Captain Murphy

The secret is finally out: Captain Murphy’s true identity is Steven Ellison a.k.a. Flying Lotus. The acclaimed L.A.-based producer, renowned for his experimental instrumental work Cosmogramma, has kept his alter-ego a secret since appearing alongside Earl Sweatshirt on “Between Friends.” The speculation surrounding the Captain has been building, as he never really let up on who he really was. Some likened his deep voice to Tyler, the Creator while other rappers like Rejjie Snow tried to claim the name to strengthen their celebrity. However, the MC-producer held up a convincing act through seemingly countless animated videos, which portrayed him as a cartoon and made him a fascinating Internet phenomenon.

After releasing a bizarre video montage for his debut mixtape Duality, Captain Murphy is looking ahead at his next project. He’s still sticking with the outlandish persona, even if fans already know that FlyLo is behind it all. Where he will go next with Captain Murphy remains a mystery. In the meantime, find out everything you need to know about hip-hop’s most enigmatic character.—(As told to Eric Diep @E_Diep)


Captain Murphy: I grew up out here. I started producing music. I was about 15. I also started rapping too. I didn’t really take it seriously. It was just something to do. No one was getting on just as a producer. It was just kind of like what you had to do. You had to be a rapper first, and then you can make beats.

I was even in a group, man. I started a group with my homies. You know, we were rapping and shit. We never did anything. Nothing ever came of it. Eventually, I was just like, Stop fucking with music for a while. I went and studied film and then I got back into producing when I was in college. I’ve been a producer ever since.

I realized it was just cool to produce. I didn’t have to rap or nothing. I just can be making tracks and not have to worry about the rap world. Beef. [Laughs] You know? All the dumb shit that comes with it. Everybody is a rapper. At the time, I was really getting on and producing. No one was producing so it was dope. I kind of have my little lane.

Captain Murphy childhood

On his childhood:

I grew up in a musical family. There was a lot of jazz music. I grew up with John Coltrane. He is my grandmother’s sister’s husband. Everyone in my family really played music, more traditional. I was encouraged to do music. Not necessarily encouraged to be a rapper or producer in hip-hop, but music was a possibly. I could do something with it.

When I started producing, it was kind of awkward, but it was cool. Nobody gave me a hard time about it, but people just didn’t understand it. Especially some of my earlier stuff, people were like, ‘It sounds like you are hitting on pots and pans or hitting on garbage cans, making beats and stuff. Where the singers at? Where the rappers at?’ What if there were no singers or rappers on it? Just let it be what it is. [Laughs]

Captain Murphy Electronic Music

Captain Murphy: I feel like I came up from hip-hop, even though I take a more experimental approach with the shit sometimes. I really feel like I am rooted in hip-hop mostly. That’s where I come from. I think I gravitate towards electronic music because it didn’t really have as many limitations as hip-hop did.

I find that there is a crazy, purist mentality with hip-hop. People are like it’s gotta be a certain way. It’s gotta be boom-bap. You gotta talk about the streets. This and that and whatever. Fuck, man. What if I just wanted to do something different? A lot of times, people from the hip-hop community, they would front on me. They would just front on my shit. I was like, “You know what? I’m a just fuck with this electronic shit.”

Captain Murphy Serious Rap

Captain Murphy: I can recall the moment specifically. I haven’t told anybody this and I am so glad to talk to you about it. I feel like it was such a big deal for me personally. I’ve been working with Tyler, the Creator and Odd Future and them. I’ve been working with them for a while last year. I remember I was working with Hodgy Beats a bunch specifically. He invited me over to the studio—Paramount studios.

They started playing me some of the OF Tape Vol. 2. These guys were chilling in the dopest control room. I’m telling you man it was like a fucking dream. These are kids that no one has really heard of them the year before. These kids are in the illest studios, smoking weed, and calling any tunes. And they can get any producer they want because they are the biggest deal in the world. I asked them, “Yo, Hodgy, how long did it take you to record this shit? How long did it take you to write this song?” “Aw, my nigga, it took me like 15 minutes.’ 15 minutes? Are you fucking serious? I was like, “Nah, nigga. I am gonna do this shit.”

