Erick 'The Architect' Elliott Proves His Musical Blueprint Is 'Future Proof'
Erick Elliott (AKA Erick the Architect) is a multifaceted person. He certainly earns his title as an architect, an architect of many things. In his solo work, Erick is someone who can never be boxed into just one category. Whether it’s being a graphic designer, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, or coder, Erick is always prepared to add to his repertoire of skills.
In some senses, Erick is like the Stanley Kubrick of producers. But without the same level of public recognition, yet just as meticulous in his craft. And instead of adapting and unearthing novels, it is with samples. He has an ineffable ability to take an old record and flip it into something entirely contemporary. The very same records were the sounds that radiated through his childhood home, records from the 60s and 70s Motown and soul era. From having two older brothers Erick grew to love music which was before his time.
As a rapper, Erick’s verses unpack like a set of mini-anthologies, amplified by a substructure of grounded thought and contemplations. “Within the last year, I feel I've grown exponentially. I've understood what it took and what it's going to take for me to reach the next point in my career” says Erick speaking from his home studio in LA. The FUTURE PROOF EP is his first solo album since his project Almost Remembered in 2011. Previously, Erick has released two instrumental albums: Arcstrumentals, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.
Words by Sophia Hill
Creative Direction: Ray Napoles
Photography Ray Napoles
Stylist Yousef El Mustapha
Special Thanks to Lucid Online
Erick is also one-third of Flatbush Zombies, which formed in 2010 and became one of NYC’s most revered hip hop groups. Alongside his counterparts, Meechy and Juice, the trio’s legacy is an ode to the heritage of hip hop and the sounds of Brooklyn. They are also members of the hip hop supergroup Beast Coast, accompanied by fellow Brooklynites, The Underachievers and Pro Era. Each member brings in their own element in such a way that makes them one of the most talented crews out there, and that’s without ever signing to a label. From creating Better Off Dead and 3001: A Laced Odyssey in Erick and Meech’s first-floor apartment (with Juice crashing on the floor) the group worked tirelessly to get to where they are now.
It all started in Flatbush, where the three first banded together. As kids, they would be found hanging out in comic book stores and navigating the trials and tribulations of NY. Erick now lives in LA - and although he will never forget where he came from – he enjoys the slower pace of life and endless views; “The biggest difference for me is that I’m able to build my studio in my house and also go just 10-minutes and see the mountains.” says the 32-year-old.
When making music Erick ensures to remember times when he had nothing – “I'm never gonna lose my fans, I'm never gonna let them feel like I don't want to be their friend or I don't have their back because I know what it's like to have nothing” he adds, “I can't let my ego or my success change me because of where I’m at in my life”.
I caught up with Erick about his journey to creating his FUTURE PROOF EP, moving past self-doubt, staying true to oneself, moving to LA, and making irreplaceable friendships along the way.
First off, Erick Arc Elliot, producer, rapper, singer, songwriter, artist, and multi-instrumentalist, I hope you’re well!
Erick: I’m doing good, thank you, same to you! And wow, what an introduction.
Congrats on your new EP FUTURE PROOF, you’ve said that it’s a culmination of your work going back to 2010. I could imagine it leads to quite a bit of reflection on how you’ve grown as a person and the paths you’ve taken.
The order of the titles seem to indicate someone going through the motions, ‘I Can’t Lose’ being determination, ‘WTF’ anger, ‘Let It Go’ release, ‘Die4U’ honesty with yourself, and ‘Selfish’ reflection... Was this intentional?
