ART FEATURES MUSIC

Killer Bee’s sonic innovation – a refreshing approach to the production of hip hop music

Independent hip hop producer Killer Bee executes a diverse assortment of ear-rousing vibes with his cleverly produced instrumentals, accommodated by clips from various sources that seem to flawlessly stitch the music together. The New York native has produced for many on-the-rise artists like Lonny X, dylAn, JuegoTheNinety, Krewe of 77, Hassan El Hobo, Justah Phase, and more. His inspiration ranges from the works of Kanye West and J Dilla to Flying Lotus, Shlohmo, and knxwledge. Instead of sticking to a “pure” genre, Bee intermixes trap, future, lo-fi, vaporwave, and electronica together, creating a pleasant dimension shifting sound. Bee is breaking the mold of typically produced hip hop music, amplifying a refreshing yet nostalgic tone.

His recently released album titled Otaku is a dreamy compilation of futuristic lo-fi hiphop instrumentals that will enchant you, leaving you wanting more.

I had the honor of interviewing Killer Bee, discussing his work, insight on music, and more below.


 

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I would like to start off by applauding your work. The music you create is truly mesmerizing. How did you start off producing? What sparked your interest in making music?

Hey Kennedy, thanks for having me and for the kind words. I started producing hip hop when I was a sophomore in high school, so around age 16. But I’ll try to give more insight to my producing career because I feel like my style is a sum of all my past musical experiences and influences. I was pretty musical as a kid. I picked up the guitar when I was 8 years old because I wanted to be a rock star. My mom recently found these drawings I made in Kindergarten that featured a stick figure of me with a guitar and two giant speakers in the back so I guess I always knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I started my songwriting career by making rock/acoustic music with my guitar and my dad’s Lenovo laptop. I had no idea what a DAW was so I would record the guitar and vocal parts individually on the built in Windows 97 audio recorder, then splice them back together by some sort of overdubbing. I don’t really know what my music sounded at that age, but when I was in 6th grade, my neighbor introduced me to alternative rock, pop punk and emo. The angst was real back then haha. I grew up listening to Taking Back Sunday, My Chemical Romance, Story of the Year, Dashboard Confessional, All Time Low, Fall Out Boy, and a bunch of other emo bands. Say what you will about emo but it had probably the third most profound effect on my music making as I think it really fine tuned my ear for melodies. So I was basically a poser emo kid going to a prep school. You couldn’t tell though, the most punk thing I bought were black high top Taylors.

I started listening to rap once I got to high school. It was the only type of music being played at parties. My friend Cole introduced me to it. I remember hanging out in my basement listening to Drake’s “Best I Ever Had” and trying to recreate it on Garageband. I strummed it on guitar, punched in a few drums using my keyboard, and Cole rapped over it.  I liked its dichotomy – a soft R&B chorus over snappy drums (Boi-1da is still a big inspiration of mine). Our recording was terrible but I kind of realized I had a knack for producing hip hop. My past experience recording emo stuff helped me get the foundation in Garageband I needed, and I felt that the melodies were similar. It wasn’t until I heard Kanye’s ‘Graduation’ and ‘808s’ that I really dove into hip hop production. I wanted to make a song like “Flashing Lights” more than anything in the world – that 909 clap is gorgeous. Me and Cole set up a janky music studio in the storage closet of the music hallway of our school when we were sophomores. The room couldn’t have fit more than 10 people max, it was tiny. I got a cheap Audio Technica mic and a Presonus Firebox audio interface, which actually ended up getting stolen. We would spend hours in there at the end of the school day during our free period, making and recording over shitty beats I made on Garageband. And people would come through too. We had a gang of like 4 or 5 dudes who would roll through to rap over the tracks I made. It actually really helped me understand how to record rappers as well as the signal flow involved with recording to the mic to the interface to the DAW, etc.

