For those people who generally avoid music made on laptops, the name Flying Lotus may sound like a kung-fu move or a yoga position. But for those in tune with underground hip-hop, Flying Lotus is a household name. And his latest release, "Cosmogramma," may just take him out of the underground, as Drew Tewksbury reports.

DREW TEWKSBURY: Lately, Flying Lotus has been making a lot of noise.

(Soundbite of music)

TEWKSBURY: Music bloggers, hip-hop heads and even The New Yorker magazine looked to his last two albums as guideposts to the future of hip-hop.

(Soundbite of music)

TEWKSBURY: Thom Yorke, front man of the acclaimed band Radiohead, handpicked Flying Lotus to open one of his solo tours and even lent his voice for a track on Steven Ellison's new album.

(Soundbite of music)

FLYING LOTUS (Music Group): (Singing) (Unintelligible).

TEWKSBURY: Ellison has earned the props by trying to come up with a new sound.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. STEVEN ELLISON (Musician): I come from a hip-hop place, so it's hard for me to stray away from that, but I guess there's a lot of rules in hip-hop that we're trying to break now.

TEWKSBURY: For years, he traded tracks with other budding DJs and played music in nightclub parking lots. Then the scene got organized, at a club in L.A.'s Lincoln Heights neighborhood.

Mr. ELLISON: There as this party started called Low End Theory, that was geared toward this sound, more of a producer's lounge, basically. If you got talent, and you got tracks, and you hang out enough at Low End Theory, you know, someone will hear something, and you can do something.

(Soundbite of music)

TEWKSBURY: For Ellison and his friends, that something is called beat music. And it's not just for dancing, says Low End Theory co-founder William Benjamin Bensussen, aka The Gaslamp Killer.

Mr. BENJAMIN BENSUSSEN (Co-founder, Low End Theory): Beat music, it's all about the music. Like jazz, there was no singers. Before, it was just instrumental, a three-piece, four-piece, you know what I'm saying? That's the raw backbone of music. And that's what beat music is, is simplicity.

(Soundbite of music)

TEWKSBURY: Steve Ellison has jazz in his blood. His great-aunt is the late Alice Coltrane, the jazz musician, composer and wife of the legendary John Coltrane.

(Soundbite of music)

TEWKSBURY: On his latest release, Ellison chose to explore his musical lineage after tragedy stuck his family.

Mr. ELLISON: Right when I started working on it, my mom passed away, really unexpected, and it just changed everything, man.

TEWKSBURY: To cope with his mother's sudden death, Ellison turned to the songs of Aunt Alice for guidance.

Mr. ELLISON: I'd listen to my aunt's stuff and I could hear why she made this devotional music. I can hear her dealing with John Coltrane's passing in her music. It made sense to me, you know, and it was something I really try to capture, as well.

(Soundbite of music)

TEWKSBURY: But Alice Coltrane wasn't the only family member that helped Ellison. He also turned to her son, and his cousin, jazz saxophonist Ravi Coltrane.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RAVI COLTRANE (Musician): I happened to be in Los Angeles for a few days, and I basically went to his apartment and recorded my tracks right there in his crib.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. COLTRANE: He's got that kind of great ability, you know, it's like a painter. You know, you've got one color, and then you can add another and change that particular shade and change the energy of it all. So I was, you know, just one layer in this very wild composition.

TEWKSBURY: This wild album was also a wild emotional ride for Ellison.

Mr. ELLISON: Having gone through a lot, you know, good things, bad things, it was just thank God for music. It was there, you know, to let all these ideas out.

TEWKSBURY: His fans might say the same.

For NPR News, I'm Drew Tewksbury in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: You can hear all of Flying Lotus' album and get an introduction to the L.A. beat-music scene at

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from