Absolutely. For example, ‘Let it go’ is an affirmation, a lot of people can hold onto things, focusing on something that’s in the past. I know the song is about loss of family at its core, but it's interesting how it applies to many different situations. A lot of things can occupy our brain space, things that we don't need to think about but still obsess over. ‘Die4U’ was more of a reflection on past relationships that I had to go back to. I’m in a very happy relationship now, but this was about the past. Especially with the video, I wanted to capture that self-doubt that is inflicted by someone you're in a relationship with. When you’re with someone you care about. At times you can believe everything they say. But the reality is sometimes it’s like ‘wrong buddy’, sometimes it's going to be bad advice. You've gotta look within and find the answer. And ‘Selfish’ is special, I love that song. I put it last because I felt like it encapsulated the whole project. When I wrote that I thought of the name of the project, mainly because I was raised on music from the 60s and 70s that my parents listened to and that was how I was introduced to music. It wasn't even hip-hop that I fell in love with initially. I fell in love with the older forms of music – blues, jazz, Motown. I wanted to combine that with some of the issues that have been bothering me as of late with people protecting their energy, to reaffirm that you come first in your life and despite all of the things that are here to hurt you, sometimes being selfish is ok.
You’ve mentioned James Brown, Etta James, Issac Hayes as the music you heard in your childhood, In fact, a lot of the samples throughout your career seem to come from the 60s and 70s soul era, like Dexter Wensel in Laced Odyssey. Do you often return to these records for inspiration? What is it about them?
Definitely. Black Moses, The Barry White Orchestra, Herbie Hancock, Watermelon Man, Isaac Hayes, Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins, there's so much music from that era. Often I feel like I'm a lot older than I am because I was never really a kid in a sense, I never really watched Barney and stuff like that, of course, I watched children's shows, but my brothers were much older than me and I wanted to listen to what they were listening to and I wanted to grow up faster. My Brothers are 10 and 30 years older than me, we didn't play with toys and stuff together, I was sort of alone in that sense, they were beyond that.
What would you say are your top sample flips of all time?
Oooh, that’s hard... I’d say one of them that comes to mind is Mobb Deep ‘You Are My Starship’ which they flipped on the Infamous. Man... J Dilla and Erykah Badu on ‘Didn't Cha Know’ that's a crazy, crazy one. I love them both so much, they’re incredible.
Often I feel like I'm a lot older than I am because I was never really a kid in a sense, I never really watched Barney and stuff like that
There’s also three UK/US crossovers with Loyle Carner, Col3trane, and Pip Millett – is that something you’ve been looking to do for some time now?
I've always been a fan of UK artists. Actually, I was talking to a friend of mine and we were reminiscing about our childhood and how we ingested music. It's actually when I went to school as a kid, a lot of kids took the train or the bus depending on how far the school was. I was supposed to go to a smarter school so it was further away from my house. My mum didn’t want me to take the train or bus so she paid for this van service which would collect the kids from around the neighbourhood. The lady, whose name was Miss Jean, would pick me up at 6 AM because she lived on the same block as me – I was the first pickup. So I would have two hours in the morning where I would be listening to whatever she would listen to. In hindsight, a lot of it was the pop charts – a lot of Bill Collins, Elton John – I didn't even know these guys were British I just thought it was cool! Even before I went to Britain I was very much into Dizzee Rascal, Roots Manuva, and the Gorillaz. I had never even been to the UK before but I felt like I just naturally liked those artists as a kid. Once I saw the culture, the people, experienced the [Notting Hill] carnival, and started to meet producers and artists in the UK it made it a lot easier for me to reach out… I didn't feel like I was trying to hop on a wave or something like that. Working with Skepta years ago was a big deal for me. I was very aware of his music, like old old Skepta, like Blacklisted; and meeting him was quite surreal. That was kind of the beginning of my seeing this crossover potential.
The design on the album is by Jean Julien - he’s awesome! In your earlier days, you were very much into photography and graphic arts, are these things still part of you?
