Artist to Watch: Astronautalis

Alternative hip-hop is certainly on the rise, leaving room for stylistic creativity. Enter Astronautalis: rock ‘n’ roll meets hip-hop. Don’t let his rockabilly appearance warp your idea of what makes a good rapper. While he may look like he’d front a folk-rock band, this man has more passion and talent than one could imagine.

Astronautalis: Approaching Rap in His Own Way

Astronautalis is not only original in his look, but in his musical style as well. He doesn’t rely on 8 beat counts to find flow, but instead creates rhythm in a story. Upon the first listen, Astronautalis almost sounds like spoken word accompanied by music. His attention to detail and the time he takes to build rhyme structures is notable. But with originality comes difference, and people don’t necessarily like when something’s different. Some may even say his vocal style is aggressive or harsh to the ear. For others, his unique style is mesmerizing and on a whole new level of what is generally considered hip-hop.

While the passion in his voice could easily be misread as aggression, his gruff and deep voice is truly just an extension of his soul, sharing his stories. His words are meticulously strung together and presented flawlessly. Astronautalis proves that his singing voice is comparable to his rapping as he sings all of his hooks. The raspy, course voice compliments his raw content as he seamlessly moves from an intense verse to the chorus without a breath.

There’s no beating around emotions, here. You can hear the pain in his voice, similar to how you feel when listening to blues; moving strenuously and hanging on words in the hook and sharply spitting verses. Astronautailis proves he is more than an intelligent wordsmith on the track “Contrails” ft. Tegan Quinn of Tegan and Sara. This is easily one of his catchiest singles and yet he doesn’t fall back on typical melodic hip-hop trends or using EDM-like tactics. It takes a lot to successfully combine intelligence and catchiness, but Astronautalis does it well.

Besides his ability to successfully rap and sing, he is one of the best storytellers in hip-hop today. He has referred to his writing style as “historical fiction hip-hop,” certainly a category new to the genre. Lines can get blurred whether a song is personal or just a story, but that just creates excitement and wonder in the content.

If you pay close enough attention, you’ll catch several witty literary references as well. But what’s most important about his music is that he isn’t afraid to stay true to his out-of-the-box musical style. His unique vocals, unusual beats and production (like in “Holy Water” and “Mr. Blessington”), choral backup vocals, use of live instrumentals, and his large vocabulary all pull together to create the sound that is Astronautalis.

The rapper just finished up the “Escape the Vortex” tour and is headed to Europe for the spring.

He’s currently working on his newest album. In the mean time, you can listen to his latest work, This is Our Science, and newly released bonus tracks and remixes on This City Ain’t Just a Skyline.

Article by Jess Keller

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