DXnext alum Flying Lotus has made rounds in Hip Hop circles with beats for Finale and Oddisee, but anyone familiar with his career—his 1983 and Los Angeles LPs, his bumper music on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, and other collaborations—know that rap is only the tip of his musical iceberg. His music has elements from Electronic, Techno, and Rock, but with a Hip Hop-friendly bounce to it. But then again, that’s part of what makes Hip Hop what it’s always been: an amalgam of different genres crafted in a way that either embodies the underrepresented or bucks against the norm. And by that definition, FlyLo’s genre-melding third album Cosmogramma is as Hip Hop as it gets.
FlyLo’s great aunt is Jazz great Alice Coltrane (wife of fellow legend John Coltrane), and Cosmogramma shows the familial ear for music more than any of his other projects. This album progresses from beginning to end like a late ’60s Jazz composition: it speeds and slows momentum with several movements of two-to-four-song suites, but it never stops until it’s over. And considering the smorgasbord of individual sounds that he uses to achieve this, it says a lot that he’s able to cover so much ground without losing track of the disc’s pacing. The first few tracks—“Clock Catcher,” “Pickled!” and “Nose Art”— use videogame sounds to set the tone, but utilize dance synths to firmly establish a groove. “Intro//A Cosmic Drama,” “Zodiac Shit” and “Computer Face//Pure Being” slow things down with a subdued electronic feel that utilizes live strings, and follows that with a bit more upbeat electronic. The album then moves into a stage of downtempo Jazz, where the subdued horns, keys and steady percussion of “German Haircut,” “Recoiled” and “Table Tennis” are only mildly tempered by FlyLo’s spacey additions. Speaking about individual songs here is almost an injustice, only because Cosmogramma is such a sum of its parts. The album plays like a Ridley Scott film: you may have a couple favorite scenes, but it works best as a complete product.
While its pacing and versatility are the key highlights, another noteworthy part of Cosmogramma is how un-notable its cameos are. Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke and Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner, bassist for legendary rock group Suicidal Tendencies, make contributions on “…And The World Laughs With You” and “Mmmhmm,” respectively. But what they offer are just that: contributions. FlyLo doesn’t just bring in these two legends for the fanfare and buzz; instead, he keeps his cool like he does throughout the rest of the album, and uses them to help him achieve his vision instead of fawning over them. “…And The World” opens with the videogame sounds and electronic synths that FlyLo perfects throughout Cosmogramma, and switches into an airy soundbed that accentuates Yorke’s soft vocals. Meanwhile, “Mmmhmm” keeps the jazzy feel of the song before it, “Arkestry,” with mellow keys and soft clanking percussion. Thom Yorke and Thundercat are all-star players, no doubt—but FlyLo is the championship coach, and they trust him.
The musical legends that guest star here wouldn’t trust Flying Lotus if he didn’t trust himself—and trust is what makes this album work. Cosmogramma stays unpredictable without going too far off course, and uses unconventional sounds to deliver digestible results. This is what Hip Hop is all about—so despite his choice of sounds, this is what FlyLo is.