Yes! Totally. The merch that I just released with my project – I did all of the designs, all of the mocks. I like to work directly with the designer, hand in hand. I was not only designing, I was coding as well, So I understood that you could not only create a cool thing on the outside, and with the music, but also in the guts. In between, you try and get it to sound good and look good so the design is important. Meeting Jean Julien, he’s like a normal guy to me. I knew his work was awesome, but I didn't know that we would be friends for five-plus years and then in the pandemic, we would finally do something together. I might have been supporting his work from way back and had been seeing his art from long ago, but with him, you get this mutual sense of hunger for the art. It didn't matter that he was relied on for the design, or that I was in music. I think that commonality of friendship and people was really what brought us together. And the fact that we both kind of understood the two worlds made it really easy to work with him.
You’ve mentioned coding... That's something that not many rappers or artists can do?
[Laughs] Yeah, it’s like I'm at a point in my career where I can hire someone to help me do something but I feel like I always want to learn more so I can make sure I’m able to direct and guide someone to get them to do a specific thing that I might need doing. That way it’s not like I'm teaching them about something I don't know how to talk about. It's about spending that time on something. Especially in school and college, learning about those things helped me to be able to instruct someone else, someone who's better equipped for it, that's their day job, someone who's not a musician too. It’s easy to tell someone I need CSM, but it’s also ‘what programme are we coding in? What's the turnover time on this? Do you need me to jump in as well?’.
I think for me, experiencing self-doubt at some point in my life helped me become strong because I understood that it was only happening when I was allowing it to affect me.
Flatbush Zombies put out Now More Than Ever EP earlier in 2020, which seems to be a gift to fans as an escape from the challenges of this last year. And although it has been difficult for everyone in some way, some people have been able to take that challenge and see it as a way to broaden their horizons, how has the last year impacted your career and thinking?
I think before I moved to LA I already told myself that I wasn't going to waste time with medial things that were worth my time. When you're in your 20s, you’re kind of figuring out what's going on and then by the time you're 30 your mindset can change. Here’s the thing, there's no real format or anything... I don't think because you are at whatever age that you have to have certain accolades or accomplishments. I do think that unfortunately because of the circumstances that happened with covid lockdown and these racial wars, you have to slow down. You have to look at what you've accomplished and merit yourself for even trying because a lot of people have given up. I think for me, experiencing self-doubt at some point in my life helped me become strong because I understood that it was only happening when I was allowing it to affect me. Whether it's directed towards me or not. Whether it’s just my people, our people, or society, it's something that will be ever-changing as long as people give a shit about it. You gotta man up, be tough and vigilant because a lot of things will shake you. Within the last year, I feel I've grown exponentially.
I've fully understood what it took and what it's going to take for me to reach the next point in my career. Also as a human being, it’s about my well-being, music is awesome but how great is my music if my mental is not together. How well is my music gonna permeate to the next person or influence a legion of people if they're looking at me and I'm not a reflection of what I'm talking about? I think that as you get older you start to look at things differently. And with my family and friends as well. I don't want my family, my close friends and their children to look at me and think that I'm the most prototypical artist because I'm not me. I’m called the architect because I'm not just a rapper. You started this conversation by mentioning all of that stuff which is awesome because a lot of the time people just say ‘what is it like making beats for your friends’ and I just think that's so limiting, it just is what it is.
It’s a shame because that can narrow down the conversation you have with someone.
Having covered the positives of this year (or negatives – depending on how you look at it), one thing which is a shame is the live performances. FBZ has an energy in shows which is just crazy. What was the journey like going from performing for a room full of people at the beginning of your career to where you’re at now performing for thousands on stage?
That's interesting because as a group we never really experienced a bad show in the sense that nobody showed up. I performed for years before Flatbush Zombies came together. Those are the ones that I remember very well, I would perform and people would be drinking and they wouldn’t engage, they would have their backs facing me. And at the time I was rapping about some real shit, like when we talked about taking that journey 10 years ago, it's similar to the music that I'm releasing now, where it’s a reflection about my life. So it could hurt me for people to not really give a shit about that. But I didn't give up. And once that turned into performing at Coachella, Lollapalooza, Applesap and Wireless Festival it was just so surreal to me, and still is. Not many artists get that opportunity to be on stage, and with their own production too. All of this music you're listening to by us, hours of music, it's produced by me and I was on stage too. It was a very therapeutic feeling when I realised how could I fail when I've achieved these accomplishments? Just being able to perform for that many people at once.
