Tracing back their roots to the 1980s, lo fi hip hop beats correspond to a “do it yourself” esthetic, the opposite of “high fidelity” and polished sounds. Over the years, lo fi music has become intermingled with various music genres. However, in reality, lo fi hip hop in itself is more an esthetic than a full-fledged musical genre. The purpose of this craft relies essentially on a desire to make music raw by deliberately distorting sounds and using samples (vinyl crackle, tape hisses etc.) in an unusual way.
In the 1990s, there were no DAWs or accessible audio technologies. Any type of music would be made in a rather unprofessional way by today’s standards. It is exactly at this time that producers such as Nujabes and J Dilla would set the stepping stones of a new music genre, lo fi hip hop. Today, lo fi artists such as Bsd.u, Eevee, Jinsang or Nohidea are following in the footsteps of their predecessors and are part of the revival of the genre. In this article, we will analyze the simplicity of lo fi hip hop beats, the reasons for their emergence in recent years and focus on the elements and the technique behind their making.
- What is lo-fi hip-hop?
- How to make lo-fi hip-hop?
Cozy, chill & relaxing music | Minimalism as a motto
If we want to use words to describe lo fi hip hop, these would be sundry. Some will categorize this type of music as cozy, chill or relaxing. Others will prefer to use the words mellow, nostalgic or sad. Others will rather identify cheerful or happy emotions when listening to lo-fi hip-hop. Surely, it all depends on your musical taste and approach to the genre. However, everyone will agree with the fact that lo-fi hip hop relies on a minimalist approach.
Well-known tracks in the sub-genre will often make use of one sampled part of a song or track which is repeated. In turn, the producer will apply various effects. The goal will be to achieve a catchy groove, to trigger the listener’s interest. The initial sample is often accompanied by a simple hip-hop beat and some white noise or vinyl cracks.
A hip-hop beat in itself may sometimes be the initial sample. What makes this type of music addictive is that you doesn’t have to overanalyze the track due to the song’s few elements. Sit back and relax! Whilst the producer’s community criticizes the genre for how “lazy” it is, lo fi hip hop can be an extremely powerful genre that entertains the human mind in many ways.
“What makes this type of music addictive is that you don’t have to overanalyze the track because of its few elements.”
Furthermore, the act of finding the right sample, achieving the desired effect and associating these elements is an art in itself. When done so, the nostalgic feelings which the track produces are ethereal and one of the main reasons behind its popularity. Another element that makes for the appeal of the sound is its unfinished or raw character, translated through distortion/saturation effects. In a world which is obsessed with quality and perfection, some natural and organic sounds are more than welcome.
In a recent article, Vagueoo3, a lo-fi hip-hop artist who has been around for a while said that:“Lo fi is short for low fidelity and essentially means bad quality, but purposefully”. According to Vagueoo3, it is precisely “this bad quality which makes it stand out, just like overblown bass and distorted vocals make ‘SoundCloud rap’ stand out.” After all, the less is more, isn’t it?
Lo fi hip hop beats | Understanding their reemergence
In fact, most of these channels are run by reckless anime fans. In addition to the “anime hype”, it is self-explanatory why the music has reached such a wide acclaim. Indeed, its laidback sound characteristics make it the perfect companion for people who are just looking for a relaxing tune to listen to when doing domestic chores, studying for exams or chilling with friends. After all, find lo fi beats to study to is extremely easy on youtube..
Whilst the “live” feature of Youtube was introduced back in 2011, it is not until last year that lo fi hip-hop channels really started to take off. Chilled Cow’s channel was one of the first 24/7 lo fi hip-hop stations on YouTube. Today, the latter remains the biggest lo fi hip hop live station with more than a million subscribers and thousands of live radio listeners. However, the movement has experienced a great development and there are more and more live channels that provide their listeners with the most soothing lo fi hip hop tunes.
