The image that comes to mind when I think of Lo-fi hip hop is the anime animation of a young girl writing while listening to music as her cat stares out the window. This image I’m describing is the cover for youtube’s “lofi hip hop radio - beats to relax/study to" channel by user: ChilledCow. 12k people are listening to it as I write this, myself included.
The first time I ever experienced Lo-fi hip hop was during a beat battle in LA in 2017. This beat battle was at a very small, dingy venue in Downtown LA. You could call it a dive bar. I don't remember the name of the venue and wouldn't be surprised if it no longer existed. The beat battle followed an open mic comedy show with very few people in attendance. Once the comedy show ended and the DJ got set up, the atmosphere turned from an empty quiet place into a cool place filled with producers from all over the city.
I competed with and lost to two brothers from Dallas. They were heavily influenced by J Dilla, their favorite producer, and it really showed in their music.
J Dilla was a record producer and artist. He came up from the underground hip hop scene in Detroit. By the mid 90s he was apart of projects with big names like Janet Jackson, the Pharcyde, De La Soul, and Busta Rhymes. By the early 2000s he gained a cult following after embarking on a performing career and was known to sample using an Akai MPC 3000. Peer DJ Jazzy Jeff recalls that “When radio was a freer space and played music that people liked instead of what people paid for, the music that we heard was created by somebody in their basement being a mad scientist. Jay is a throwback to that time. He’s the guy in the basement” (http://www.j-dilla.com/biography/). J Dilla’s “guy in the basement sound” and his incorporation of Jazz in his music made him known for being a “godfather” of Lo-fi hip hop.
As I continued to immerse myself in the local LA producer scene I came across different communities and performance showcases. One particularly comes to mind: Beats Freaks Geeks. I find them to be a wonderfully welcoming community of very diverse producers with different sounds, many of who use SP-404’s to perform Lo-fi hiphop (SP-404’s are vintage hardware sampling machines by Roland). This genre and machine almost seem to go hand in hand.
One notable producer I’ve met through Beats Freaks Geeks is Bad Snacks. I met her when opening for her first beat tape release at A Simple Bar in Studio City. She performed Lo-fi hip hop with an SP-404 and pedal board while playing live violin, synthesizers, and singing, all in front of a projector with some geometrical graphic images and colorful lighting. She is pretty impressive and has since blown up. I’ve seen her do commercials for new Roland hardware and teach classes at production academies around LA on Lo-fi hip hop.
A favorite component of Lo-fi hip hop culture that’s really drawn me in is the use of Anime clips in conjunction with the music. This came to prominence with Lo-fi hip hop on youtube channels, but I’ve seen it used with all kinds of beats from sound cloud rap to chill hop on virtually every social media platform. I myself love adding my music to anime clips. Ryan Celsius, a D.C. based DJ who runs his own suite of lo-fi hip-hop channels, theorizes that the chillhop renaissance can be traced back to a bygone nostalgia for Cartoon Network's Adult Swim and Toonami (https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/594b3z/how-lofi-hip-hop-radio-to-relaxstudy-to-became-a-youtube-phenomenon). As a millennial, I feel that.
While I’m sure I’ve barely tapped into the world of Lo-fi hip hop, I still see it’s influences everywhere in the producer world, especially in LA, and in pop culture alike. As stated in a viral tweet by @punkzbunny, “and the Grammy goes to…Lo-Fi Hip Hop Anime Chill Beats to Study and Relax to”.