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Erick The Architect’s Debut Solo Album is a Cohesive Exhibition of his many Varied Stylistic and Epochal Soundscapes

Evan Dale // February 27, 2024

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Erick the Architect has been here for a while. As one-third of the boundary-breaking Flatbush Zombies, and one-of-too-many-to-count in supergroups like The Underachievers and Beast Coast, the Brooklyn-born emcee, producer, songwriter, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist is not new to many things involving music. It’s his foundations on which so much of the Flatbush Zombies lore has been built over the course of the last decade and more, producing the majority of their canon, while also weaving in his knack for necessarily off-kilter bars. And yet, since 2018, he has been building towards this moment, where something fresh and new – even for a multi-hyphenate artist having already achieved so much – is here.

I’ve Never Been Here Before is Erick the Architect’s debut album as a solo artist, and its remarkable stylistic breadth and oft-jarring changes of pace, make the nearly hour-long collection the kind of unique exhibition we’ve come to expect from an artist that has never stopped pushing the envelope. Expectations born from his prior collaborations, from the East Coast tradition, and from hip-hop at large fall away under the weight of the lofty experimental risks well taken and subsequently cosigned by the immensity of the featuring names the album boasts. Here, with I’ve Never Been Here Before, New York hip-hop – and what we can even define as hip-hop at large – feels freshly reborn for the first time in a while.

From its onset, Erick the Architect’s debut studio album, was always going to be different. Melty, floaty vocals, and muddled guitar strokes transform its intro, I Am Still, into the space for a listener to detach from the world around them, and immerse themselves in the unpredictable rollercoaster to follow, sometimes edging closer – albeit never quite as folksy and mellow – to its intro, while intermittently pendulum swinging in the opposite direction towards old-school reminiscent East Coast rap clinics like Ezekiel’s Wheel and soulfully indie compositions like Breaking Point.

Erick the Architect is using his debut album to cement his indefinability, and in a modern moment so steeped in an artist’s faculty to either display the rigidity of their defined sweet spot, or likewise maneuver effortlessly through every conceivable sound, his skillset seems sharpened to transcend across style and epoch, stopping along the way to prove just how adept he is at each and every one.

As a rapper, he’s as sharp as ever, and Shook Upfeaturing a head-to-head verse with fellow New York legend, Joey Bada$$, and produced and hooked by FARR, is a prime display of his lyrical prowess. Relentlessly delivering cascading bars that loosely tether into a story of romantic heartbreak and materialistic vanity, he’s able to deliver a verse simultaneously worth listening to intently, and subconsciously nodding one’s head to. And that alone, is a rare enough skill. But when not sharing the stage with his friends, he has no problem delivering in full an even more well entrenched bout of poeticism. Take 2-3 Zone, where he first introduces his signature flow on the project, crafting an addicting chorus to amalgam as an upbeat, high-energy East Coast anthem. Take Neue Muse, where again orbiting romantic thematics, his signature stop-and-go cadence delves a listener into the story he weaves, and the one-of-a-kind flow with which he delivers it.

As a vocalist and instrumentalist, he pushes his sound into the newest, most daring, and ultimately most successful sonic spaces. Whether dotting his production with guitar riffs, keys, and analogue drums, or transcending his raps into more elongated, melodic moments (take his opening verse on Instinctsfeaturing WESTSIDE BOOGIE), I’ve Never Been Here Before thrives on its ability to defy what we as listeners expect not only from hip-hop artists at large, but from track-to-track across the album.

And so, as a producer, he is at his best. The ability to tie everything together in a way that makes I’ve Never Been Here Before already one of the most unique and fresh projects of the year, is the greatest testament to Erick the Architect’s craft. Transcending the soulful and folksy with Brekaing Point and I Am Still to a Channel Tres house beat on Ambrosia is no small act of cohesive creativity. To stretch one’s sound from the hard-edged, 90’s-reminsicent flow on Mandevillain to the more experimentally modern, vocally infused, Flatbush Zombies imbibed delivery on Too Much Talkin is no happy accident of rapped range.

As a soloist, Erick the Architect is everything we could have expected from a rapper, producer, vocalist, and instrumentalist with the collaborative catalogue he’s already amassed. But as a debut album, I’ve Never Been Here Before is an unexpected, unpredictable whirlwind of stylistic changes of pace, and artistic risks taken, somehow tied together in confluence from beginning to end. It’s a rebirth for hip-hop experimentation, and one that feels fresh and new for the scene at large.

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