I’ll end my tirade on my senior year in high school when I first heard Nujabes’ ‘Modal Soul’. I’ve always loved anime since my Toonami days, and I remember watching Samurai Champloo and thought it was GENIUS to have a hip hop soundtrack. It was a perfect combination and arguably the birth of a kind of second wave of lo-fi hip hop that we see today. I was obsessed with it and immediately began producing in that vein. I must have listened to that album 100 times that summer. I still make conventional Kanye/Drake type music, but I really wanted to have my personal stuff to stand alone. I found out it’s insanely hard. That’s why Nujabes and J Dilla are legends. They’re able to make an 8 bar loop interesting for 2 minutes. I mean it’s just mind blowing. ‘Modal Soul’  has had the third most profound effect on my music to this day and I’ve been studying boom bap ever since listening to cats like DJ Premier, J Dilla, and Pete Rock. But even as I was making beats I was still a full time student both in high school and college, so it was hard to juggle both things. I didn’t start to produce seriously and release my own stuff until pretty late, like junior year of college with the release of my first project, Venus – EP. The most profound effect on my music recently was right before that when I discovered bsd.u’s “French Inhale” / ‘Lighter’ and Knxwledge’s ‘Kauliflowr’. Those two projects inspired me to make Venus EP and lo-fi in general. I had that eureka moment that has continued to shape my music to this day. I think that’s also why I kind of struggle making traditional boom bap. I started taking my music seriously after I listened to Knx and bsd.u so they’ve both had the biggest effect on my stand alone music. In a sense I kind of fell in love with the newer wave of instrumental hip hop before I even began to study its roots with J Dilla, Pete Rock, Madlib, DJ Premier etc. I’m still studying all the time though and I think that’s also why my sound is a little more modern. So I was kind of late to the instrumental game but hopefully people still enjoy my music anyway.

Is there a story behind the name Killer Bee?

Yeah, I actually got the name from a character in “Naruto Shippuden”. In the anime, “Killer Bee” is a rapping ninja so I thought it’d be appropriate since I make hip hop music. Like many other producers, I’ve cycled through a bunch of producer names in the past. It’s kind of cool to reflect on though since I switched up my moniker at various moments of my life and thus different skill levels when it came to hip hop production. So the monikers mark different chapters of my music career. I began producing under “infamou$”, and then in high school I was known as “Doc”, and then in college I became “Killer Bee”. It’s like a form of catharsis or metamorphosis.

I settled on Killer Bee eventually because that was when I officially started releasing my own stuff. It’s funny though because I feel like under the Killer Bee moniker itself there are already different chapters to my music and skill level. For example, I would say that my newest album ‘Otaku’ is a departure from the Killer Bee who made ‘alone_’ and ‘Venus EP’. I probably won’t change my name for a while though because it’ll just confuse everyone I think. But who knows, maybe I’ll change it once I feel like my music/self has outgrown the name or I have a cult following that is actively seeking my music and can keep up with the name changes. Or maybe it’s a dumb idea I don’t know. I can see that pissing a lot of people off haha. The concept isn’t new anyway. Donald Glover said he has outgrown “Childish Gambino” and Kanye was once referred to as “Martin Louis King”, so it’s kind of like that. Just different stages of my art.

“The main point is to be serious about your art at all times.”

Your latest album, Otaku, is a dreamy compilation of mesmerizing, dimension shifting, lo-fi hip hop productions. What is your insight on the lo-fi genre as a whole? Do you believe that the lo-fi movement is beginning to lose it’s “underground” title and instead acquiring a more prominent position in music?

I think the genre and its direction is really interesting to think about. I try not to read to deeply into it though because at the end of the day, I just try and make music that I like and hopefully other people like. I try to not bind myself to one specific genre. I don’t want to speak for the genre, but I’ll give my opinion. I think as a whole, if Nujabes, J Dilla and Madlib was kind of the beginning of a more modern lo-fi hip hop instrumental movement, we are seeing a renaissance emerge as a second wave with artists like Flying Lotus, Knxwledge, mndsgn, Ohbliv, vhvl, Ahwlee, Iman Omari ewonee, etc. I would consider these guys to be the major players of the genre in my opinion. They are all masters of their craft and make insanely good/creative music. Flying Lotus arguably created the (modern) LA beat scene, and Knxwledge is picking up where he left off while innovating the genre to become more lo-fi with the use of cassette and reel to reel effects on his work. Knxwledge has also brought it to the forefront with his track “Momma” on Kendrick’s ‘TPAB’ and he’s recently teamed up with Earl Sweatshirt on “Balance.” So I think there is a lot more room for this newer lo-fi genre to grow in the mainstream, especially if lo-fi producers start to link up with emerging or established rap artists like Earl.

