By JOHN WYATT – NEWS SECTION EDITOR
Since music began, death is a theme with which every genre attempts to explore in order to gain a deeper understanding of its mysteries.
Death is one of the issues every human being must grapple with at some point in their life. It transcends cultures, races, languages, sexual preferences, religions, and genders.
Hip-hop beat maestro, electronic pioneer, and all-around musical genius Flying Lotus (FlyLo for short) enters into this discussion on the End with his LP You’re Dead released on Oct. 6, 2014.
Despite universal praise among critics, FlyLo is not exactly a household name. The L.A. based producer, nephew of famed jazz saxophone legend John Coltrane and wife/pianist Alice Coltrane, began to make waves in the SoCal music scene as a beat-maker, submitting several songs to Cartoon Network’s late-night segment [adult swim]—several of which have been used.
Tune into [adult swim] on any given night and you may very well hear a beat produced by FlyLo in between Family Guy and an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force (which now sports a new theme song produced by the man himself).
His sound expanded quickly though, as he begun incorporating more elements of soul and electronic music into is repertoire. Several critics cited him as bringing the pure elements of soul music and hip-hop into the digital twenty-first century.
As his beats grew more experimental and his sound broadened, FlyLo’s fan base also grew. Now, the producer is one of the most respected figures in music among fans, critics, and fellow musicians/artists alike.
You’re Dead is arguably the most focused album in FlyLo’s body of work. Before he released the album, the artist told people that he set out to make a jazz album in an effort to reclaim the genre.
Tired of hearing “elevator s—” as he called it in one interview, FlyLo wanted to take jazz back to the days of pioneers such as Herbie Hancock (who makes an appearance on the album) and Miles Davis.
This is incredibly apparent right out of the gate on You’re Dead. The first track hits hard with a wall of different sounds. It’s hectic and chaotic, as sounds bounce back and forth between heavy-hitting acoustic jazz drumming and more digitalized drum hits, with guitars and bass joining in on the musical conversation throughout.
FlyLo brought in several studio musicians to work on the album and the various forays into jazz fusion create brief, yet bold and intense, moments throughout the album.
After a few minutes of very jazz-dense tracks comes the song, “Never Catch Me.” In one of the few tracks that could theoretically stand as a single, FlyLo brings hip-hop force and fellow West-Coast child Kendrick Lamar to ride shotgun on one of my favorite beats to come from the producer.
The gospel-like piano melody that comes in over the fading jazz tracks that emerges before it create a sense of fog being cleared, creating a space for Kendrick and the beat to come crashing in.
Kendrick’s verse is one of the most poetic I’ve heard from him, as the young mc philosophizes on his own mortality and his acceptance of whatever comes next (“Analyze my demise, I say I’m super anxious/Recognize I deprive this fear and then embrace it”).
Kendrick shows why he is one of the most adaptive, versatile, and insightful rappers in the industry today.
Right after this track is one of the more troublesome spots for me. “Dead Man’s Tetris” is one of the other rap-focused tracks on FlyLo’s album, but the heavily modulated/synth beat sticks out a little too much against the other tracks for me.
Also, Snoop Dogg makes an appearance on this track, which I find an odd choice. While he has jumped on any and every track across nearly every genre lately, this beat doesn’t quite fit his voice or the overall theme of the album as he delivers a pretty standard verse.
The second half of the album takes the acoustic jazz sound of the first half and drenches it in the traditional FlyLo/electronic territory, featuring lots of heavy synths and bouncing drum circles that segue into each other and ultimately build up to the climax of the album, “Coronus, the Terminator.”
The moody track opens with a soft rain effect as a trance-like beat slowly begins to shape the song.
As the beat builds, these whispering, angelic vocals rain down on the track. The song becomes an ethereal warning to all those listening (“The days of man are coming to an end/So come with me”).
Marcus Moore from Pitchfork described the song as the “moment when angels come for your soul,” and that encapsulates the feelings and emotions here perfectly. The combination of the haunting melody, eerie backing vocals, and soothing beat creates an epic moment in the album and captures the frightening moment of crossing over.
After a string of electronic tracks featuring some superb bass lines from singer/bassist Thundercat, we get the final track of the album, “Protest.”
The track, though only about two minutes long, encompasses all of the sounds throughout the album. Starting off with an upbeat, choir of children singing, it slowly fades into improv between drums and bass.
The two voices meander for a few seconds, attempting to form some sort of structure, but always collapsing upon themselves.
There’s one final buildup between the two, until it fades out, giving way to a head-nodding, [adult swim] type beat from which FlyLo built his name. This final moment is the resolution of the album, one of acceptance of death and the beyond. The acoustic voices in this track frantically fight to form something, but ultimately disassemble to the albums biggest release.
It is a moment of letting go on whatever is left in this world, and giving oneself up to whatever lies beyond.
Sonically, You’re Dead represents what FlyLo does best: taking the sounds and essence of a genre and bringing it into the twenty-first century and the ever-expanding electronic genres. The mix of jazz, fusion, hip-hop, gospel, and electronic music create a unique experience that only FlyLo could deliver.
While the tracks on the album are unusually short (the album is only 38 minutes), they move at a purposeful and thought-out pace, building an idea and abandoning it as soon as it’s established.
This is not an album to break up into singles or to play at parties. To receive the full experience, one must sit down and experience every sound and emotion from beginning to end.
Thematically, the album takes listeners on a journey and forces them, in their own way, to grapple with death just like FlyLo attempts to do.
From the chaotic moments of panic, to the frightening aspect of the unknown, to the calm and tranquil acceptance, You’re Dead encompasses all of the emotions and experiences that come with something as heavy as death and shoves it in the face of the listener.