How To Make Lo Fi Hip Hop Beats: The Gear, Software & Samples You Need
For the creation of lo fi hip-hop, “the less is more” should be your number one rule. If we don’t go as far as saying that anything can work, originality is a must. With an extensive amount of music-producers having opted for the “easy-genre” you will have to stand out of the crowd with sought-after sounds. Digging for unique sounds will be your main task. Therefore, as mentioned before, there is no real necessity to polish a sound. Because the charm of this genre resides precisely in its unfinished character. Nonetheless, some software, hardware and sample indications can give you a good head start for further explorations.
With hardware, you will have to look for any device capable to record or play audio through. As an example, cheap toys, VHS tapes, cassettes, or any other old media format make great options. The purpose of this apparatus is that they act as filters to degrade your sound and can be combined to manipulate the audio further. Some cassettes and tapes will already feature drums you will be able to sample. You will be able to use other sounds on vinyl or cassette players, and the advantage is that the sound you will get will already be lo-fi. With sound design, there are no true limits on how to make lo-fi. The strangest sounds you record in your house or you find can produce an unexpected and satisfying result.
If you want to achieve a higher quality sound that still sounds lo-fi you should consider investing in drum machines, samplers, synths, etc. Naturally, old or poor hardware gives a more degraded sound. Nonetheless, you can achieve the lo-fi effect with newer gear such as the plugins mentioned above.
If you still want to invest in hardware for making lo-fi hip-hop beats, there are a number of accessible options unless you want to buy a second-hand old-school synthesizer.
Here are some drum machines worth considering :
Recently, we also discovered Bastl’s “Trinity“, which is at the same time a musical instrument and original sounding modular groovebox.
Finding samples is easier than ever with blogs and streaming platforms playing old music. If sites like Samplephonics are great for regular samples, you should make sure that you process or tweak your sample enough to be certain that it doesn’t sound like any other one (since these packs are heavily used). Moreover, don’t forget that this is where you make the real difference. Your musical culture and effort to dig deep to find old tunes that are worth sampling will make all the difference when it comes to lo fi hip hop beats.
How To Make Lo Fi Hip Hop Beats: The Technique
While it may be true that this genre requires less effort than other electronic genres, it is still as hard to find a hook or memorable beat. And the effort to find original and uniques samples is not easy. If you still think it’s simple and lazy then change it up and do something that makes you feel excited about the project again. Don’t be part of the lazy lo fi producers. Instead, push the boundaries further..
That being said, the core technique of lo-fi hip hop includes certain unmistakable steps:
- Lower the bitrate
- Lower the sample rate
- Add distortion/saturation
- Emulate Tape, Vinyl, old hardware, etc…
You can go a step forward and buy any cheap hardware with recording capabilities like a cassette recorder, for example, record your samples to cassette then record back to your computer.
You may also like: What are the best cassette players?
The process involves taking one sound, speeding it up or slowing it down, pitch shifting it, and adding some distortion. But the skill of learning how to create lo-fi beats comes in the order that you do these things, how you do them, and what your source material is. It is worth mentioning that as YouTuber Ryan Celsius ‘, whose lo-fi channel has more than 250,000 subscribers) says “the whole idea of lo fi hip hop is usually beat production that can sound under-mixed, containing intended or unintended imperfections with a heavy focus on creative sample use and authentic sounding drums kits. It’s usually a tape hiss or some analog distortion set against a simple set of drum loops and an incredible sample selection”.
We are not exactly sure what the future holds for lo fi hip hop. Could people become annoyed by the repetitiveness and simplicity of the sub-genre? Or, does the beauty and immortality of lo fi hip hop exactly reside in its never-ending sampling and creative possibilities? At the moment, there aren’t any signs of slowing down for lo fi hip hop’s growth. YouTube channels are multiplying every day and 24/7 live streams continue to attract the music genre’s enthusiast, bewildered student or inseparable friend’s group. Without any doubt, lo fi hip-hop can remain popular if the creativity of forward-thinking artists is paired with the efficiency of technology and the demand of listeners.
- Chillhop music (1.4 millions subscribers)
- The bootleg boy (640K subscribers)
- NEOTIC (559k subscribers)
- Nourish (290k subscribers)
- Ryan Celsius (260k subscribers)
- Mellowbeat Seeker (267k subscribers)
All of these channels feature unique still frames, rotating playlists, and unique uploads.