That being said, however, the majority of lo-fi will always be underground. Underneath the more “mainstream” lo-fi hip hop scene, there is an entire separate internet lo-fi scene with artists like bsd.u, SwuM, Grimm Doza, Tomppabeats, Sleepy Eyes, eevee, j^p^n, being a few of the bigger names and leaders of the movement. These guys are all geniuses and big inspirations of mine. Even though these producers are technically “underground”, they all have a strong Internet following. I think the Internet is starting to blur the lines between underground and mainstream, as I believe someone can be extremely successful on their own using Soundcloud, Bandcamp, etc. without ever being mentioned on the radio or TV. The Internet has allowed a portion of the masses to discover underground music.

So I don’t think lo-fi will ever lose its “underground” title, however, I do think it’s kind of ironic that one of the main reasons it’ll never lose its underground status is because it’s becoming more “mainstream” in underground hip hop production circles. For example, every other day I see posts of budding producers on Reddit ask for lo-fi production advice.  Any teenager with Ableton and a sp404 can make lo-fi now. So for every bsd.u, there are a thousand emerging beginner lo-fi producers who will represent the underground as they struggle to come up and break out of their own respective scene, etc. And don’t get me wrong, the comment above is not supposed to be snide. I think it’s good that the internet has provided mass information at everyone’s finger tips because it is the free flow of information that progresses any genre and refines the sound while trimming the fat. As more people make lo-fi hip hop, only the best music will rise to the top by pushing the genre forward in an interesting way or risk falling off/being boring (insert lazy boom bap drums over an underwhelming Joe Pass sample).

“Why are people so concerned with bringing other people down? Just because it’s outside societal norms?”

Otaku is said to poke fun at your love for anime and “falls in line with Lofi Hip Hop’s obsession with the anime aesthetic.” Could you elaborate on that?

The lo-fi internet scene is at the cross section of many internet based genres like vaporwave, which has a very strong “aesthetic” consisting of old Microsoft Windows logos and bright neon colors. In a similar way, at least in terms of cover art, the lo-fi hip hop “aesthetic” is like FLCL or some other dope old school anime, with a bit of grain, and possibly VHS type text. I mean lo-fi just incorporates the general internet aesthetic that grows on Tumblr and is then transplanted onto Soundcloud. The whole thing is just kind of a meme now. I’m definitely guilty of doing it but I think it’s not necessarily a bad thing if it’s sincere. If you truly enjoy anime and not just its “aesthetic.” You can tell when someone is being a poser and only watches anime to be anti or because of its “aesthetic”. Though there are two sides to that coin as well. If lo-fi introduces someone to anime and they fall in love with it that’s great. I think that should be the goal for the aesthetic. But if you’re a new lo-fi producer just trying to ride the wave and only watches anime to get Soundcloud art, you’re a poser.

You can always tell when it’s done right though and it’s organic. In my case, hopefully it comes across as someone who a kid grew up with Toonami, DBZ, Sailor Moon, Pokemon, etc. Either way, for the ‘Otaku’ cover art I tried to switch it up by enlisting Zomkashwak (who is a dope artist) to do an original piece in the vein of the lo-fi hip hop aesthetic. I kind of gave him an idea of what I had in mind but it was really important to me that he just drew what came to his head and filled in the blanks of my vision. He nailed it too so I was really happy with how it came out.

In terms of poking fun at myself, I just think it’s important to be able to laugh at yourself. I named it ‘Otaku’ as a kind of satire. People have such a negative view of people who love animes and they insult them with words like “weebs” and “otaku.” And I obviously understand why, it’s slightly annoying if Japan is the ONLY thing someone talks about and sure it’s strange that someone has a waifu, body pillows, dresses up in cosplay, etc. etc. but why? Just let other people live and let them do them. Why are people so concerned with bringing other people down? Just because it’s outside societal norms? If someone is truly in love with a digital character and has them as their waifu, as long as it’s not hurting anyone, why is that wrong? It should only matter if THEY are happy with the decisions they make. Maybe they’re asexual and this is how they deal with it. It doesn’t matter, I don’t think people should judge other people so harshly. Look at American football. It’s practically a religion in some places. People dress up in silly costumes all the time at games, but no one considers that cosplay. That might be a shit comparison but I’m just trying to view it from all sides. I’m sure dressing up for football is weird for some people and not weird for others. Who cares, just live your life. Try to love everyone and accept people for who they are.

