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Flying Lotus’ Essential Collaborations

Thom Yorke, Erykah Badu, Kendrick Lamar -- they're all on speed dial.

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Collaboration seems essential to anyone who could be called a producer. Steven Ellison (aka Flying Lotus), though, has become something more than a “producer” — an auteur with a unique blend of styles that stands on its own as a unique musical pillar. That said, he seems to get a genuine kick out of collaborating, and he plays extremely well with others. He’s produced, featured, collaborated, and generally worked with a myriad of artists in equally myriad genres and always seems hungry for more. “I should have been on it. It was kind of weird that I wasn’t,” Ellison recently told Newsweek of Kanye West’s Yeezus, as if the man behind FlyLo needed more to do.

Ellison’s insane productivity has even seen him head multiple projects — it was recently revealed that his rap alter ego Captain Murphy would receive his own solo album, which inevitably will add another dozen or so collaborators to Ellison’s expansive list. (For the purposes of this list, though, we’ll only be looking at projects under the Flying Lotus heading.)

In compiling this list, we picked out the considerable cream of the vast crop, performers ranging from teenage rappers to aging jazz vets, performers who bring something new to Ellison’s world and those whom Ellison brings something new out of. From one-off single productions to guest spots on FlyLo’s new You’re Dead!, we selected the musical maverick’s very best collaborations.

–Adam Kivel
Managing Editor

Thundercat

Since joining Flying Lotus in the studio for Cosmogramma, Stephen Bruner, better known as bass maestro Thundercat, has allowed the producer to further explore his exploratory free jazz vibes. By laying down a solid yet emotive bass line (which he also did at one point as a member of Suicidal Tendencies), Thundercat gives FlyLo and other studio musicians the chance to go further off the hinges during their collective freak-outs. Flying Lotus was keen to return the favor, producing Thundercat’s 2013 album, Apocalypse. More than just a collaborator, Thundercat has become a brother to Flying Lotus over the last half-decade. –Derek Staples

Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar’s recent appearance on “Never Catch Me” from FlyLo’s latest album, You’re Dead!, is his only spot in the producer’s whole catalog, but it’s a damn good one. Together, the two create a great depth of feeling while exploring life, death, and what awaits in the hereafter. –Sheldon Pearce

Ravi Coltrane

Grabbing a Coltrane for your jazz-inspired album is a huge get, but it helps when you’re also the guy’s cousin. Ravi, son of Alice and John (who happen to be Ellison’s great-aunt and uncle), added tenor to 2010’s Cosmogramma, but his best moments come in the fluttering interstellar journey of “Arkestry”. The cousins share a focus on cosmic beauty and frenetic energy, so this wasn’t just a family favor. –Adam Kivel

Erykah Badu

Having each found success through organic yet unconventional genre-bending endeavors, it seemed a given that Flying Lotus and Erykah Badu would eventually cross paths. But their relationship goes much deeper than a few studio sessions. Before sitting in on “See Thru to U” off of 2012s Until the Quiet Comes, Badu showed up to spin during a Brainfeeder pool party and invited Flying Lotus into the director’s chair for her own “Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long” music video. Although the neo-soul singer isn’t credited on FlyLo’s newest full-length effort, it seems likely that this relationship will bear some new fruit soon. –DS

Jeremiah Jae

The work Flying Lotus did for Jeremiah Jae’s Bad Jokes mixtape made an interesting change of pace from the jazzy, hyper-experimental production he’s been doing on his own projects in recent years. “Oatmeal Face” has a bluesy, almost retro feel, and its slow-rolling riff provokes some rather exceptional rapping out of Jae. The two clearly have chemistry. –SP

Killer Mike

Back in 2010, Killer Mike (here as Mike Bigga) teamed with Flying Lotus for a track called “Swimming”, which eventually made its way out as an Adult Swim single in 2010. The track actually works off of the skeleton of FlyLo’s “Camera Day”, but when paired with Mike’s authoritative bravado, the video game twinkles and tubular synths gain an entirely new infectious quality. –AK

Niki Randa

Like a handful of artists and friends, Blank Blue’s Niki Randa makes regular appearances across the FlyLo discography. And every time, it is Randa that possesses FlyLo with a voice that defies gravity, while he mirrors her prowess with equally weightless instrumentals. No matter how psychedlic his albums may be, the Randa collab grants a breather for fans and FlyLo alike. –DS

Jonwayne

Alt rap savant Jonwayne is no stranger to weird sound, and so it makes sense that he’d inevitably collaborate with Flying Lotus, who has made a habit of discovering new waves of weird. Everything the two work on together pushes the boundaries of fringe rap, the greatest of which is “Bus Stops”. –SP

