You’re Dead!, a 19-track release by Flying Lotus on Warp Records, channels the spirit and sound of ’70s era jazz-fusion in a contemporary electronic music format. With the contributions of such guest artists as Herbie Hancock, Kendrick Lamaar, Thundercat, and Snoop Dogg, the recording is a bouillabaisse of sounds, moods, and textures. Producing a full palette of fused genres, You’re Dead! is a paramount, sometimes somber, meditation on the practice of letting go of the known and embracing the unknown.
Steve Ellison, who produces under the name Flying Lotus, hit pay dirt and critical acclaim with golden era, J-Dilla-esque hip-hop on previous releases, 1983 and Los Angeles. Then in 2010, with the record Cosmogramma, he showcased his talent for constructing bright and sharp electronic dance music with the stand-out cut, “Do The Astral Plane.”
Now in 2014, with You’re Dead!, Ellison delivers a shaman-like tone-poem designed for introspection.
The first four songs immediately transport you to early Stanley Clarke and George Duke compositions. Both Clarke and Duke were pioneers in making jazz-fusion compositions that kept one foot in funk and the other in jazz-rock presentation.
The song “Tesla,” which features jazz legend Herbie Hancock on keyboards and the talented Thundercat on bass, immediately evokes a Miles Davis Bitches Brew essence. It punches and peppers along at a swiftly moving time signature that is similar to “Pharoah’s Dance” off the Bitches Brew recording. It allows Hancock to showcase his keyboard acumen for coloring. Still the genius, he provides the younger players access to that landmark late 1960s sound. Bassist Thundercat follows suit with playing that references a young John McLaughlin.
Snoop Dogg appears on the song “Dead Man’s Tetris” to lyrically punctuate the video arcade funk on this little burner, while Flying Lotus alter-ego Captain Murphy sings the hook.
The song “Never Catch Me” features the talented hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamaar, “contemplating” the yin and yang of life. With the percussive and precision bass work from Thundercat again running underneath the song, “Never Catch Me” is the most commercially accessible single from the record. Still, the musicianship holds on to the album’s fusion foundation. It is those combinations–or, rather, juxtapositions–that make the entire record daring, unorthodox, and original.
Herbie Hancock returns on the song “Moment of Hesitation.” It’s another jazz-fusion gem. Although it’s just over two minutes in length, it gives the players enough time to musically accentuate the point of fully letting go.
It should be noted that Ellison is the nephew of the late jazz pianist Alice Coltrane and her husband saxophonist John Coltrane. He is also the grandson of the singer/songwriter Marilyn McLeod, who wrote “Love Hangover” for Diana Ross and “I Get High (On Your Memory)” for Freda Payne.
So yes, the lineage is large.