AstroBee is easily a a great Hip-Hop album for three reasons: 1) it captures the duality of hip hop’s

closely related genre- jazz, 2) the production is reminiscent of golden era hip hop, yet

unique and , and 3) the lyrical prowess on the part of both the vocalist, Bumblebee, and

the producer/musician of the album, Astro Mega. To briefly comment on the origins of this

project, it pays a tribute to the benefits of social networking. The two producers were able to

connect through social networking. Upon hearing each other’s work on the internet, they agreed

to work toward completing a collaborative project. 

 

Now, when most people reflect on jazz, they may associate it with feelings of relaxation and

think about it as a highly technical and sophisticated art form. While the latter is definitely true, 

jazz can be far from relaxing at times. In fact, some of it can be piercing, hard hitting, and even

disturbing for un-expecting listeners (e.g Sun Ra’s “Pyramids”). Interestingly, some, if not most

jazz music is able to create both of these moods simultaneously. AstroBee is a hip hop album, but

it must be noted that it is constructed using jazz samples. This may contribute to the fact that it

expresses the dual sound qualities of jazz in some ways. Generally, the production on the product

is smooth and pleasing to the ear. We don’t find much cacophony and dissonance sonically. 

However we do hear many change-ups in the beats that mimic chord transitions in jazz songs. 

The best example is of this is in the song “Keywords” in which the beat switches about half way

through the song. The change is almost all of a sudden, but upon careful listening one can find

it very appropriate. It isn’t a switch that is initially expected, but it is done neatly and is no

doubt sensible to a seasoned musicians. So this is an example of how this project can be

linked to jazz music.

 

We can further explore the duality that AstroBee possess. While the production can be described

as smooth, some of the lyrical subject matter on the part of the vocalist is quite disturbing (in

a good way). This is because Bee seems to take a stream of conscious approach to the lyrics. 

Some lines/couplets are crude and at first listen may seem ill placed or insensitive. For instance

in the song “Apiology” he says other producers are gassed up or overrated and too expensive

“like diesel” while “Mega’s bpm will oil spill them like a sea gull”. This line is crude (no pun

intended) because it cleverly makes commentary on the activities of oil companies, specifically

British Petroleum. To those who take have more conservative views on environmental matters, 

such a line could be interpreted negatively, even when taken in the context of the song. However, 

Bee creates this tension intentionally, for in the very next line he states “that line was stupid” 

which I will suggest shows his self awareness. He rhymes in a way that can be described as

socially conscious, but he does so candidly over production that isn’t as rugged. The song

“Aesthetic” is a satirical work of genius. Bee is able to satirize himself as a socially conscious

emcee, while also attacking popular rap music’s misogyny and materialism. (Since he is a

producer, he makes fun of them too.) When taken out of context, though the chorus of the song

could prove problematic, for he says that he will rap about “big booty hoes” and even suggests

that Mega should abandon the smooth sound that we hear throughout the album. When listeners

understand the song to be satire however, it is quite effective and not contradictory to lines like

the following in the song “Rime Stream”: “I just consider it my duty to / rock the mic well and

tell black women they’re beautiful”. Throughout the project he deals with serious subjects

that may be uncomfortable. Because of the relaxing mood of the production however, we

have a rather pleasant juxtaposition; we have the rugged and the smooth working together

to create a whole that is very enjoyable. 

 

When we again consider the production, some of its elements uphold the standards of hip hop

that is categorized as golden era hip hop. For example, think about the use of jazz samples. Mega

follows a path that producers of the late 1980s and early 1990s followed, using bits and pieces

and loops of obscure jazz records to construct new sounds. This method seems to be the way

that most of the album is produced. As a result it could easily be placed next to other albums of

its kind, whether contemporary or earlier. At the same time however, Mega is able to define his

style. His snare drums are often tight and hard hitting. His bass lines are prominent and funky in

songs like “Apiology”, “Rime Stream”, and both of the intermission tracks. He takes advantage

of high and low pass filters in quite a few songs, contributing to the smooth sound. Mega also

uses clips from movies, interviews, and perhaps other sources in order to construct his voice as a

producer. No doubt he would agree with the Roy Ayers statement in the song “Break of Snooze”, 

in which Ayers emphasizes the similarities between different types of African American music. 

A number of the songs are somewhat hypnotic and impelled me to play them back multiple

times. Although loops are used in some songs, they are very melodic loops. These melodically

rich loops as well as Mega’s frequent use of switch ups in the beats prevent any boredom on the

listener’s part. Another positive quality about the production is that it is not formulaic. While

Mega establishes a tone and mood, he does not construct all of the songs in the same way. For

instance, every song doesn’t have horns, and the tempos vary in the songs. We aren’t hearing the

same song with different samples. Each song sounds as if it were constructed differently or with

slightly different techniques. So, Mega is able to create/display his own sound and style while

also paying homage to classic hip hop.

 

Staying on the production for a moment, we must note that AstroBee is lyrical. Here the term

lyrical is used to denote the emotion of the beats. The chords in “Keywords” for instance

are haunting. It almost sounds as if we as listeners are being chased, a fearful feeling that

is enhanced by a melodic brass stab in seemingly sporadic places in the song. “Apiology” 

in contrast uses melodic patterns that may relax a listener, creating relief perhaps. The song

“Twinkleinhereye” is worth considering. Its tempo is upbeat and the chords create a feeling

of happiness, despite the fact that Bee decides to rap about unrequited love. Mega displays

lyricism in that he is able to evoke the emotions of the audience, and that the emotions

listeners may feel range from fear to a type of cheerfulness.

 

AstroBee is also lyrical in the more traditional sense of the term. Bee provides clever, complex

lines on essentially every song. This fact definitely adds to the playback value. We may find

ourselves listening multiple times and understanding certain lines differently. There are a number

of extended metaphors that absolutely require multiple listens. The song “Coronation” contains

some of my favorite lines. For instance: 

“The Bee is mostly low key [or Loki]/

but still spittin’ hammers with my thors [as in Thor] on the m.i.c

 thors short for thorough thoughts that transcend these beings.”

Bee uses many literary techniques in this song: alliteration, Biblical and Classical allusions, 

word play, and other tropes that we would expect to find in poetry. 

Yes, AstroBee definitely is an album that deserves careful listening because of its lyricism, 

its relationship to jazz, and its classic hip hop sound.

AstroBee Solar Excursions

released October 15, 2014