Even though it’s often hard to see the influence of jazz on hip-hop (especially in the toughest of the of genre’s tracks), ask most modern rappers if they think it had a hand in the way they create beats, and you’ll most likely get a positive response. Though saxophone solos and other elements of jazz have been a staple of many hip-hop samples for years, Flying Lotus launched an album last month that is less hip-hop with a jazz undercurrent and more a jazz album updated to the 21st century’s new conception of music.
The album You’re Dead! has been a smashing success. It currently holds an 88/100 score on Metacritic (a distinction generally held by fewer than 20 albums a year), and is coming up strong on buzz lists for Best Albums of 2014 polls that music lovers will be fiercely debating in just a few weeks. Moreover, the album has found commercial success; it is currently sitting strong in the Top 20 on Bllboard’s Top 200 most-sold albums chart.
For Flying Lotus — real name Steven Ellison — that kind of acceptance is novel. While he’s made a huge name for himself in the Los Angeles progressive beats scene, his life has often been that of outsider, according to a recent interview with Rolling Stone.
“I never went to prom, never went with the majority… I was the kid who did weed first in my circle of friends… It was like, ‘How do I make life a cartoon?’ But then I was the druggie, the weirdo. Kids would say, ‘I don’t know if we can kick it anymore’… [I ended up around] kids who shot motherf***ers, grimy motherf***ers who robbed people and s**t, because they were the ones who were getting high.”
But Flying Lotus’ new jazz influence is actually more steeped in tradition than one would imagine. He was constantly exposed to jazz as a child because his great aunt Alice Coltrane, the widow of jazz icon John Coltrane, was often playing her own brand of avant-garde jazz in the house. Those years of listening to off-kilter style of jazz spilled over heavily into his new album — but he says that there’s also a more existential influence at play.
“I wanted to make something that felt like the moment of death and whatever’s after that. Ironically, ‘You’re Dead!’ was the most fun I’ve ever had making music.”
The irony of making an album based on a genre long past its prime called You’re Dead! is not lost on Flying Lotus, but that’s a lot of what made him choose the inspiration in the first place, he told Rolling Stone.
“For a while, I felt like the scene that I was drawn to, the thing that I helped create, is over. That s**t is dead. We’re already in another era – even making an album is old-school, you know?”
What do you think of Flying Lotus’ new album?
[Image via HD Wallpapers]