Erick the Architect has moved 2,790 miles from New York City and landed in Los Angeles. As one third of legendary hip hop group Flatbush Zombies, Erick changed the soundscape of the genre as the trio’s rapper-producer — pushing the Zombies into bold new sounds and narratives that both confounded and inspired fans and cementing themselves as one of the most respected crews in hip hop.
While the tight-knit act has often been labeled as “psychedelic hip hop,” their music went beyond that narrative, and at times, explored the darkness of death and depression. Now, after four years away from the birthplace of the Flatbush Zombies, Erick is ready to forge his own story. His debut solo album, I’ve Never Been Here Before, releases Feb. 23 — Rolling Stone can exclusively reveal.
The record is a winding, perilous, and deeply personal body of work that celebrates his mastery as both a storyteller and conductor of his own authentic sound. Throughout 16 tracks, Erick finds himself chronicling the vast emotions and memories of heartbreak, Black resilience, family, spirituality, and his reawakening as the “Mandevillain.”
With production by James Blake, Linden Jay, and T Minus, the double album also features Joey Bada$$, Westside Boogie, George Clinton, Channel Tres, Kimbra, Lalah Hathaway, RÜDE CÅT, Boy Boy, Pale Jay, and FARR.
During a conversation in his home studio perched on a small hill in L.A, Erick recalls the path that led him to this moment.
What led to your move from New York to California four years ago?
My mom had passed the end of 2018 on Christmas. So, that alone was an unsettling feeling. And I feel like New York City reminded me of pretty much the course of my life as an adult that was like, ‘Alright, I can stay here and have amnesty to my neighborhood. But I don’t also feel like if she were alive, she’d want me to stay here for that reason. She probably wanted me to yearn for more.’ … I came here with a different perspective.
How has coming to Los Angeles impacted your writing now, specifically on your new album?
I think me dreaming — and the sense of yearning, wandering, the desire to change — it was compounded, because I was so far away from what I know. It made me reminisce even more because I’m further away. I think sometimes that, for me anyway, when [you’re] so close you maybe take it for granted. Any person or any situation or where you are. And the further I got it was more like, damn, I do miss my parents, or I do miss eating beef patties every day, or just having that person next door. You know, it made me think about growing up a lot, and how different I am now than I was when I first started music in New York.
Is that why there is a narrative pattern throughout the album?
I say so… I think that even though I’ve made hundreds of songs, I think that the ones that I picked were braided into a narrative… I was always looking for that throughline, that braided, one my interest in making music, but also where it came from and also to purge on the things that make me feel vulnerable.
You know, I think that in the scope of music and life, we need people, we need heroes. And as much as I don’t want to assume responsibility of being somebody’s favorite, there’s so much encapsulated into that — every dose of that builds your ego up as another kid that’s like, ‘I want to be just like you’ and you become their role model. And for me, this album was really owning that. I can’t run from the thing that I am, whether it’s something that we’re sharing together as insecurity or just being like, ‘Yo, fuck that I should be winning right now.’ … What really makes your eyes wide or what inspires you the most. So, all the songs are kind of little bits of me owning that. Yes, I’m vulnerable. Yes, I’m different. But that’s okay.
You’ve said in the past that you were humble but that it kept you from being respected. What did you mean by that?
When I said that, I just mean sometimes people forget that when you don’t remind them. And I think that it’s easy to gloss and look past someone who’s always smiling and always saying everything is okay. But sometimes you need to put the sword in the rock. I’ve been doing music since I was 15 years old, you know?… Sometimes when you don’t remind people, it’s easy for them to give that spot to another person who’s really loud in the room.
So this new album is your sword in the stone?
I say so.
You look up to people who aren’t the most liked but aren’t exactly villains and are more complicated. Why do you feel like you gravitate towards them?
It’s so hard to be that person every day…. [Miles Davis] would play his back to the crowd and shit… I wouldn’t say you need to do that to be revered and respected, but I do think that when you do that it’s not something you’re consciously doing. You care about your craft so much that I think everything else falls second, which is like being personable and being nice and shit like that. I’m such a nice guy that people will forget how dope I am… My mother raised me to be like, ‘No one is better than any person.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s true, but we talking about hip hop here.’ We talking about the nature of being creative. To me, what are we really doing, if we’re not doing anything to be remembered?
With Flatbush Zombies, you were mainly seen as a producer, and now, you’re front and center of your own story. How does that feel?
Feels fucking great. Because I’ve been waiting to say a lot. Just in my opinions. Not that I didn’t have confidence in the music that I made. You know, I’ve had two Billboard albums with Flatbush Zombies, so those felt great. Having a gold record is great. But I still believe that the respect that I desired is individual. And why I say that is because I have a different story.
How do you make sure your music continues to take risks, particularly in this album?
I purposely was trying to show people that music should be an indication of all expressions and feelings. If it goes to the genre, go there. Don’t feel that you have to have allegiance or some type of alienation to one type of sound, which to me is what albums should sound like nowadays… I love this project. You know, it is easily the most I’ve ever worked on a singular thing in my life… I’m waiting for the cry. I didn’t cry yet, but I’m going to. I’ve been building it up. It’s been so much. So much that I’ve sacrificed, the title being I’ve Never Been Here Before.
You know, some people may look on the surface level and say,’ Oh, this is the guy from the Flatbush Zombies. It’s the first time dropping an album, I’ve Never Been Here Before.’ And like you can take that for that. I guess that’s the definition on the surface level. But what it really means to me is that I’m okay with the things that I’ve lost, because I’ve gained more than what I lost. So it’s okay, and that’s a weird feeling. But I’ve also never been here before. So it’s a weird thing to accept that life has changed for you. It’s a weird thing to feel like it’s an unfamiliar space.
For the first time in your life, you say that you have gotten to the point where you don’t care about certain things. So, what would you say you care about now?
I care about my family. Think your actual family, the one that you bleed with, but I also include that to your close friends… Your friends, you choose those people. So, it’s actually harder to maintain those relationships because you chose to have this person in your life… The people that I chose to keep around me have really helped me build my self esteem… There’s a handful of them that when I was going through what I was going through with my ex and the moving to LA, all the woes and plights of that experience. Without them I probably would have given up to be honest. When I say given up I mean, like been docile, been depressed, been complacent. I don’t think I’d be somebody’s favorite.
And I think I care about making art that distinguishes me from other people. And I’m ready for some competition. Kind of what we talked about the humbleness. I care about friendly competition. I care about raising the bar of what I think is acceptable in music and I want to herald hip hop to be something that is revered as a genre of music that can still push norms.
I’ve Never Been Here Before Track List
1. I Am Still
2. 2-3 Zone (prod. James Blake)
3. Parkour (prod. James Blake)
4. Breaking Point ft. Baby Rose, RÜDE CÅT & Pale Jay
6. Ezekiel’s Wheel ft. George Clinton
7. Jammy Jam
8. Ambrosia ft. Channel Tres
9. Shook Up ft. Joey Bada$$ & FARR
10. Beef Patty ft. Boy Boy (prod. James Blake)
12. Instincts ft. Westside Boogie
13. Neue Muse
14. Leukemia / AM ft. Kimbra
15. Too Much Talkin (prod. James Blake)
16. Liberate ft. Lalah Hathaway