“I think the Internet is starting to blur the lines between underground and mainstream, as I believe someone can be extremely successful on their own using Soundcloud, Bandcamp, etc. without ever being mentioned on the radio or TV. The Internet has allowed a portion of the masses to discover underground music.”

How was collaborating with MSFTSrep member dylAn? How did the opportunity come about?

dylAn is the homie so shouts to him. It was really great linking up with him. He has incredible vision when it comes to his art and I urge everyone to follow his twitter to keep up with his “Kids Keep Secrets” project he’s working on because it’s going to be unreal. I honestly don’t know how he found my music. I’ve never gotten around to ask him, but one day out of the blue he followed me on twitter and we just kind of started chatting about music. I was a big fan of his song “Moon in my Room” with Willow, so I immediately kept him in mind while working on ‘Otaku’. Eventually I whipped up the second part of my song “Blossom” and I knew that he would sound great on it as a separate interlude so I chopped it up and sent it through. I hit him with the demo title “under ur spell” and we ended up envisioning a kind of spoken word interlude over a tropical beat. I also ended up driving his voice a little to simulate a bonfire by the beach. Anyway, it was actually also the last song on the album to come together as I had also been recording my sister’s (aka ISBA) vox for it too and he ended up sending it like the week before Grifo sent it out to press so I was really excited when it came together. He killed the verse and it is definitely one of my favorite tracks on the album. So yeah, be on the look out for his album because we’ll be linking up again in 2017 so shouts to MSFTSrep and to the whole 1234 fam.

 

You mentioned graduating from college with a degree in Economics. Furthering your education was a sharp decision. Many creatives choose to solely focus on their craft and disregard going to school. What is your advice to teens seeking to pursue the creative wave?

My first college choice was actually Berklee College of Music in Boston. I did a production seminar when I was a junior in high school and fell in love with the Boston area and the school in general. I had a very clear vision of how I wanted to pursue my music career but I got rejected. I didn’t have a lick of music theory knowledge and I didn’t have the chops to get in purely based on hip hop production capacity. I wasn’t taking music as seriously back then anyway. And I don’t want to knock Colby. I’m here because of my experiences in college, the friends I made, and what I’ve learned. I’m extremely grateful to have a degree in Economics from a great school to fall back on. And I do have a passion for Economics, especially econometrics and studying the effects of social policy in the US. It just happens that my first passion is music haha so I wanted to see where it would lead me.

I was blessed that my parents could send me to school. A lot of people aren’t in that position, so I don’t want to speak for people since everyone has different experiences. That being said though, I guess my advice for teens is if you have the opportunity, you should definitely go to college for music or art or whatever you’re passionate about. Just because you are incredibly naturally talented, without education in that subject or any refinement, you’ll never progress. I would’ve killed to go to school for music, since music theory is one area I struggle with in my music. I also guarantee you anyone who puts in the work to study the craft actively, in school or not, will end up becoming a better musician/artist than someone with just enormous natural talent. So if you have the chance to go to college, you should, even if it’s not for music. You can balance both things. I did. And if you balance it well and commit yourself to your art while maintaining decent grades, who knows, maybe you will blow up while in school. The main point is to be serious about your art at all times. One of my biggest regrets was not taking music that seriously during my career as a student. I remember I linked up with an artist from NYC when I was a freshman in college and he was tapped by a very famous producer to fly out to Cali to meet with him and work on something. This artist was gracious enough to invite me along because we had worked really well together but I didn’t end up going because I wanted to focus on my studies. And that producer was Grammy nominated and one of my biggest inspirations. I regret not going to this day, but like I said, everything happens for a reason. Who knows what would’ve happened anyway? It obviously wasn’t my path. So like most things in life, it’s important to have balance..but teetering to the side of your art once in a while isn’t the worst thing either.

If you could collaborate with any artist(s), dead or alive, who would you choose and why?

Wow that’s tough. I could list like 30 artists that I want to work with both dead and alive. If you don’t mind, I’ll try and give three from each list.

Alive: Kanye West, Donald Glover, Dev Hynes.