You’ve been labelled here and there as the ‘political’ or ‘conscious one’ in the group, do you feel a pressure to apply that to the work you produce? Was the household you grew up in quite political?
Great question. I think I'm on the side of empathy more than politics mainly because my mum was blind and I feel like that had a huge effect on the perspective of what I thought was important. To this day I feel a lot of empathy for the deaf and blind community because I just know what they're going through and I was affected by the affliction – and I was definitely affected by it because it's the person that gave me life, it’s a different connection there. So I think that is what made me say “this is actually bullshit to me” or “this shit is stupid to me”. I don't want to promote misogyny and I don't want to be responsible if I have any type of influence on people; what I want them to be able to take away from me is that I actually live through reality and not fantasy. The unfortunate thing with most hip hop lifestyle is that it’s not really real; at least the stuff that gets played or promoted. A lot of it is escapism, and of course, we need that too but I never really felt like I fit all the way in that box. If you've listened to Flatbush Zombies you know I'm able to do a range of styles in production and rapping but I don't feel like it's naturally in me to just be reckless, and sometimes it’s just the kind of shit that people want to hear – people losing their mind on drugs and make music that people can dance to. I feel like I want to be able to do that music but with a different message and a different feel. So I'm fortunate that I'm able to produce records too because sometimes I don't have to say anything and I can give you that same feeling just with my beats and not necessarily promote a message that I don't fully agree with. I think that has a lot to do with how I was raised, and I do enjoy that perception where you're like “hey you know what I'm not really in control of what people think of me I only take control of myself”. Working with James Blake and Mount Kimbie changed everything. I was producing dance records prior to working with James but the opportunity came along and he really pushed me to explore it. I feel like those kinds of records are an accomplishment, I think it shows people that I can’t be boxed in.
I suppose it can be a natural human instinct to try and contain or box things up, I think that’s why the universe or God is so hard to understand sometimes...
Yo, that’s some real shit.
What was it like working with James Blake? What was it that had such an impact on you?
I think working with him is the most joy that I've gotten from working with someone that I've long-admired musically. And sure, they say ‘you shouldn’t meet your heroes’, that they won’t actually live up to your perception because it might change your opinion of the art; but with James, he's the sweetest person I've ever met. He's so genuine and real, and so talented to boot. He made me try different things that I never thought I was really capable of doing. He pushed me to sing and to produce other types of music. He’s a fan of FBZ, but on a deep level – because of his understanding of the music he knew I was capable of a lot more. I'm grateful for our friendship and also what he's brought out in what I'm capable of doing as an artist. He would just say “Yo don't worry about the beats, I got you” and you’re like “what?!”. I made my whole career making beats, so to hear somebody of that calibre say something like that, I felt like he was the fourth member [of FBZ] for a little while – because of how in touch he was with the music, he just fit perfectly.
What do you think the importance is of staying away from major labels? Do you feel you have more confidence as an artist, promoting your own work, creating capital for yourself, and focusing on the importance of ownership?
I used to work in the music industry when I was in college, so it's funny, I have a really interesting take on what I think is necessary. I would always implore a new artist to not do that, but it's really hard to just say that because I never signed to a company or anything so I was fortunate for sure. I think it can be harder because you're your own boss and entrepreneurship is not just selling shit on Amazon or something. Entrepreneurship is waking up everyday and creating your own schedule – If you want to be lazy or you don't want to do something today then your business is going to suck. Or your fans are gonna hate you. What these big companies offer you is a promise. And neither a big company nor small one can tell how people are going to feel about your music. Which is why I’d rather bet on myself, why would I sign to a company that is always gonna put these objectives on you? Just bet on yourself and try it out. Maybe you get to a certain point where you can’t do it alone anymore and you're signed to a company that helps you facilitate and fill voids that you need. I'm at a current point in my life where I do need help, but having done it on my own I know how to directly pull from what I actually need. I don't need the whole systematic structure of a label but I might need this or that from them and I think there's maybe a way to barter working independently and still having major label ties. But I don't tell any artist to just go chase a dream of being on a major label who, if you're like me, never touched a major label.
