Lo-fi rap embraces imperfection. Artists and producers utilize unmixed vocals, distorted drums, and tape hiss for their practical and aesthetic beauty. From RZA and Dilla to Earl Sweatshirt and Roc Marciano, the lo-fi scene is as rewarding and overwhelming a subgenre as any currently existing in rap. Welcome to the Lo-Fi Snack Pack, a weekly column where we highlight four songs across the lo-fi spectrum.
“lefty” — Ahwlee (@Ahwlee) & Chill Children (@ChillChildren)
Ahwlee knows how to curate a groove. Solo and as one-half of groups like B. Cool-Aid with kindred spirit Pink Siifu, the California producer has made a name for himself by spinning earthy loops. On his latest project, coolist, his ambition clashes with Chill Children, a New Zealand producer/instrumentalist for a five-song journey through the chill side of the audio spectrum. “lefty,” the project’s closing song, is a smooth and somber loop anchored with bass and twinkling synths. The atmosphere is a cosmic aligning of stars across the California sky, a time to lay your head or burn one down.
“avantgarde” — BROCKBEATS (@BROCKBEATS)
When I pressed play on BROCKBEATS’ latest project New Life, released on March 9, the Japanese producer instantly transported me to a world where the grass was green, and the air smelled like peaches. One song caught my ear more than any other: “avantgarde.” A steady drum loop and swelling synths dance around a prominent flute sample, somehow recalling flower petals dancing in the wind and a night lost to first-person shooter games in equal measure. The flute and pastel atmosphere make BROCKBEATS feel Nujabes adjacent. Still, it’s clear he’s charting his own path to auditory bliss.
“I Need ” — brainorchestra (@_brainorchestra)
The piano is a secret weapon in beat creation. There’s something magical about keys dancing between the cracks. New Jersey producer brainorchestra knows a thing or two about this particular approach, as his latest project, Ad Copiam vol. 1, is chock full of vivid audio portraits cinematic in their own right. None of these portraits are as bright as “I Need It ,” which wastes no time putting a choir, some drums, and the piano to work creating a new story. The choir lifts the spirits while the drums bring them crashing down to earth; the piano takes center stage about halfway through, creating a pleasant middle ground on a roller coaster of a song.
“Down to Embers” — Blackbird Belle (@BlackbirdBelle)
Blackbird Belle understands the power of the landscape. Without lyrics, any given instrumental has to paint a picture exclusively with sound. When I pressed play on his latest project, Celestial Nighthawk, released this past February, the guitar and muted thump of the opening song “Down to Embers” transported me to a grass-scented world. I could see the embers kissing the sky at dusk while the wind blew through grass, COVID-19 free. It reminded me of the intro of a steampunk comic book. Or maybe just a really good episode of a Game of Thrones sister series. The Ontario-based producer can conjure worlds with the best of them. Nighthawk will be keeping me company while on my COVID-19 island for the weeks and months to come.