Angel Deradoorian


Former Dirty Projector and current keyboardist and vocalist for Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks, Angel Deradoorian’s appearance on You’re Dead! is an excellent reminder of the star power often relegated to background roles. FlyLo manipulates her beautiful, breathy vocals into something resembling her hocketed vocal interplay with Amber Coffman on the Projectors’ Rise Above, but a step more angelic (if you’ll pardon the pun). In turn, her vocals make the ambitiously airy “Siren Song” that much more appealing (again, sorry). –AK

Mac Miller

If you manage to land Flylo and Corey Feldman for a track, you better be feeling like a superhero. Mac Miller was just that during the video for the heady “S.D.S”, even dropping a bit of a hidden shout-out to his producer and co-songwriter: “I don’t mind those hating on my style/ I tend to take the high road, get stoned and fly low.” –DS

Earl Sweatshirt

The young technician Earl Sweatshirt made his name over experimental, lo-fi, New Age West Coast beats, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for him to work with the man who made Los Angeles. The two are a perfect pairing. Whether it’s the one-off collaboration with Viktor Vaughn (aka DOOM) and Thundercat, “Between Villains”, or its inverse, “Between Friends”, Sweatshirt’s signature listless delivery and FlyLo’s layered production make for a truly sinister and trippy experience. –SP

DOOM

No stranger to collaboration himself, the man named DOOM hopped onto the darkly shaded “Between Villains” to trade verses with Captain Murphy and Earl. Playing into Metalfingers’ villainous Viktor Vaughn alter ego, Lotus brings some extra noir goodness to the track, eerie retro TV harp washes filling the Thundercat bass background. Plus, just thinking of the redwood of a family tree that collects all of the people these two have worked with makes me a little dizzy. –AK

Snoop Dogg


Flying Lotus could have just been fortifying his network (Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon-style) with this recent collaboration. Unlike Snoop’s collaborative forays into EDM and reggae, the Long Beach native remains in his THC-induced comfort zone during “Dead Man’s Tetris”. Not even the track’s video game nostalgia and dizzying gun-cocks can knock Snoop off of his velvety flow. –DS

Hodgy Beats

When you think Flying Lotus collaborators, Hodgy Beats probably doesn’t come to mind, at least not right away. The forgotten Odd Future member isn’t quite an indie powerhouse, but he landed two FlyLo beats for his 2012 Untitled EP — “Lately” and “Lamented” — and each channels a different side of the eclectic LA producer. One houses an ethereal vocal sample, and the other recalls the aesthetic that made OF overnight sensations. –SP

Brendon Small


The man behind Dethklok makes an appearance on You’re Dead!, taking his shredding from the cartoon death metal world and into the stew of hip-hop, jazz, electronic, and more that FlyLo cultivates. While that inclusion might be a bit surprising, Small’s guitar prowess is insane, and he’s a Berklee College of Music graduate, so the leap might not have been that large — and the results are telling, as Lotus didn’t need to wedge in a death metal divebomb solo to fit him in–AK

Kode9 and The Spaceape

Two years removed from dropping “Disco Bells” on the Five Years of Hyperdub celebratory compilation in 2009, FlyLo joined forces with the label’s Kode9 and The Spaceape for “Kryon”. Although just a featured producer, it’s FlyLo’s chilled West Coast that take precedent over Kode9’s appreciation of jungle and UK garage. –DS

Declaime

Stones Throw recording artist Declaime brings out the gritty side of Flying Lotus; the production on “Whole Wide World” is eerie thanks to minor piano keys and a prominent vocal sample of Vincius De Moraes’ “Samba Em Preludio”. Declaime’s voice scans at a low register and blends seamlessly into the dark soundscape, making for a creepy yet enjoyable listen. –SP

Baths

When Flying Lotus dropped an unexpected folder of “ideas, drafts, and loops” onto the world in 2013, there were more than a few prominent surprises. Perhaps one of the bigger eyebrow-raisers was the inclusion of California electronic musician Baths, whose appearance on the brief “Little Hours” lends an ethereal quality to FlyLo’s twitchy SNES production. The twinkling and skittering give an extra layer of emotion to Will Wiesenfeld’s operatic coos. You’ve got to wonder what kind of heights the duo could’ve reached on a completed track. –AK

Laura Darlington

The wife of Alfred Darlington, aka monome-mastermind Daedelus, Laura Darlington had a front row seat to LA’s beat renaissance over the last decade. Interestingly, the psych-folk artist has been featured near the tail end of each Flying Lotus full-length leading up to his newest endeavor (see 1983‘s “Unexpected Delight”, Los Angeles‘ “Auntie’s Lock/Infinitum”, “Table Tennis” off of Cosmogramma, and “Phantasm” from Until the Quiet Comes). During each, Darlington’s delicate vocals float beneath an array of disjointed textures, often overcome but never intimidated. –DS