I don’t even know how many followers I have because that's just a number, what does that really mean?
It’s about the long-term thinking…
A lot of people wanna turn their phone on and see if they've got millions of followers too, but it just doesn't work like that. I also might add that kind of success is weird, why do you need a million followers? Because you know it exists. But there's somebody that thinks it's cool to have a million followers but what if you have 900,000, or have four followers? I don’t even
know how many followers I have because that's just a number, what does that really mean? That's just how many people click that button, it doesn't mean how many people are influenced by me so why would you look at that number and let it fuck with you. It's not real, it's real as far as who did something or about how many people it really means something to. There's no love button.
I’ve been listening to FBZ for a long time and what shines through is your focus on growth and self-belief and how you stay authentic to the sounds of Brooklyn, that’s greatly underappreciated when it comes to the fact that you’ve never really sold out which you deserve props for - it’s a hard thing to do. Is that important to you?
To me selling out is doing something that is not of your character. I would never do something that is not of my character like my two bros in my group dyed their hair, I just don't do that kind of stuff, I'm not going to do that just because they did it. I'm not going to get tattoos because they have tattoos; that's not who I am. I think selling out goes beyond just doing a ‘bullshit song’, it's about when your ethics and values change because you want to be successful; that's corny as fuck to me. Making a song with somebody that is cheesy or whatever makes you less of a sell out than to change who you are as a person. You know, or changing who you are as a producer... I can produce for any person. I don't think that's selling out, but if I just start doing things as a producer that doesn't fall in line with who I am. That is selling out to me, and that's worse. It's like ‘what happened to this guy?’.
You're known to be a little less experimental than your group mates when it comes to recreational drugs, what would you say to those that feel the need to do exactly the same things as their friends?
Everybody has their journey and I would never promote anybody to play around with drugs. I think that mind-altering drugs or ones that expand your mind is not the worst thing if you do it responsibly. But I think that there are certain drugs that you should never do. I do know that some of my idols have experimented with a lot of different things; I love Jimi Hendrix, Jimi Hendrix is a trippy guy, but I don't think the drugs made him trippy; it just suited who he was. And that helped me to understand why people get into that stuff. It's the addiction that becomes a problem. Like smoking weed – you could say it's a less addictive drug than other drugs but even that in excess is bad for you too. Just like everything else. You need to be in control, it’s not just with hard drugs, it’s everything. Too much water is bad, if you were to water your plants too much you will kill it.
It rolls off the tongue so nicely.
Yeah! It sounds so good, that's just Japanese.
There's something that's quite melodic in some languages like that because of the complexities and intonations in the language you can be so creative with it as well.
Like with Jamaican too. Jamaican Patois is real tonal. It may be the same word or phrasing that can mean completely different things depending on how you say it or how you stress the word. It can change the dynamic of what is being said or how the person is going to react to that. Whereas with English, you can talk to someone and they might not fully understand. Popcorn chicken, for example, it’s a style of chicken, but to everyone else that doesn't speak English as a first language they’re thinking ‘you want popcorn and chicken?’, we create nuances of words that don't go together. Popcorn chicken is delicious but what does that mean? they're completely two different things.
English definitely stands on its own, it’s about the play on words rather than the intonation, you can’t so easily read someone’s voice… If there was one language you could make music in, what would that be?
