The day before I call Flying Lotus in mid-July to chat about Brainfeeder, the label the Los Angeles producer has run since 2008, he’s in the studio with fellow FADER cover star Hannibal Buress recording—not music, but the comedian’s new weekly show on Comedy Central. Buress introduced Lotus to his audience as his house DJ, which, it transpires on later episodes, involves providing not only sound effects and musical interludes but also chat show banter. The following week, Buress tweeted a photo of himself with Flying Lotus, rapper Open Mike Eagle (an old friend and his first musical guest), and Brainfeeder’s bass virtuoso Thundercat, who performed with Mike on the show. In it, the three musicians are striking a somewhat braggadocious pose but Buress simply looks thrilled to be lending a mainstream platform to his underground heroes, wearing a smile that says, “I can’t believe I’m getting away with this.”
This latest turn in Flying Lotus' career hasn’t come out of nowhere. Born Steven Ellison, Steve to his friends, he has spent most of the past decade as the figurehead of the beat scene, an awkward term for a movement that sprung up in the late 2000s following years of experimentation at the edges of hip-hop and electronic music by artists such as Prefuse 73, Dabrye, and Madlib. A network powered by the internet and manifested through various physical nodes—the biggest of which remains Ellison’s hometown of Los Angeles—the beat scene reconfigured independent hip-hop by moving the focus away from rappers to instrumentals, and drawing on a wider sonic palette. It also helped make Ellison a household name, following a string of critically acclaimed albums on British label Warp Records and regular tours that had him circling the globe. In 2013, he was given his own radio station on Grand Theft Auto V, the fastest selling entertainment product of all time. He started 2015 with a six-month residency on BBC Radio 1. And now he has his own corner of a late night comedy show on U.S. television.