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 Rap Snack Pack, a weekly column where we highlight four songs across the lo-fi spectrum.
“Whole World” — Earl Sweatshirt feat. Maxo (@earlxsweat, @rundatbacc)
Earl Sweatshirt uses his words to purge internal darkness. “Made a home outta house, lotta closet room,” he says at the beginning of his latest single “Whole World.” Alongside fellow California rapper Maxo, Earl sifts through memory fragments to feel something, whether it’s “icicles hanging in my heart” or the fluster of being flanked for moving at “a pallbearer’s pace.” A pure jazz loop flickers in the background, illuminating Earl’s further descent into the corners of his mind.
“fire alarm (!)” — Mavi feat. maassai (@mavi4mayor, @Maassai_, @greenss_)
North Carolina rapper Mavi and Brooklyn rapper maassai both take pride in observation. On their new single “fire alarm (!),” produced by Greenss, they spool spare thoughts and red flags into stream-of-consciousness fit for a journal entry. maassai spins personal revelations (“I ain’t a pastor / I’m just past the immorality”) before Mavi switches the flow and confronts his psyche: “Ion know if I’m getting something wrong or if people keep on changing places cause of seasons.” Greenss’ beat sounds like backing music for a dingy diner with a fire $4 lunch special; it’s a perfect backdrop for two of rap’s most promising voices to continue building confidence through rhyme.
“Poolsticks” — GRiMM Doza feat. Hus Kingpin (@grimmdoza, @HusKingpin)
When I first heard about New Jersey producer GRiMM Doza’s latest project, GRiMM & Evil, I was happy to learn someone else remembered one of Cartoon Network’s most underappreciated shows. Much like the mashup that it’s named after, Doza’s project is a carnival funhouse trip through the minds of rap’s fiercest underdogs. GRiMM’s beats are grimy pockets of sound caked in moonlight set for rappers to seep into. Long Island rapper Hus Kingpin finds the most solid groove on “Poolsticks,” surfing GRiMM’s sludge as he “plank walks fake niggas” while he’s getting money and flossing. The pair are in sync, mixing grit and gloss and laughing in the faces of pretenders.
“Thoughts from an Isolation Chamber.” — Illohim (@illohim)
North Carolina rapper Illohim’s raps are knotty and thoughtful. Meanwhile, his new beat tape, by, intention. breathes with a life of its own. Released under the name hymnal, by, intention. speaks in the language of weeknight insomnia and evolving faith. The album’s standout song, “Thoughts from an Isolation Chamber.,” blinks, drips, and shimmers with beauty through echoes of space. The record is low-stakes and weightless, a reminder to not succumb to overcomplicating our thoughts. “We sophisticate it and complicate it unnecessarily in order to escape the truth,” the ending vocal sample states. Illohim is here to help us enjoy the simpler things.