Relax! (with some LoFi Hip Hop)
2017 has been a wild year - a seemingly never ending rush of news notifications, each one elevating my heart rate to a new record high. But Newton tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, so this year I’ve been searching for a soothing antidote to the hyperactive news cycle.
Of course, it was my Spotify Discover Weekly that led me to the answer - LoFi Hip Hop.
The genre is an ongoing phenomenon - it’s extraordinarily popular on free streaming platforms like Soundcloud and Youtube because so much of the music is created by amateur or aspiring producers. There’s so, so much of it out there, and new tracks continue to be posted every day.
A classic LoFi Hip Hop track is, first and foremost, low fidelity, which means the sound quality is lower than the industry standards. The sound most producers are shooting for is the “boom-bap” quality of early hip hop beats, a sound defined by sampling different drum and instrumental tracks from sources like the funk and soul recordings of the 1960s. By the late 70s and early 80s, when those early hip hop beats were being produced, technological innovations in microphone and audio processing technology had made it possible to record music more clearly than in the 60s - so when a hip hop producer sampled the drum break from a James Brown record, it had the side-effect of giving a retro sound to the new track because the quality of the source recording was so much lower.
What started out as a side-effect has snowballed into the defining characteristic of the whole genre of LoFi Hip Hop - the low fidelity quality is so integral to the sound that it’s in the title! Now in 2017, with powerful music editing software like Ableton and Logic, makers of LoFi music can make anything sound old and scratchy - even music that was originally recorded in high fidelity. Here’s a neat example of this - popular LoFi producer Eevee samples Italian composer and violinist Franco Tamponi’s “Submarine." Check out Tamponi's original recording:
Now see how much scratchier Tamponi's violin sound becomes in Evee's record:
Eevee makes good use of another defining characteristic of LoFi Hip Hop called “ducking”. Ducking is lowering the levels of the whole track for just a split second whenever the kick drum is played, and it’s one of the major components in LoFi Hip Hop. The interplay of the modern sounding kick drum cutting through the retro samples creates a uniquely balanced atmosphere that’s both contemporary and nostalgic. Listen for the ducking in her track, “lily” - highly recommendable for sipping coffee on a slow morning. Now turn your news notifications off, and go relax!