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.