If you want some clue as to what Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar are up to in new single “Never Catch Me,” the first track released from FlyLo’s upcoming album You’re Dead!, just look at the title. The relentless gallop of the track feels very much like a chase — a good-natured cat-and-mouse game between producer and emcee. Though it’s unclear which one is the cat, and which one the mouse. Lotus and Lamar are seemingly engaged in an ever-escalating series of musical and verbal tricks that you’re never quite sure who’s ahead. And maybe that’s just it: They’re so evenly matched that the suspense never once lets up.
On most Flying Lotus albums, guest vocalists often have a tendency to fade into the scenery. Even Thom Yorke and Erykah Badu seem muted when held up against FlyLo’s funk and jazz-fusion Rube Goldberg devices. But it’s not like Kendrick has ever been known to phone it in — I tend to forget that there are actually other rappers on good kid, m.A.A.d. city (sorry Dre, and to a lesser extent, Drake). He’s no less engaged here, and Stephen Ellison’s piano-driven melody and sputtering beatscape renders lyrical A-game an absolute necessity. This is still Flying Lotus’ backyard that Kendrick’s playing in, and amid the uptempo handclaps, dizzying bass coasters and eruptions of fuzzed-up synthesizers, Lamar only ups the intensity, and not just because of the existential crisis that seems to be snowballing in real time as he’s narrating it. The afterlife, meditation, “wonder years,” death and, ultimately, an “out of body experience” — pretty heavy stuff when you get down to it. It’s just so much fun letting Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus pull us into this surrealist funk trip that you almost don’t notice that the unspoken punchline is, in fact, the album’s title: You’re Dead![from You’re Dead!, out Oct. 7; Warp]