Spanish. My girl speaks Spanish, she’s Dominican. I took Spanish at school, which was the only formal language that was taught to me at school. I can write Spanish well like if I had to write it I could write it and figure it out. Maybe put it into a song, but speaking it is difficult. It's also a global music, like the biggest music genre in the world. It's great and I would love to get into that world someday. I think I could produce that music too, it's not like it's a new thing, but the Spanish trap stuff is pretty new and I like what those guys have done too.
You’ve mentioned you were going to be working with Joey on his next project, executive producing the album... So how's that been working with him? You guys have a long history, are there any new things that you have found out about each other during the process?
I think for him it's been a minute since he put out anything as a full album and for Joey, he's been relevant since he was 16, so when he asked me to help him I just wanted to give him something that he's really done for the industry. And I know that's probably really hard to do for someone as talented as him, but I also think that just like I said about James, it’s pushing Joey to embark on a different part of his life. He's the last guy that needs to prove that he can rap, everybody knows Joey Badass can rap anyone who knows Joey Badass as a rapper isn't going to say ‘yo he sucks, he can’t rap’ no one can say that. He's been making music as a child that's better than what most grown men can do. He has classics, he has so many hits. So for me, I just think that he is definitely above his age as far as the things that he talks about and the stuff that he presents. Sometimes I actually forget how much younger he is than me. I'm really proud of him, his coming project is going to be the best thing that he's done so far. A lot of people will remember it for what it is, and that's even before I came into the picture and worked with him directly. I just think that it's a family thing. And now he feels like he has a real community around his project that's going to bring some new angles to his stuff. Bringing something new out of him, getting him to sing a little bit more... and I think the concept of these songs is just crazy. It's the most conceptual shit that I've heard from him.
During 3001, one of the craziest things that I can remember was listening to like 3 hours of voicemails because I had opened up a phone line number for kids to call me and just talk about how much they love Flatbush Zombies.
Speaking of Classics just one more thing. Better Off Dead is definitely a classic, also Odyssey and Vacation In Hell are great too, so what are some of the most memorable or nostalgic moments recording those albums and projects?
I recorded each one at a dramatically different time. When we did Better Off Dead we and Meech lived together and Juice lived on the first floor so we worked on that shit all the time and then when we did 3001 it was the same situation. Now that we had expectations because we already put out that project, and the people that didn't hear our debut album, meant there was a lot of pressure to impress people with this album. And for me to do it all alone was a lot. So one of the things I actually remember is during 3001, one of the craziest things that I can remember was listening to like 3 hours of voicemails because I had opened up a phone line number for kids to call me and just talk about how much they love Flatbush Zombies. And I had to listen to all of these messages, I'm telling you I had like the mouse in my hand and my fucking eyes were just watering! that was so.. man, I don’t even know why I did that to myself. I wanted to do it for the fans and I know they really appreciated it.
That was iconic!
I met some of those people after and they were like ‘Yo that’s me! That’s me man! That’s me that said this on the album, that’s so dope, you used my shit!’
I’ve found you can always have a pretty down-to-earth conversation with FBZ fans
On my twitch show, I stream three times a week and I call them my cousins. My fans mean a lot to me, it’s more than just ticket sales or selling merch. They go through some shit sometimes and I actually take it on in my soul. It goes for Meech and Juice too, but when we became Flatbush Zombies they had fans. I had no fans. I sort of came from the beginning stages of a career. So for me I'm never gonna lose my fans, I'm never gonna let them feel like I don't want to be their friend or I don't have their back because I know what it's like to have nothing and I still think about that when I'm writing and making you music. I still think about all the times when I didn't have shit because I was the kid that was paying $50 to see this person on stage. And I'm still that guy so knowing that, I can't let my ego or my success change me because of where I’m at in my life. I want to go to your show and lose my mind, like when I saw Prince in Madison Square Gardens I lost my mind, I lost my shit. Whether you're an artist or not I don't think there's any amount of ego that could allow me to not lose my shit when I go to see Kamasi Washington or Flying Lotus, it's a whole ego thing, and I'm a rapper too.