Miles Davis would “literally be mad” at what jazz has become. Steven Ellison (Flying Lotus) said in an interview in Salon. In that interview, he goes on to talk about how he operates under the mentality that Miles Davis could come back to life at any moment, so he wants his music to be presentable to Miles and “make him chin stroke a bit” when the time comes.
This is a lofty idea to apply to one’s music and it’s a testament to how carefully Ellison has crafted You’re Dead! It’s a nu-jazz masterpiece, a revivalist record, a free-jazz exploration and a futuristic journey through jazz and hip-hop all-in-one. This is the most ambitious concept album of the year and breaks new ground into a fusion of sounds we’ve never heard before.
To be honest, it’s not even my favorite Flying Lotus record (Until the Quiet Comes doesn’t get the credit it deserves as being far and away Ellison’s best work), but You’re Dead! is the product of yet another creative vision of Ellison’s, a concept he’s thought about since he started making music and he’s pined over crafting this record to come across just right for the last 2 years.
Ellison brought in collaborators from jazz great Herbie Hancock and best buddy Thundercat to Snoop Dogg and even Kendrick Lamar. Working with Lamar was something Ellison has wanted to do since GKMC. He’s even described his disappointment in not being a part of Kendricks album in this fantastic piece in The Fader by Andy Beta. He made sure that when he finally got a chance to work with him on his own album, that he made the most of the opportunity. The result, is perhaps the best track of the year, in “Never Catch Me.” Ellison starts with vibrant keys and a rattling snare, the bass drops in with Kendrick’s flow and the rest is history (or at least will be). A marvel of time signatures, clap-snares, a stand-up bass and guitar all functioning perfectly into a song about tip-toeing around death and the after-life.
As he always does, Flying Lotus introduces a visual element to his music which adds more depth to his song and in this case, ties in the central theme of this magnum opus. Watch the video for “Never Catch Me”:
It’s masterful, and it’s the album’s apex coming early before spiraling into sonic musings on the nature of death, staring it in the face and pondering one’s existence. On “Turtles,” we feel like Ellison is walking through a dark cemetery, with the ominous tribal drums as the cryptic overhead soundtrack. On “Ready err Not,” he’s become a vermin and is weaving through bodies as their lives flash before him. There’s more visual cues on the graphic video and it’s clear that Ellison’s interest is piqued by death. It’s an existential concern for him and it’s sparked his curiosity, his creativity and his art.
This is a dark, dark album from Flying Lotus, but it’s exactly as he wanted it to end up. You’re Dead! is a manifestation of the inner-workings of the most actualizing creator in music today. He’s one of the most incredible modern producers and no one has traversed hip-hop, electronica and now jazz as fluently and with such complexity as he. He is an explorer of sounds, who has innovation in his genes and oughta make multiple generations proud with how he continues to tell the story of a seismic shift in prevalent musical styles.