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.
“12 Hours” — Che’ Noir & Apollo Brown
Buffalo rapper Che’ Noir has an intense tale to tell on “12 Hours,” a standout song from As God Intended, her collaborative album with Detroit producer Apollo Brown. Over Brown’s marching drums and subtle guitar strings, Che weaves a story of an out-of-context text at the club leading her to believe her partner is cheating on her with her best friend. When Che confronts him with a gun, he admits he was consulting her friend about which wedding ring to buy for Che. Relieved, she lets her trigger finger slips and accidentally shoots him dead. I audibly gasped.
“Black Mirror” — Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire
Brooklyn rapper Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire wrote his excellent new Madlib-produced song “Black Mirror” on an empty A train at 3 a.m. while thinking about Black masculinity and how younger generations carry on their elders’ influence. To eXquire, the youth are like “Black mirrors” of their relatives, reflecting their lessons for better and for worse. His thoughts on an old New York of scraped knees and “Crack vials clogging up the sprinklers in the park” inform his opinions on the connection between slavery and WorldStar fight video culture.
“Still Sailing” — AKAI SOLO
Brooklyn rapper AKAI SOLO’s “Still Sailing,” a song from his third project of the year, Eleventh Wind, is a testament to his ear for rap adventures. Producer argov’s beat simultaneously thuds and floats as AKAI lays out blueprints for perseverance in the face of personal failings: “Realizing all you had to do was go through it.” It takes a certain kind of rapper to compare pushing through hardship to the legendary bird Pokemon Lugia’s trials in Pokemon: The Movie 2000 and have the metaphor land so effectively. AKAI’s words are a vessel for his personality, not the other way around. That alone is enough reason for him to keep sailing.
“Zolo Go” — Standing On The Corner
New York musical collective Standing On The Corner is well aware that space is the place. Their latest release, “G-E-T-O-U-T!! The Ghetto,” an ambitious three-part single, expands the motif of their space-faring single “Angel” from this past May. The entire 15-minute piece is a bit of genre-blending ear candy, but “Zolo Go,” the collection’s final song, pushes their sound beyond the stratosphere. Fuzzy bass, drums, organ, and decaying vocal samples race across the track like a comet screaming through the skyline before an instrumental breakdown sets the scene for a voice singing a fragment of Mahalia Jackson’s “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen.” “Zolo Go” sounds like traveling through a portal where Black history and culture clash for all the cosmos to see.
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.