Album Review: Captain Murphy’s ‘Duality’

Captain Murphy - Duality

Over the past week, you’ve probably heard that Captain Murphy is a character/aesthetic developed and executed by the one and only Steven Ellison, known by most as Flying Lotus. Since arriving over the summer with a spat of acerbic, pitch-shifted tracks, Murphy’s identity had been obsessed over, driving more than a few people over the proverbial edge. Now that we all know that Murphy = FlyLo and FlyLo = Murphy, which really isn’t that surprising anyways, the body of work, both visual and audio, released over the past few weeks can be discussed in a tempered fashion.

Duality cannot be viewed as solely an album or mixtape. It is an aesthetic, built out of Adult Swim cartoons, video games, long nights at Low End Theory and bong hits. The 17 track project, or continuous video if you prefer,is brilliantly produced, yet disjointed. As a collective audio/visual project, it is one of the most enveloping releases you’ll encounter all year. Captain Murphy is introduced as rapper, lover, cult leader and supervillain. On the production side of things, FlyLo brought in heavy-hitters Just Blaze, Madlib and TNGHT, as well as Brainfeeder compatriots Jeremiah Jae, Teebs and Samiyam. Earl Sweatshirt, Azizi Gibson and Jae again assist Murphy with delectable bars. It’s a star-studded affair that FlyLo conducts blissfully, verses and beats flowing together into one psychedilia-tinged river.

Flying Lotus’ rapping debut comes as a mixed bag of offhand movie and video game references (Final Fantasy anyone?), standard Rick Ross braggadocio and a surprising amount of juvenile rape and phallus talk. On “Mighty Morphin Foreskin,” the word “niggerdick” is uttered, forcing me to believe Tyler, The Creator influenced Duality in one way or another. Despite its relative shortcomings, Ellison’s heavily pitch-shifted introduction to rap is impressive in its breadth, introducing a fully fleshed-out super villain character. More than just your average megalomaniac, Ellison’s Murphy character is a tortured soul, trapped within his own insane, ritualistic and hedonistic mind.

FlyLo also throws in enough head-scratchers like “learn how to do the dougie with the devil in the moonlight” to keep even the most jaded rap fans invested. That being said, the pitch shifting is jarring at times, taking away from the sublimity of much of the production. Similarly, the constant dick and rape talk is unnecessary, and despite being part of the Captain Murphy character (I guess), is detrimental to the album as a whole.

I knew that there was something fishy when the original list of producers (which included Clams Casino at the time) involved in Duality was released. Could a brand new rapper really pull in such a star-studded list of beatsmiths? Would Madlib really work with some Adult Swim channeling chump? Probably not, but would all of the aforementioned producers jump at the chance to work with Flying Lotus? Absolutely. With FlyLo tying everything together with some skillfully executed cult leader skits and beat transitions, the tape reads like a DMT infused night at Low End Theory.

Heavy on psych-rock with a sprinkle of boom bap and plenty of bruising bass, the TNGHT (Hudson Mohawke and Lunice for those living under a rock) produced “Shake Weight” is the one sonic outlier on the tape. Just Blaze and Jae’s “The Ritual” and FlyLo’s “Between Friends” are the two highlights, seeing both producers at their most innovative. My one criticism of the production is of Blaze and Jae for not cutting off that brilliant guitar loop at the beginning of “The Ritual”. If you’re unimpressed by Ellison’s rappity rapping abilities, download the Duality instrumentals and note how cohesive it sounds. Then thank Ellison. Actually we should all thank Ellison.

Now it’s time where you leave your friends and family behind and join the cult of Captain Murphy. It’s these sorts of events, and Duality really has been treated as an event, that make being a hip hop fan so damn fun. Scratch that. Make being a music fan so damn fun. If you can’t appreciate a dozen or so supremely talented individuals getting together to craft a distinctly weird tape with no chance of gaining radio play or profit, then you shouldn’t be reading this. We’re with the Captain, are you?

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