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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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