Crisp beats whisper in the background and subtle, slow tunes set the scene for a calming study atmosphere. It’s a genre every highschooler cramming for exams is familiar with – Lo-Fi hip-hop.
Lo-Fi hip-hop stands for low fidelity music, which is a type of music wherein elements that are typically deemed as imperfections in the production process, such as audible noises and fuzzy vinyl sounds, are viewed as an aesthetic choice.
These soothing beats have gained prominence through different youtube channels and playlists – particularly the “Chilled Cow” radio – as the perfect music to help listeners relax and focus on their work. Lo-fi hip-hop breaks the status quo of mainstream music where production focuses on perfecting the track with multiple instrumental arrangements and catchy lyrics.
Lo-fi hip-hop playlists have quickly become the generation’s next choice in study music. There are numerous playlists on the internet that stream hours of lo-fi music, amassing millions of listeners worldwide. ISM students agree that Lo-Fi music is slow and relaxing, thereby helping them focus on their work. Senior Gisele comments, “I like the repetitive nature of Lo-Fi music. It helps me calm down.” Along with the simple musical arrangement of Lo-Fi hip-hop, senior Iraj adds that she enjoys Lo-Fi’s focus on mellow and monotonous tunes and beats without lyrics, allowing her to focus more on studying.
From a neuroscientific perspective, Victor Szabo, Elliott Assistant Professor of Music at Hampden-Sydney College, asserts that the repeating patterns in Lo-Fi music allows the listener’s brain to predict what will come next, thereby giving them a sense of comfort. This is related to confirmation bias, where individuals feel satisfied when their predictions come true. As the brain can easily predict the progression of the track, it allows listeners to focus on other things rather than being distracted by the music. The noise distortions also allow the listener to stay on track and not be bored with the music, making Lo-Fi music a “snug, safe place.” Amidst a world of IB exams, college applications, and the pandemic’s uncertainty, it is no surprise that students around the world turn to this genre of music for a sense of normalcy and stress relief.
While many assume that Lo-Fi music is a recent phenomenon, the genre, much like other forms of popular music, originates from the works of Black artists in the ’90s. J Dilla, most notably, has paved the way for the Lo-Fi music scene, making it into the success it is today. The artist’s legacy as a hip-hop artist and producer has been adopted by Lo-Fi hip-hop and continues to influence many artists today.
According to an interview with Wired, Questlove, a member of the American band “The Roots,” explained that one of Dilla’s beliefs was that hip-hop should be experienced with elements of imperfection, which is one of the core elements that make up Lo-Fi music today. J Dilla is known for his unique beat-making techniques such as humanized drums, where the variations in drum beat patterns are artificially engineered. This creation is now a go-to technique for our generation’s Lo-Fi hip-hop artists, thus reflecting the core philosophy of Lo-Fi: imperfection in music.
Today, the influence of J Dilla lives on through innovations in Lo-Fi, such as the use of visual images. Anime GIFs coupled with the soothing beats of Lo-Fi produce both a visual and auditory experience for the listener. The sense of nostalgia coming from music inspired by J Dilla attracts adult listeners, while young generations are brought to the subgenre as a means to increase productivity. It not only provides a safe space for listeners amid a challenging, fast-paced world, but also reminds us that imperfections are to be embraced and celebrated.
Nemo, Leslie. “Why Lo-Fi Music Draws Listeners In.” Discover Magazine, Discover Magazine, 3 Nov. 2020, http://www.discovermagazine.com/mind/why-lo-fi-music-draws-listeners-in.
Stillman, Jessica. “Struggling to Tame Your Stress and Concentrate? Science Suggests This Type of Music .” Inc.com, Inc., 8 July 2020, http://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/lo-fi-music-is-booming-during-pandemic-science-explains-why.html.Watson, Elijah C. “J Dilla’s Influence & Legacy Lives On in the World of Lo-Fi Hip-Hop.” Okayplayer, 8 Oct. 2020, http://www.okayplayer.com/music/j-dilla-lofi-hip-hop-influence.html.