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.
“Roots of Blue” — Blu & Exile
On “Roots of Blue,” veteran California rapper Blu charts his evolution over producer Exile’s swinging production. The first half of the song sees Blu finding himself in humans from across time—starting from “the first man standing upright / holding a stone in my hand”—and denouncing slavery as the starting point of Black history (“We came before Columbus dumped us off the slavery boat”). Eventually, the record becomes a lengthy roll call of prominent Black icons from Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman to Maya Angelou and Miles Davis. Blu’s gruff voice and elastic flow elevate what is, essentially, a list of names into a statement of purpose, delivering a much-needed injection of Black pride.
“It Is What It Is” — Asher Simmons
“How you need isolation during isolation? / I’m not on vacation,” British rapper Asher Simmons says plainly to begin his single, “It Is What It Is.” The dovetailing of coronavirus with Black Lives Matter uprisings happening across the world has Asher, like many of us, on edge and considering his surroundings. “Gone are the days where I run from the pain,” he claims. Asher breathlessly recounts the killings of Trayvon Martin, Walter Scott, and George Floyd, among several others. Asher doesn’t have solutions to these problems. Instead, he vents upward over Graham Hobbs’ somber beat. “It is what it is,” he says, sounding anything but convinced by his own words.
“Saturday Morning Tesseract” — Sadhugold
Philadelphia producer Sadhugold’s beats are timeless. “Saturday Morning Tesseract,” a standout from his beat tape Golden Joe Season One—released in May via Nature Sounds—sounds stuck between an AM radio dial and an interstellar transmission. Flutes and steady drums pass between laser blasts and what sounds like a UFO. Sadhugold channels early 2000s-era MF DOOM by balancing the zany with the serene across the song’s two-minute length. “Saturday Morning Tesseract” sounds like a cartoon, a mirror image of our reality as warped and saturated as the yellow-booted character on the album’s cover.
“Nostalgia” — Animist feat. Negassie
As we learn on “Nostalgia,” a standout song from their latest album Paradigm Shift, Oklahoma rapper Animist understands the power of hindsight. After an urgent intro from vocalist Negassie, Animist uses Australian producer Jedos’ sunny soul sample to embrace the happiness they’re able to find: “Wishin’ I could relive last year / Probably in a couple years I’ll be wishin’ I could go back here / Always tryna backtrack and never planning for my future.” Back pains from working every day are balanced by time spent with the friends Animist wishes they could get back. The past is a balm for both Animist and the listener, preparing all involved for an uncertain future.
The Lo-Fi Rap Snack Pack is available in playlist form on Audiomack, Apple Music, and Spotify. Please consider donating to these various racial justice organizations or The Okra Project, an organization dedicated to helping feed Black trans youth.