I was convinced at that moment. I was like, I could do that. No dissing. Not to take anything away from anybody and their process or whatever. But when he told me it only took 15 minutes, I got to get my shit together. I gotta eat, dude. Just for some expression sake. I’ve been doing this work for so long without a voice. I feel like I have so much more to say now. I feel like I’ve seen so much shit since I was a kid. I’ve had a lot of experiences—negative and positive. I felt like I needed another outlet. I needed to say some shit and also I wanted to do something that didn’t have any pressures or stigma.

I was working on the Flying Lotus stuff and I felt like I spent so much time trying to build this catalogue that I was proud of. It’s a very serious project. I just wanted to do something that was fun that nobody cared about. For the longest time, I have been working on this shit and I didn’t play it for anybody. I didn’t let anybody hear it. Slowly but surely, they did.

Captain Murphy on Earl Sweatshirt

On working with Earl Sweatshirt:

Captain Murphy: “Let me tell you from the beginning. When I first did this thing, again, I had no plans on releasing any of the music. I did a song with Earl Sweatshirt [“Between Friends”] for Adult Swim. We were supposed to do the song. I did the beat. He came over and he did his verse and he left. I was like, “This is dope, but it is too short.” We can’t just put out the song for like a minute. Adult Swim, you know, is gonna pay us nicely. [Laughs] I’m sure they want a song.

So getting Earl in my studio is really difficult. He is so busy. I was like, “Earl, please come back and write another verse. Or, let’s do another song and we will combine them.” It’ll be like a two song thing. He was like, “Alright, that’s straight.” Never happened. I just wrote a verse. Maybe the third song I have ever written for Captain Murphy. I sent it and I never heard back from him. I was like, “Aw, man he fucking hates this shit.” Again, this is like fertile ground. I was so fucking nervous about the show. I hate this shit. He hates it. He probably sent it to Tyler, Tyler probably hates it. Everybody fucking hates my rapping. [Laughs] That’s what I was thinking to myself.

Next time I see Earl he was like, “Oh, I never heard it. Send it to me.” I send it to him. He was like, “Aw, nigga, that’s tight! Put that out.” I was like, “Oh, ok.” Again, none of this shit is planned man. I’m still kind of freaked out. I don’t know if I should put this shit out, rapping and shit. That shit is gonna be awkward. Then my buddy at Adult Swim heard the track. And this guy is one of my good friends. He really supported a lot of it. He was like, “You gotta put it out.” So I put it out and at the same time I leaked this “Mighty Morphin’ Foreskin” song.

Captain Murphy with Earl Sweat shirt

On hiding Captain Murphy’s identity:

Captain Murphy: I never wanted it to be this whole thing about my identity. I never wanted it that to be the case. The only think that I wanted out of it, I just didn’t want people to like try and hype it up. All of sudden, Flying Lotus is a rapper now. I felt like I had to pay my dues in that respect. I wanted to know if I was any good on the strength. I didn’t want to just come out and have a track with Earl Sweatshirt with me rapping. Flying Lotus is doing his thing. I just wanted to pay dues in the way that I feel rappers should. Earn that shit. That was really the only reason why I was going with the mystery thing and trying to not tell people who I was out of the gate. I wanted people to take me seriously. Not like, “Oh, that’s cool. He’s rapping now. That’s cute.” No, I didn’t want to do that. I want to see if it's any good first without any co-signs. I want to see if motherfuckers are really gravitating towards it. If it is then I am gonna keep doing it. If not, then I will know. Then when they started to say it was all these people, I felt really bad. Yeah, all that shit that started happening man, it got real fucked up. For one, everyone was assuming it was Tyler because he pitch shifted or whatever. I said “nigger” once and everyone was like, “Oh, he’s Tyler!” [Laughs] I was like, Damn, man he’s probably fucking sick and tired of people asking him. You know, is he Captain Murphy and all this shit. Again, it totally became something that I didn’t expect. It became more about my identity than what I was talking about. The whole thing came about speculating who I was. I was like, “This is the complete opposite of what I wanted to do with that.” I feel like the people made me tell them who I was. They made me reveal my fucking identity. There are some people who were like, “Oh, you shouldn’t have done it. You should have kept it going.” I was like, Nah, man. All you motherfuckers making websites and shit about who I am and all this shit made it this way.

