Ausar Credit: Boots Howard

Chicago rapper Ausar Bradley struck me as a whip-smart lyricist with impressive mike skills when he was still studying at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign—he was two years shy of his undergraduate degree when he dropped the excellent 2017 mixtape The 6 Page Letter. This year Ausar, who records and performs under his first name, has released a handful of sharp singles and his first postgraduate EP, the new Flight of the Honeybee. As he recently told Vocalo host Bekoe, he was still working on the EP’s title track when he decided its horns reminded him of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s famous orchestral composition “Flight of the Bumblebee.” After he wrote its lyrics, he decided to build an entire concept EP around bees—especially the ways they’ve been misunderstood, mistreated, or maligned. “The project is basically using bees in general as a metaphor for marginalized groups,” he said.

Throughout the EP, Ausar incorporates this concept in different ways, rather than letting one big idea act like an anchor around his neck; his conceits always feel natural, never forced. On “Bee Sides Freestyle” he saves the apian references for a skit at the end, after a blistering, gear-shifting performance—he speeds up and slows down with a smooth, assertive flair to complement sudden shifts in his soul-sampling beat. And on the simmering “Stinger,” Ausar sounds poised and relaxed under pressure—one of the reasons I think he’ll grow to be as critical to Chicago’s music scene as bees are to our ecosystem.