Who is WOKE? Get to Know Flying Lotus' New Supergroup
Yesterday the world was given a little audial treat in the form of the funkiest, freshest Soundcloud track in recent memory. How funky-fresh you may be wondering? Funky-fresh enough to include actual Godfather of Funk, and Parliament/Funkadelic member, George Clinton in it. The track is titled ‘The Lavishments of Light Looking,’ and it is credited to a group making their musical debut, a collective called WOKE.
Aside from producing a jam that has us shimmying our hips in a way we normally reserve for weddings and bar mitzvahs, WOKE has us excited for a different music-geek reason altogether. WOKE is not an artist but a collective, a supergroup formation consisting of electronic pioneer Flying Lotus, his soulful protégé Thundercat, and avant-rap troupe Shabazz Palaces. The song has been hinted as the first in a possible series, which means we can expect an album, or at the very least an EP, of jams from a collaboration we literally could not have dreamed of.
To get a better idea why we’re so ecstatic, here’s a guide to the three key players involved:
Considered by many to be one of the first, if not one of the foremost, architects of the experimental electronic. In layman’s terms, FlyLo makes the music that many of us would identify as ‘bleep-bloops,’ creating album-length symphonies of noise that for many would hardly consist of melody. But to call his work unrefined would be a severe injustice; Lotus’ musicianship is second to none, weaving together a complex mix of funk, jazz, rap, and ambient sounds into his electronic web. A display of his mastery of multiple genres can be found in last year’s You’re Dead!, an album that saw collaborations with everyone from Kendrick Lamar to jazz legend Herbie Hancock. While not trying to discredit his fellow members, Lotus seems to be the backbone of WOKE’s sound, with his expert beat production providing a more than solid groundwork for the other artists to flourish out of.
FUN FACT: Lotus’ affinity for jazz comes from his blood; he’s the grand nephew of legendary saxophone player John Coltrane (a contemporary of Miles Davis) and his wife, the jazz pianist Alice Coltrane.
If you’re anything like this author and were left struck with awe at this year’s To Pimp a Butterfly, you may be just as surprised as to learn that Kendrick, despite his lyrical mastery, was not key to the album’s success. That honor, according to Mr. Lamar himself, was Thundercat, who was “at the creative epicenter” of the record. Thundercat, before releasing albums under that moniker, was a second to none studio musicians, playing jazz bass for the likes of Erykah Badu, Lamar, and the aforementioned Flying Lotus. It was Lotus who pushed Thundercat to get into the spotlight, a move that’s led to two deliciously funky albums and a voice that’s not so much an homage to 70’s soul but a resurrection. Joining forces with Lotus for WOKE is like adding Robin to Batman, a move that can only result in profound success (gay jokes nonwithstanding).
FUN FACT: Thundercat reached the (near) top of the charts in Germany when he was 15 years old. He played bass in his older brother’s metal band, an outfit called ‘Suicidal Tendencies.’
Rap duos don’t get more avant-garde than Shabazz Palaces. The Seattle duo released an album last year titled Lese Majesty, which was in fact a science-fiction themed seven-suite opus that was the most weighty piece of anything we heard all year. Consisting of the equally fantastically named Palaceer Lazaro and Tendai ‘Baba’ Maraire, the pair have come out of left field, or outer space, when looking at the grand scope of contemporary hip hop. Few rappers manage to blend state of the art production with lyrics that wouldn’t seem out of place in a B-52’s song, even fewer manage to do it well. While Flying Lotus and Thundercat certainly don’t lack in character, Shabazz Palaces will be bringing the bombast to WOKE, as well as the otherworldly lyrical skill.
FUN FACT: The guys are part of an art collective called Black Constellation that throw parties in whatever city they happen to be in. They’re referred to as ‘Black Weirdo’ parties, so keep your eye out next time they go on tour.
Photo of Flying Lotus by Tim Saccenti