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.
“Lemon Rinds” — Preservation feat. billy woods (@mondieumusic, @BackwoodzHipHop)
New York producer and DJ Preservation has sculpted some of his city’s most iconic rap music with artists like Mos Def and KA. He creates records that sound like history set to song. Eastern Medicine, Western Illness, his latest solo album, takes his lived-in sound international, sourcing beats from Chinese record shops during a three-year stay in Hong Kong. The standout song “Lemon Rinds” lurches forward with dampened drum thumps and a ghostly vocal sample, accented by eerily relevant rhymes from Brooklyn-based rapper billy woods. “Nowhere to hide, start Jeckyllin’ / People walk ‘round like there weren’t never gon’ be a reckoning,” he shouts wearily. With “Lemon Rinds,” the duo has unwittingly created a haunting portrait of the months to come.
“byke” — Deem Spencer (@deemspencer)
Deem Spencer doesn’t sound like any other rapper. The Queens rapper hops between rhyming over beats as soft and airy as flowerbeds and as dank and roomy as the basement of a jazz lounge. They sound like scrambled transmissions too thoughtful not to want to decode. “Byke,” one of two self-produced loosies released on streaming services at the end of May, is a prime example of Deem at his airiest. Over a twinkling beat that wouldn’t sound out of place in a nursery rhyme, the rapper confides in friends and family and raps about “365 sun rays” in the face of darkness.
“Running With Clouds” — Hus Kingpin feat. Recognize Ali (@HusKingpin, @Recognizeali, @Ghostdadon)
I’m a whole sucker for songs capable of mixing the grimy and the opulent. New York rapper Hus Kingpin consistently bridges this gap, his gruff voice scraping against beats that shimmer like beach water in the summertime. “Running With Clouds,” a standout selection from his latest project GUNPOWDER, is no exception. Hus and Ghanaian rapper Recognize Ali trade jokes and gritty bars over woodwinds and slapping drums courtesy of Ghostra Nostra. I can’t think of many rappers capable of rhyming about bodies floating in bayous and ripping out hearts over a beat that could give Nujabes’ “Flowers” a run for its money. Hus Kingpin is here to remind us to expect the unexpected.
“All Alone” — Black Adam (@blackboyadam, @TVPES)
Isolation closes the gap between our minds and our actions. Atlanta rapper Black Adam grapples with this truth on his latest single “All Alone.” Over wavy guitar and drums from Atlanta producer TVPES (pronounced “tapes”), Adam ponders questions of life as he “lets the minute-hour hands twirl.” Quarantine has Adam thinking about being “a stone’s throw away from all the bad bitches and all my best bros.” Lord willing, we’ll all make it to the other side and be able to ball out with our loved ones under the moonlight. When the doors finally open, Black Adam will be leading the charge.