Blu

Electronica-infused LA rap production is all over Blu’s York; Samiyam, Daedelus, and Shafiq Husayn all produced a handful of experimental beats for the project. The ones that stand out, however, were produced by Flying Lotus. One explores texture (“Doin’ Nothin’”), and the other sings like it was exported directly from an arcade game (“Everything’s OK”). Each collaboration stands on its own merit, yet neither is even remotely in the same vein sonically. That’s a testament to creative synergy. –SP

Miguel Atwood-Ferguson

Vioilinist/composer/ensemble director Miguel Atwood-Ferguson provides access to the lush, complex string arrangements necessary to reach serious sonic highs. That must be why Lotus has brought him along for his last three albums — either that, or the two just like hanging out. Atwood-Ferguson has in turn had Ellison work with his Ensemble, resulting in equally ethereal and beautiful jazz-classical fusions. –AK

Jose James

While transforming Southern California’s beatscape with Los Angeles and Cosmogramma, FlyLo was also flexing his modern jazz muscle with vocalist Jose James. Serving as producer for 2008’s ultra-loungey “Park Bench People” and 2010’s “Blackmagic”, Ellison leveraged the abilities of James to strengthen the jazz/hip-hop backbone that You’re Dead! would eventually establish. –DS

Matthewdavid

Collaborations between two producers often come across like unnecessary conflation; how do the two visions mesh when the musicians are basically playing the same role? It sometimes seems pointless. That isn’t the case on “Group Tea”. Some great experimental work takes place in a relatively short amount of time, and it sounds like the result of trying to transcribe a brisk winter chill into binary code. –SP

Shabazz Palaces

Another collaboration unfortunately relegated to the “ideas, drafts, and loops” category, “Hide Me” sees Lotus teaming with fellow hip-hop experimenters Shabazz Palaces. The entrancingly minimalist production more than agrees with the Palaces’ chant-mantra stylings. Here’s hoping they come together for more. –AK

Thom Yorke

Since releasing The Bends in 1995, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke has influenced countless musicians. Arguably, no one inspired Yorke during that time like Flying Lotus. The two minds truly coalesced in 2010, with the Kid A-leaning “…And the World Laughs with You”. They would reunite later on the bleak “Electric Candyman” from 2012’s Until the Quiet Comes. But what truly set this relationship apart was FlyLo’s ability to coax Yorke into performing a DJ set at Low End Theory back in 2011. The set wasn’t superb, but it had Yorke experimenting, which historically has great results. –DS

Azizi Gibson

Azizi Gibson sounds cool and comfortable in “Sweetspace” over one of FlyLo’s best rap beats; it’s hard to believe this didn’t pick up more traction. The beat found its way onto Captain Murphy’s Duality a few months later, and it eventually made its way into an Adult Swim bumper, but it never packed the same wallop without Gibson’s vocals. –SP

Kamasi Washington


An essential part of LA’s burgeoning jazz scene, the undeniably Ayler-indebted saxophonist Kamasi Washington rips open the bop intensity of You’re Dead!, his fiery flow and silken tones providing the pulse early in the album. While he’s worked with everyone from Wayne Shorter to Nas, Washington’s work here truly feels in sync with Lotus’ jazz visions, as if his tenor helped burst open the album’s otherworldly doorway. –AK

Gonjasufi

Gonjasufi had been making waves in SoCal’s underground arts and hip-hop scenes since the mid-’90s, but it was his featured vocals on Flying Lotus’ distorted “Testament” that earned him the attention of Warp Records and dub artists spread across the globe. Had it not been for this single, it is unlikely Gonjasufi’s Flying Lotus/Gaslamp Killer-produced A Sufi and a Killer would have secured an official release and gone on to influence the likes of Jeremiah Jae and Bear in Heaven. –DS

The Underachievers

Showcasing a fondness for left-field hip-hop and psychedelic drugs, New York’s The Underachievers found a welcome home on FlyLo’s Brainfeeder records in 2011. The duo have taken advantage of FlyLo’s eclectic rolodex, themselves collaborating with Ryan Hemsworth and Lapalux on their 2014 LP, as well as some spare beats. When Flying Lotus surprised the blogosphere with a free mixtape in December of 2013, it was The Underachievers holding their own across the stuttering undertow of “Adventure Sound”. –DS

Samiyam

Sam Baker, aka Samiyam, might not have the immediate name recognition of Thom Yorke, Kendrick Lamar, or Erykah Badu, but FlyLo keeps seeking out the beatsmith for instrumental partnerships. Three years prior to dropping his official debut full-length, Sam Baker’s Album, via FlyLo’s Brainfeeder imprint, Baker was in the studio with FlyLo constructing some Bootleg Beats and climbing through the SoCal ranks with his 2009 remix of Flying Lotus’ “Grapesicles”. Rarely letting a relationship fade away, FlyLo would go onto recruit the producer for Captain Murphy’s 2012 Duality mixtape. –DS

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