“If one should desire to know whether a kingdom is well governed, if its morals are good or bad, the quality of its music will furnish the answer.” ― Confucius.
In a society bombarded by new content uploaded every millisecond ranging from social media pictures, viral video clips and broken flood-gates of new music from thousands of artists pouring into streaming platforms everyday combined with modern life's typical triggers of stress; it's easy to understand why so many people suffer from anxiety and panic attacks with a heartbeat thumping at 200 bpm or higher! Cue the Lo-fi playlist and let the 70-90 bpm beats entrain your brain and soothe your sanity as we evaluate this genre's impact on today's culture.
What is "Lo-fi"? The definition of the term is rooted in "low-fidelity" and has roots in various styles and sub-genres from Rock and Electronic to Hip-Hop, respectively. Recording artists like The Beach Boys helped popularize this low-quality DIY sound in the 60's which inspired a wave of indie acts, punk rock bands and other recording artists like Paul McCartney to use this sound as an aesthetic, effectively "turning sh*t into sugar" as the cost of professional studio time and recording equipment in those days were still unattainable for most indie artists and an expensive debt for major label signees – fast-forward to 2021, where the cost of professional home-studios are easily accessible, affordable, and abundant...why are lo-fi records still alive?
Let's dive deeper into where the term "Lo-fi" evidently thrives today: music playlists.
Hip-Hop is today's dominate genre, and a phenomena has occurred in the past decade of Lo-fi (aka "Chillhop") playlists ranging from 1-8 hour durations to indefinite 24/7 live streams with playlist titles such as "Focus & Study" or "Relaxing Rainy Nights" which serve as the subtle soundtrack to the lives of college students, desk workers and others in need of a laid-back ambiance without the distraction of lyrics or the sonic slap of 808's and triplet hi-hats from today's popular hip-hop music...keyword: hip-hop. Hence the term, "Chillhop". The confusion of the term "Lo-fi" is due to its complex history of the technical definition and its multi-genre branches, but if you listen to any of today's most popular Lo-fi playlists you won't find Rock songs and you'd rarely bump into any Electronic drum patterns. Instead, what will you hear? Classic un-quantized boom-bap drums often supported by jazz samples.
While the boom-bap era of rap was dwindling after the loudness wars took off spear headed by albums like Dr. Dre's "The Chronic 2001" followed by genre-bending raps with pop influences exemplified by artists like Kanye West or The Black Eyed Peas in the early 2000's; technology continued to improve resulting in higher fidelity records. Meanwhile, producers like J. Dilla and Nujabes are recognized as the fathers of Lo-fi with their steady contributions to the culture providing the dirty dusty barely-mixed-and-mastered imperfect instrumentals we hear so prominently in today's Lo-fi scene which is kept alive by a fleet of producers such as Jinsang or L.Dre but mostly unknown beat makers with anime avatars for profile pics.
The combination of chillhop and anime has a history of its own. As mainstream as hip-hop has become today, and considering the amount of traction Lo-fi/Chillhop playlists maintain daily – it's still an oddly underground genre while extremely popular at the same time. Perhaps because Hip-Hop began as the voice of the people in an NY neighborhood and now that it boasts the highest streaming stats of any genre worldwide, well, that's a lot of voices to represent. But sometimes nothing needs to be said...just felt. The mood is unanimous. For perspective, the second most visited website is YouTube and the number one platform for music consumption is again: YouTube. What's one of the top categories on YouTube? Never ending live streams of Lo-fi/Chillhop music as seen when "ChilledCow produced one of the longest videos in YouTube history — more than 13,000 hours — and amassed 218 million views in the process". The trend is in such high-demand that the internet exploded with comments of shock, sadness and frustration when YouTube accidentally removed one of the most popular chillhop channels known as "ChilledCow "(who recently rebranded as "Lofi Girl").
Chillhop beats are streamed globally with annual rising stats – and according to Confucius, that's a statement. Are lo-fi hip-hop beats the global mood? Maybe the world wants to slow down, and these crackling Lofi beats are helping to do just that.
Listen to L.Dre’s latest album entitled “Birds of Paradise” [released 07.30.21]
written by Erik “Airic” Diaz (@airicmusic)
an article for NYU | TISCH | Yellowbrick