As Flying Lotus, Steven Ellison has lead the charge for a generation of hip-hop alchemists and electronic beat enthusiasts.
While his original compositions are hallmarks of the genre, Ellison is perhaps not as accomplished a remixer as some of his contemporaries. Still, his half-decade career has seen its fair share of re-imaginations and re-workings that infuse his sense of leftfield hip-hop futurism into tracks by everyone from Southern rappers to London singer-songwriters. Here are Flying Lotus’s seven finest moments as a remixer so far.
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‘A Milli’ (Robo Tussin’)
It’s strange to think that this song and remix are more than four years old, an eternity in the spheres of electronic music and hip-hop. ‘A Milli’ was inescapable in 2008 (as were remixes, by everyone from James Blake as Harmonimix to Nadastrom), and for good reason: it’s Weezy at his most outlandish.
Bangladesh’s stuck-on-repeat beat is almost forgotten after FlyLo’s aquatic ‘Robo Tussin’, though. The gentle piano melody, evocative of his beloved Adult Swim bumpers, puts the ‘tussin’ in the title, and the beat is propelled by shuffling drums until it fades out like a transmission to space.
A footnote to this remix would be FlyLo’s take on Lil Wayne’s mixtape cut ‘I Feel Like Dying’, a more severe reworking of a track that didn’t quite have the same legs.
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‘Game Over’ feat. Jay Dee & Phat Kat
The first track in our look at the essential works of Michigan’s second-most influential hip-hop producer, Dabrye. As we noted, ‘Game Over’ finds J Dilla giving his seal of approval to the next great beatsmith. This remix continues the generational torch-passing, from J Dilla to Dabrye to Flying Lotus: the drums still shuffle, but those blasts of otherworldly, amelodic synths are pure FlyLo. As bass defines the evolution of the sound, the low-end is richer and more enveloping; it’s also the point where the beat surpasses the rapping in significance.
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KING MIDAS SOUND
‘Lost’ appears on Waiting For You, the debut LP from King Midas Sound, the trio of Kevin ‘The Bug’ Martin, Roger Robinson and Kiki Hitomi. The original’s simple, dub-heavy take on lovers’ rock is accelerated into an even more dystopian soundscape: clockwork percussion, hints of turntablism, and wobbly bass that re-imagines the song’s anxious melody. One of FlyLo’s denser productions, it can only be fully appreciated on multiple listenings. In less capable hands, the colliding pieces would be muddled and disjointed, but with FlyLo behind the boards, it’s like stepping back from a set of puzzle pieces and seeing the full picture.
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‘Girl I Love You’ (Vibeangel Mix1)
Flying Lotus is not really a fan of Soundcloud, which is probably why he uses his as storage for rough demos and half-born reworks (we’re looking at you, ‘Thinkin Bout You’ remix). Still, when he posted a clutch of songs to the service last year, one stood out: his take on Massive Attack’s ‘Girl I Love You’. The Heligoland cut surges and builds with a seductive bassline and some robust brass. FlyLo’s meditative remix strips it down to it’s trip-hop essence: bits of Horace Andy’s vocals and a cloudy vibe punctuated by robotic distortions.
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The second release for his own 3024 imprint, 2008’s ‘Natural Selection’ found Martyn exploring a fusion of techno and dubstep, just as the latter was finding its place in the larger cultural consciousness. The track also features the submerged vocals of Kid Drama, aka Damon Kirkham/Jon Convex. FlyLo uses the original as a starting point, layering laser-tag synthetics and syncopated percussion over the rich low end, unearthing an even more danceable groove in Martyn’s composition.
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‘Lost Where I Belong’
Produced by downtempo staple Bonobo, Triana’s ‘Lost Where I Belong’ is a chilled-out ballad from the singer-songwriter. The original is inoffensive and soulful, like the easy listening piped through Starbucks, and it’s a showcase for Triana’s vocal work. But FlyLo shows that there’s so much more here: as on his ‘Game Over’ remix, the vocals are no longer the focus, and that’s okay. The remix twinkles and shimmers over a typically shuffling beat, and once it opens up to reveal Triana, she suddenly seems more soulful and more emotive. It’s amazing what a change of scenery can do.
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The jangly ‘Reckoner’ is a powerful tribute to Radiohead’s ever-evolving sound. While it would be difficult to top the combination of the lush orchestration and Thom Yorke’s supple voice, FlyLo’s attempt is admirable. A frequent collaborator with Yorke, Flying Lotus amplifies the paranoia and sorrow of the vocals with his cascading, inward-looking composition.
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