.

 

The conclusion of his last show was quite the foreshadow to how his sentencing went to determine the proper time DMX should serve for his crimes.  According to the New York Times article Judge Gives DMX a Year in Prison and a Chance to Be Heard, Musically, his defense team played a recording of Slippin’ for the judge to give full perspective of his rough life, from growing up in an abusive home and battling addiction. The song must have helped, considering his sentence was knocked down to one year instead of five. I can appreciate a judge who will listen to a defendant, victim, or anyone for that matter, and take the whole story into consideration when sentencing. Simmons acknowledged responsibility for his tax evasion but stated he wasn’t trying to be “like a criminal in a comic book.” There is quite the difference between violent and non-violent crimes. Not that X is a non-violent person, but all things considered I believe the shorter sentence to help him work on his substance use and financial issues is priority over more time and tax money.

 

Per usual, I never really know what I’m getting myself into when I take on these adventures. I always simply hope for a fun night with a good story. Because I come from a sociology and social work background, I am always looking at everything through that lens, even if its a concert.  I had no idea my best friend’s birthday celebration would turn into such an epic and historic night for us. I had no idea that the performer would be back in jail three days later.

 

See? It really wasn’t my fault!