Kanye is probably my biggest inspiration when it comes to producing. My foundation in producing hip hop is attributed to him. I appreciate that he pushes the boundaries of hip hop constantly and I will argue with anyone that Yeezus will age gracefully and be considered a classic in a few years (much like how 808s aged well).

I’ve been a huge fan of Donald Glover since his ‘I Am Not A Rapper’ mixtapes. ‘Because the Internet’ is one of my favorite albums of all time. ‘Atlanta’ killed it this year. My love for Hawaiian shirts and shorts is directly attributed to him. The passion in which I construct my album is attributed to him since he wrote a screenplay for BTI and created an entire concept/story around his album. I also aspire to be like him one day by being able to pursue my art in different forms such as writing and directing.

On a similar note, I think Dev Hynes is a genius. Blood Orange’s ‘Cupid Deluxe’ is amazing. His dancing videos are amazing. He’s just mad talented. I feel like he could teach me a lot about synthesizers. It would also just be dope to talk to him about his views on life in general.

Honorable mentions: Madlib, MF Doom, Knxwledge, Robert Glasper, Keith Sweat

Dead: Nujabes, John Coltrane, J Dilla.

Nujabes put a soundtrack to one of my favorite animes ever, ‘Samurai Champloo’ and birthed the marriage of anime and hip hop that would eventually spawn the aesthetic of the lo-fi scene. So many lo-fi hip hop producers get their start because of Nujabes. His beats were beautiful. If I could make a song with a fraction of the beauty his music held, I’d be happy. Him and Dilla were taken too soon. Rest in peace.

J Dilla is arguably the best hip hop producer of all time. His sample selection is unreal and his work is intricate. I strive to be as passionate and meticulous as Dilla. He made “Donuts” while he was in the hospital and it still came out to be a masterpiece. I don’t want to say anything more. He’s the GOAT. Rest in peace.

John Coltrane made me love jazz. His music was accessible yet complex, and his later works are pieces of art. Because of Trane, I aspire to push genre boundaries, incorporate free form in my music, and blend spirituality in my music, always having the listener think: what does it all mean? Life. Death. Love. John Coltrane & Duke Ellington’s LP is one of my favorite albums of all time. Just listen to “In a sentimental mood.” Rest in peace.

Honorable mentions: Elvis, Michael Jackson, Bill Evans

Given the opportunity to deliver major vibes wherever you wanted, what places would you select to perform?

I’d love to play at Low End Theory in LA. So many great beatmakers end up there or play their first show there. Bitter End in NYC. A Beat Haus show at Friends & Lovers in Brooklyn. I’d love to play some part in the East Coast beat scene. Terminal 5 in NYC, since that was the first venue I ever saw a show (Childish Gambino’s ‘Camp’ Tour). Coachella would be dope. Governor’s Ball in NYC would be lit. Red Rocks looks amazing. Madison Square Garden would also be cool.

I never really thought past small bars with a tight knit crowd though. So any small venue or bar with a tight knit crowd in Paris, Copenhagen, London, Dublin, Lisbon, Edinburgh, Reykjavik, Barcelona, Berlin, Prague, Budapest, Stockholm, Zurich, Bruges, Amsterdam, Istanbul, or Rome. Playing in any of those cities for people who dig my music would be a dream.

Are you currently working on your next project? If so, what should we expect from it?

I’m actually just finishing up the first installment of a series of beat tapes I’m going to release entitled ‘Late Night Ramen’ but it will be stylized as LNR_[01]. The title is a nod to bsd.u’s ‘late night bumps’ series which are incredible. The tape isn’t really an album but it is mostly comprised of mostly unheard and unreleased demos that didn’t make it to ‘Otaku’, plus a few new songs that I’m excited for people to hear. I figured that there isn’t really a reason I should sit on them forever. I’m sure someone would like to hear those songs anyway and as long as one person likes it, that prospect makes me really happy. Besides that, I’m slowly working on a follow up album. I’m trying to put 3 or 4 projects out his year. I don’t have a name for it yet though. Anyway expect big features. I also plan on doing shows in NYC soon too so fans can follow my live show mailing list (here) if they’re interested in that.  

Anyway, thanks again for having me. It means a lot that you and Cut x Sewn are rocking with my music. I’m a big fan and it’s an honor to be interviewed by the magazine. Peace.


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