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.
“Future Power Sources” — Marlowe
Finding the right sparring partner can unlock hidden potential. Just ask producer L’Orange and rapper Solemn Brigham, who have been creating a zany blend of hip-hop magic since coming up together in the North Carolina rap scene. The duo made things official in 2018 by christening themselves Marlowe with a solid debut album to match. With Marlowe 2—out August 21 via Mello Music Group—on the horizon, they kick things up a notch on single “Future Power Sources.” Solemn unravels couplets both sly (“Ain’t shit change but the afro”) and reflective (“Better find another model / I’ve been holding on the bottle like a new dad”) at light speed over L’Orange’s crisp and precise sample work and scratches by DJ Trackstar. A match made in rap heaven.
“300” — JWords & Koncept Jack$on
New Jersey producer/DJ JWords loves to keep listeners on their toes. The sturdy drums and low-end of her beats gradually splinter to reveal particles of techno and dance music on the margins. Her groove is unique and enticing, a fitting challenge for any rapper with the skills. On “300,” a standout selection from her latest EP, Year 2300, JWords’ array of twinkling synths, handclaps, and drum pounds creates a steady march for Virginia rapper Koncept Jack$on to follow. Koncept finds a pocket and doesn’t let go, matching JWords’ frequency. The universe of “300” is one I could wade in for hours.
“POP SHiT” — RaFia feat. Cakes Da Killa
Summer is the perfect time to drop a four-on-the-floor anthem. Brooklyn rapper/singer/producer RaFiA’s latest single, “POP SHiT,” is the perfect way to bust some moves while in quarantine. The beat pulses with metallic synths and drums as RaFia darts between verses about stunting on the dancefloor, inconsiderate men ignoring her triggers, and working her way toward her “5-6 figures.” New Jersey rapper Cakes Da Killa joins RaFia on the back end for a brief verse about flaunting his stuff in Fenty blush and “dancing in the back of the club like Mashonda.” Both RaFia and Cakes are paying no mind to people trying to crowd their space. Sometimes, you just wanna pop shit.
“Pulsewave” — Yui & Aio feat. Gabe ‘Nandez & Noah Chase
Rap and video games share an exciting intersection of pop culture. Japanese production duo Yui & Aio’s interpretation of that intersection manifests on their new single, “Pulsewave.” Synths and drums float across the track in Tron-like fashion as video game levels, logos, and characters whizz by on screens. Rappers Gabe ‘Nandez and Noah Chase keep pace with bars about addiction, perseverance, and self-worth. The contrast of personal lyrics with a beat (and accompanying video) that plays like a hectic sugar rush at a dilapidated arcade is jarring in the best possible way. I couldn’t help but notice every character shown was running toward a destination, much like ‘Nandez and Chase are themselves. Forward momentum is its own reward.
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.