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.
“The Bends!” — JPEGMAFIA
JPEGMAFIA’s universe is irreverent. “The Bends!,” the latest in a series of self-produced singles released sporadically on YouTube, continues the California-via-Baltimore rapper/producer’s tradition of confronting an unforgiving world with sucker punches wrapped in caustic humor. Harsh words for the Trump administration (“Made men make it look close, fuck the polls”) and cultural appropriators (“Change the language when they decipher the code / Flip the script, now the caption is closed”) share space with Radiohead references over disintegrating synths. Even when he’s playing around, JPEGMAFIA is dead serious.
“Allstar” — MIKE feat. Earl Sweatshirt
MIKE’s words flow like water but land like boulders. The New York rapper/producer’s work is brutally honest in its simplicity, and Weight of the World—his latest project—is no exception. “Allstar,” the project’s closing song, sounds like a maelstrom of self-doubt. A swirling mass of vocal samples and muddy drums advances on MIKE as he balances fatigue (“Why do grievin’ in bed be the best option?”) while finding energy in his close-knit team. At least one of those teammates is Earl Sweatshirt, who offers a tender buzzer-beater of a verse recorded the night before the project’s release: “I’m finished tryna ruin what I start / I’m through it, tryna barter for remorse, sabotagin’.” “Allstar” is a highlight reel featuring two rappers finding energy in brotherhood.
“The Band” — Black Noi$e feat. Liv.e
Black Noi$e’s musical ear is omnivorous. The Detroit producer’s palette jumps from rap to punk to techno with little regard for whether you can keep up. With Oblivion—his first solo album in two years and the first non-Earl Sweatshirt project to be released via his Tan Cressida Records—on the horizon, Black Noi$e is poised to put his musical alchemy on display for its largest viewing to date. The first taste of the record comes in the form of “The Band,” a swaying funk of crunchy guitars and drums guided by loose vocals from Texas singer Liv.e. As for the psychedelic production, Black Noi$e bottles the essence of the aimless summer days we used to have before COVID forced us indoors indefinitely.
“OutspokenWrds” — Drew Dave
For some, solitude breeds creativity. Virginia producer Drew Dave’s latest beat tape, aptly titled Solitude, proves this mantra true. Seclusion brought about by COVID-19 inspired Drew to create 16 beats simultaneously in conversation with rap’s past and present. Standout selection “OutspokenWrds” lingers on a smooth bassline and sharp drum programming while vocal samples from artists like Busta Rhymes and Kendrick Lamar dart across the landscape. Drew’s sound is both comforting and forward-thinking, never afraid to display the timelessness of a good old-fashioned hip-hop beat.
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.