Captain Murphy Identity

Captain Murphy: It was everything. I feel like people wanted it. They wanted to know so badly. I hope that they regret it. [Laughs] But, they wanted it so bad.

Honestly, I felt the weight of that situation. “Damn, I don’t want this shit to be my gimmick or my crutch.” I didn’t want to escalate any further than what it was. If I could go back and change it, would I? I don’t know, but I feel like that part of it went on long enough. Now, I really want it to be about skill and the music. I didn’t want it to be about the fucking show. That part of it will remain in other ways. The work will definitely keep people on their toes and keep it fun and stuff.

Captain Murphy Killin Joke

Captain Murphy: I feel like Captain Murphy is the darkest parts of the ego of the collective conscious of this planet. [Laughs] I feel like Captain Murphy will say those things that people want to say, but won’t say. I feel like even for me on a personal level, I look and I listen to some of this shit and kind of cringe, but it's that one thing that someone would love to say. Even for a second if someone thinks that something for a split second and then won’t think it. They’ll move past that. I want it to dwell in that space with Captain Murphy. I want to dwell in that space we try to brush under the rug. You know, those things that we think about society or about people—about love and sex. I want that to put the darkest part of our nature at the forefront. I feel like my other project does the opposite.

At the moment, I would rather be a cartoon because that’s where I feel like I am coming from. I feel like that part of myself when I do it. I feel like it's the part of myself that the super spontaneous person who can fucking turn into anything in any given moment. Shape-shifting and stuff. I feel like it would be cool to keep that going and maybe it could be different artists interpreting Captain Murphy. Maybe he could change his look per album. It could be different. I feel like it is definitely a part of me but it's not who I am on my day to day. So when I do it, it's cool to think about a cartoon character who he thinks is above man. He thinks he is above the law, above people, above everything. When I write, I can come at it from that perspective.

Captain Murphy Duality

Captain Murphy: I wanted to make it a short film. I didn’t want to release the whole thing until that was first. I wanted that to come out first. It was funny because I got myself in a bit of trouble. I was saying, ‘Alright, if I get 10,000 followers, I’m gonna release the shit.’ [Laughs] And then all the kids were like, ‘Aw, shit. Everybody follow this guy right now!’ The film wasn’t ready yet. It just put us into overdrive mode and trying to get this shit done, but it came out cool in the end. But we had to definitely work the whole time. The kids were like, ‘Alright, we are at 10,000 followers, where’s it at?’

When we were putting it all together, I wrote a list of all the things that I liked. I grabbed all this footage that I come across that I felt worked with what I was doing. I wanted it to feel like a really fucked up, exploitive film. It felt like really European style, experimental film. I think that’s part of the fun of it. Be able to hijack certain things. The next project that I am working on with the Captain Murphy thing is it’s like an obvious thing that no one has ever done. I can’t tell you, but it’s another visual thing. It’s nice to be able to hijack things--whether they are famous or not. It’s not my bread and butter project. I am not really making any money off it. I can steal something that someone will sue me for when I’m trying to make a buck. But I ain’t fucking trippin’. I’mma steal it.

Captain Murphy Next Project

Captain Murphy: I’m four tracks in. It’s cool. It’s a lot deeper though. This one is kind of like more introspective I feel. It’s a lot darker in the tone of it too. It’s a little less playful. But who knows? It’s only four songs. I’m not in any rush to finish it. But I love doing it. I am having so much fun doing this new character thing.

There’s no rush. I am working on other stuff too. It’s just the thing to do when I got words to write. Because of that buzz that is there and it's building, it’s really encouraging. I feel like a new artist again.


Captain Murphy: “What’s next for Captain Murphy? Getting on the XXL Freshman! [Laughs] Seriously, [I am] just trying to be better. I want to really, really fucking go in on this shit. You know I am. I don’t want to just be some swag rapper or a fashion-y rapper or a gimmick. I’m really wanted to be good at this shit. I really want people to be like, Damn, he carved out his own lane and killed that shit. That’s my plan.