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.
“CLOUDS SAY MY NAME” — Maxo (@rundatbacc)
On his latest single, “Clouds Say My Name,” Maxo splits his existential musing into two sections. The first half, produced by Camouflage Monk, sees the California rapper searching for blessings in a sea of haze. Money doesn’t bring much comfort (“Brand new paper gon’ cut my skin”) in a world where labor and racism wear away at the oppressed (“Blue-collar gon’ age you”). Hearing lines like “All the guns facin’ at him / Why his skin Black like mine?” sting in the wake of the Minnesota protests surrounding the death of George Floyd. The song’s second half, produced by Madlib, shows a cautious optimism, with Maxo moving toward the greater good.
Please consider donating to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, dedicated to posting bail for those arrested during protests over George Floyd’s death.
“UNITY ACROSS DIFFERENCE” — Sporting Life (@SportingLifeNY)
New York-based producer Sporting Life has always taken pride in the analog. He made a name for himself crafting distorted walls of sound for the now-defunct New York rap group Ratking in the mid-2010s and has released a steady stream of collabs and beats since. “UNITY ACROSS DIFFERENCE,” a standout selection from his latest project labplex.eco, keeps this tradition alive. The warped drums and light vocal sample at the song’s beginning degrade further as the song progresses, eventually melting into a pool of sonic bliss. Sporting Life attacks our senses with flaying drums and samples beyond recognition before rendering them into alphabet soup.
“Bittersweet” — Lucian feat. Froya (@luciantune @FroyaMusic)
I’ve always loved guitar strums mixed with hip-hop drums. It’s this warm combination that makes producer Lucian’s “Bittersweet” pop like soap bubbles in the summertime. The beat practically floats on air, swirling in vocals from Malaysian singer Froya that trace sepia-toned lines across lovelorn thoughts. “Feel addicted to the bittersweet,” she coos, inexplicably lost in her lover’s arms. “Bittersweet” trades in the comforts and confusion of love with a warm and welcoming heart.
“Play Out” — ToBy (@Official_ToBy, @oebeats33rd)
Los Angeles-based rapper ToBy oozes confidence. “Play Out,” a standout selection released in May 2020, reflects his ease behind the mic and his general attitude toward letting life’s good and bad moments play out. He sounds at ease over producer oebeats’ subtle production, which grooves under light synths and drums. ToBy filmed the song’s music video on an iPhone XR during a trip to Shibuya, Japan, in 2019. Yet, another indication of the confidence ToBy has in both himself and his music. May the good times never end.