One may have heard of Flying Lotus for the first time without even realizing it while watching reruns of Futurama late at night on Adult Swim. “Zodiac Shit,” from his mysterious Cosmogramma in 2010, would go to often be played in between commercial breaks while Cartoon Network chimed in with playful banter and subtle one-liners. Or perhaps you heard of FlyLo when he exposed himself as the up and coming LA rapper Captain Murphy when he dropped an absolute experimental mixtape called Duality. Or maybe it was when you heard Mac Miller’s “S.D.S.” and you ran to Wikipedia to find out who made that juicy beat behind the raps.
Even if you’re still asleep, Tuesday should have woken everyone in its very path due to the most recent installment from Steven Ellison, You’re Dead! A man of mystery at his core, Flying Lotus gave way to promotion for his newest Warp album with the release of his collaboration with the one and only Kendrick Lamar, “Never Catch Me”-which apparently was written to and recorded all in one take due to Kendrick showing up “alone, ready to work”. Dive into the songs’ haste, as the piano keys and K-Dot’s overwhelming flow about death lead the parade. Dare I even mention the songs second part featuring the involvement of FlyLo homeboy Thundercat; his outrageous bass melting and harmonies have us reassured the album is still merely beginning. “Hold up, hold up, I bet you thinkin’ that we dead” cranks off the first line of next track “Dead Man’s Tetris” featuring Snoop Lion Dogg* and a tasty groove gliding along side.
But see past these huge features and one will find a truly cohesive and progressive project with enough moments in its eager 38 minutes to have its listener puzzled for weeks. The album obviously revolves around death fluently, but why the exclamation point with the title? Surely there wouldn’t be a joke title for such a formal album. As the music flutters by us, quick track after the next, we start to understand why. Although pertaining to being dead, we swallow the fact that is being conveyed in the album’s goofy overtones, that we aren’t really dead when we die- hence the joke in the title, You’re Dead! The formality of FlyLo’s presentation has us at our throats with focus, as the music builds and often suddenly collapses, only to be picked back up by the atmospheres that are on deck – this played out perfectly by “Turkey Dog Coma”.
You’re Dead! mostly contains tracks that are short, tightly sealed packages of pleasure- little pills that pack a powerful punch and launch their user on a journey of ups and downs. Life before death is supposed to be an adventure, same said for all 19 tracks on the album. Death has absolute relevance to Ellison’s life currently, but his musical influences seek light at the surface here also. Being a great nephew of the late saxophone legend John Coltrane himself, he knew all about free-base jazz from an early age. In the past, FlyLo has found a way to take his influences and output his own modern take on them. In this case, we have been handed a violently loose jazz album that seems to flow freely in any given direction upon first taste. But the brilliance with this fact comes into play when the album transitions from seemingly aleatoric to carefully laid-out sounds where we gain understanding upon revolutions, everything in its right place.
Figures and inspirations for the album “all about death” (which Pharrell was supposedly too ‘happy’ for) stretch from J-Dilla to the loss of his aunt Alice Coltrane. The albums closer “The Protest” wraps up FlyLo’s point with perfection – the reassurance and comfort that when we die, we don’t truly die. “We will live on forever, and ever” goes the chorus line, subtle hand claps and bass bends in the background, reminding us that life doesn’t have to be about death in the end, because no matter where we go next [irrelevant] we will still be alive there. The day You’re Dead! dropped, Ellison gave statements on every track, revealing that he had a dream where a deity took him to the clouds and showed him a world without darkness. Could you imagine? Perhaps we’ll find out when we’re dead [!]