The shorter version: grab “Between Friends” and add it to your own rapping-over-Flying Lotus-beats mixtape.
When this first dropped, I thought it was the coolest shit since sliced bread because it’s exactly as billed: Flying Lotus – rapping! – over beats by the man himself! At the time, I was ready to slap an A- on this bad boy (I also said some bullshit about how this is better than Until the Quiet Comes and You’re Dead!; stupid, stupid, stupid), but listening again three years later, removed from the hype (self-generated, that is, since this received next to no hype from mainstream publications: Pitchfork gave it the good ol’ 8.0 not-Best New Music while Rolling Stone, Complex (a webzine focusing almost exclusively on hip-hop) and Popmatters all failed to review it; I guess David Amidon was busy those days?; I guess David Amidon has been busy these days?), I don’t know what I was thinking. This isn’t flawed greatness like I once believed; this is just flawed, and most of the initial fun was from the novelty of hearing Flying Lotus rap, pretending to be Tyler, the Creator (in addition to having identical vocals, there’s stuff like “Captain known to choke a blonde out / Does she like it? / No doubt, even though she crying / Oh wow simmer down I only kinda mean it” that’s more representative than anyone should hope) or dropping Easter Eggs (“Ain’t never rock no mic, I only Rachmaninoff”), both meant to keep you guessing who Captain Murphy was, that was inevitably revealed anyway because most people didn’t care about this album before he took off the mask. And the rest of the initial fun was from hearing Captain Murphy weave nerd-gasmic references to Star Wars, Pokemon, DC and Marvel Comics, the Simpsons, Dragon Ball and probably a lot more that now often feel like hamfisted ways of inducing nostalgia (ie. compare “Try to find bitches love it when I’m fucking rough and stuff / Hate to see me drunk walking like I’m Snuffleufagus” with the lazier “Bow your head and make a wish up on my swollen dragon balls / Catch ’em all / Pokemon” later that same song).
But the issue is surprisingly not Captain Murphy’s rapping as you might expect, but rather the beats, which are nowhere near as exciting as Flying Lotus beats should be (may I direct everyone to Blu’s labyrinthian NoYork! instead?). Very few of these songs can stand up on their own, and despite the effort to make all these short songs coalesce into a gestalt as on proper Flying Lotus albums, it doesn’t work. Most of the short songs just fly by without any consequence (though the flow showcase “El Topo” is a nice way to kick off the album, and “The Prisoner” has the best rapping on the album, starting with Captain Murphy milking long-o alliteration, “Smoke a doobie-oobie with a floozy in the movies / And you be like “Where the heck is Suzy?” / She’s sitting shotgun in the hoopty cleaning oopy-doopy off the back seat again” to proceeding to impressively rhyme “Starring in” with “Rastafarian,” “arguin'”, “car I’m in,” the homophonic “Car-a-men,” “gar-a-ments,” “again” and “cardigan”). But perversely, the shorter songs are often more exciting than the longer ones: “The Killing Joke” is a snoozefest that’s driven by the Os Mutantes sample (that’s overused anyway); the arpeggiated “Hovercrafts and Cows” is shockingly tame for being a Flying Lotus instrumental; the posse cut “Immaculation” has all three rappers failing to be memorable behind the marijuana smoke (that bass line isn’t nearly enough to carry that song); the best part of “The Ritual” is the introducing guitar riff. “Mighty Morpin Foreskin” and “Drive Thru” have some nice rapping, but that’s about it (“Take your pick of pickled sticks / I’ll send your chick these naked pics to make her dream of nigger dicks,” and the Nicki Minaj-esque conclusion of the latter, respectively).
Which brings me to “Between Friends,” the single and song that kicked the project off the ground, because this is a great song that reminds me of what this album could have been instead of what it actually was. The beat is gorgeous, and unlike some of the more schizophrenic beats on NoYork!, is tailor-made for the rapping. Earl Sweatshirt shines: “I’ma start charging y’all per compliment … As far as bars, you heard wrong if you heard continent / It’s incontinence, inconsequent turned sponsoring”; “Off a couple Sake shots / Watching pot grow in short shorts and some soggy crocs / Shoddy lot of black faces trading body shots”; “gnarly tots, nollie pops / Use a bit, it got me; then she buzzin’ like a walkie talk,” and Captain Murphy brings his a-game to try and match with a better rapper, before Flying Lotus wraps it all up with a beat switch (that he’ll use again on You’re Dead!‘s “Never Catch Me”) that’s climactic instead of tacked on, as some of the codas on other songs here.