I find it hard to embrace the new Flying Lotus album, Cosmogramma. It’s not as if it’s a bad album — it’s great, in fact. But the secret is out about FlyLo. He’s not mine anymore.
I wasn’t one of the dudes who trend-spotted his work via early Dublab sessions and late-night Adult Swim broadcasts. When he dropped a remix on Mia Doi Todd’s La Ninja: Amor and Other Dreams of Manzanita, I didn’t even notice, even though I had a copy of the CD. I first discovered him through a Pitchfork.com review of his debut album, 1983. (Yes, I proudly admit that Pitchfork.com can be a great source of information.) The reviewer, Brian Howe, wrote a typically condescending opinion, dismissing it as a “genre exercise“. But the name — Flying Lotus — was so memorable. It stood out to me. So I immediately requested a CD from Plug Research. A week later, I had 1983 on near-constant rotation.
Many wondered if Flying Lotus was just a precocious take on J Dilla and Madlib styles, another member of that weird L.A. beat shit, a netherworld of hip-hop, electronics and California soul. And I admit that I kinda fronted on Flying Lotus in my reviews, too, even though his music had already won my heart. Attention, aspiring music critics: Learn to not only reflect your expert analysis of a genre, but also how a piece moves you. If something truly inspires you, then the heart should always win out, no matter how logy or derivative the recording may sound.
Regardless of what I wrote, I was a super-fan. I told countless friends about him. Any mixtape I made included the requisite FlyLo beat. I ripped his demo tracks off his MySpace page. (Remember when people used to do that?) I even hyped up Samiyam, his beatmaking protege from Detroit, Michigan. And when FlyLo signed to Warp, I was one of the first people on the Internet to announce it. I am proud that I anticipated the Flying Lotus gravy train, and how it would eventually impact the entire Los Angeles beat music scene. I may not have discovered him first, but I embraced him hardest, while others stood on the fence and vacillated over his potential to grow beyond “genre exercises.”
When Los Angeles finally landed in 2008, I was all over that shit. I interviewed him several times, including a lengthy pre-release interview for Plug One. When I spoke with him, the album wasn’t even released yet. FlyLo told me, “fuck a Pitchfork,” as if he cared whether or not the almighty tastemaker liked his album. Of course, he really did care. And when Pitchfork.com awarded him a positive review, XLR8R published a cover story, and The New Yorker delivered a lengthy appraisal, Los Angeles became required study for a nation of indie hipsters.
Two years later, the gravy train has left the station, and I can barely get on it. It took several angry emails to land a small review in Spin magazine, while the big profile was awarded to a New York electronic writer. (Much respect to you, Andy Beta.) More than just sour journo grapes, though, Flying Lotus and the L.A. beat scene is no longer a well-kept secret. It is now a flavor to be tasted by any self-respecting music critic. A horde of followers and bandwagon jumpers try to jack the recipe, and their dilution efforts earn near-daily coverage on dozens of blogs and the L.A. Weekly.
Not coincidentally, Cosmogramma connects with the Sa-Ra cosmic ball. It flits along classic trip-hop (thanks to the Thom Yorke cameo), straight-up 8-bit beats, deep house a la Theo Parrish, and jazz fusion workouts with Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner. It blows past the quirky turntablist in-jokes that endeared me to Los Angeles into future soul sounds that feel elegant and worldly. Most importantly, it’s a party that’s open to everyone. Old diehards like myself stand uncomfortably by the punch bowl while big industry dicks work the room, offer salutary weed blunts and effusively praise this “new” wunderkind.
All that’s left for me are those wonderful hours when I vibed to FlyLo as I drove along the highways, his sounds transporting me somewhere else. Three years ago, Flying Lotus inspired me to become a Stan for him. Though I still love his music, that moment of obsession is gone, disintegrated into the Cosmogramma.
Photo by Timothy Saccenti.