It seems like everyone you know used the pandemic to change up something in their lives. Some baked sourdough, others changed careers. Erick the Architect released an EP, “Future Proof,” but he also picked up a hobby that had fallen to the wayside: drawing. Before moving to LA to be a full time musician and before he started Flatbush Zombies, Erick was studying drawing in school. “Music is the thing that most people know me for,” he said on a phone call, “I didn’t ever highlight my art or design. So I took the opportunity to collaborate, to combine that with singing, and that became something that I did almost every day because there was no outside.”
While “Future Proof” is a lot more introspective than much of his work with the Flatbush Zombies, he credits being a part of that group with helping find his own narrative. “I think it was an extension of something that comes out of working with two of my closest friends in the world,” he said. “You sacrifice an individual story to tell a universal one. I’ve always put out little pieces and bits of music that was my own narrative, but it got lost in the way of what I was doing for so long.”
The EP gets its name from a line in a song about how when the music you’re making comes from your soul, you’re “future proof.” But creatively, using the pieces of his life as raw material for the music presented a riddle: “Taking a concept that may have taken hours and hours or days or years, how can you put that in this two-and-a-half-minute song?” Evolving from primarily working with samples to writing original music on pianos and guitars has provided a set of tools to help with the process. It also speaks to his vision for the future: “I always saw myself as being multifaceted, and it wasn’t enough for me to just know and find dope samples. I wanted to be sample-able. I want people to listen to my stuff one day and send me an email, asking me to approve using a sample.”
He rattled off a partial list of artists he considers to be major influences (Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, and Miles Davis), and while none of them are closely associated with hip-hop, there is a common thread in that they all revolutionized their respective genres. “Sometimes music is not about how much you want it, it’s about making the right decisions and always doing what you want,” he said. “It’s your own individual understanding of what it means to be successful.”
When I asked him whether he feels pressured to lean into some of the common hip-hop tropes, like chasing women or bragging about luxury goods, he was quick to give me a firm no, before recounting sitting in on a writing camp with other big names in the genre. “There was so much of the same shit, how can my shit be good? How could you think mine is good when people like the same thing over and over again?” he asked. “It made me feel, for a split second, Like do I just… no. I’m not going to do that, dude. Because the albums that inspired me are eclectic as hell, man. That shit didn’t fit in. And we’re still here talking about them.”
There is an underlying faith in the way he stays true to himself. “I have instances and thoughts of giving up or changing, but you have to remind yourself that who you are is probably why you’re still kicking around,” he said. “Once you change that, you might eliminate yourself from the music industry.”
He reveres artists that have broken out of their initial genre. “There may just be a judgment that someone has on a whole entire genre, which is silly, but people do say I don’t like this kind of music. So once you take it out of the genre that it is and put it somewhere else, it gives that opportunity for somebody to give it a second chance,” he said. “That’s what I thrive off of.”
With that in mind, deliberate, nuanced shifts in composition came up a few times in our conversation. Erick loves to draw inspiration from movies, specifically how time can be distorted for effect. “In a slasher movie, they would just come up and hit you with a machete,” he said. But a director he admires, like Quentin Tarantino, would treat the scene differently. “He’d raise his hand up, before it comes down with the machete, they’d show shots of everyone’s face. That shot that would have taken two seconds is now strung out to three minutes.”
From there, you can draw a line from admiring subtleties in film directly to Erick talking about how he uses music theory while composing: “There is something special about dictating what genre a song is after the melody is established,” he explains. “Even if you don’t know music, when I play a certain chord, you know that this song is about happiness or triumph and this other song is about sadness. I think that the genre that a song lives in is determined by the drums. They actually make the song.”
Sifting through the details and figuring out how to take hold of them to build his own lane got Erick to where he is today. He knows who he is and remains true to himself. And that’s true of his pursuits outside of music too.
Before the end of our call, he mentions one other pandemic lockdown hobby that he picked up: scouring the internet to buy the things he missed out on when he was younger. “All the things that I wanted to have as a kid that I could never afford, whether it’s toys or video games, I tried to go back and tap into my imagination when I first started to fall in love with these things,” Erick says. Because sometimes following your own path means glancing back, and stopping to play for a bit before you move forward once again.