Lo-fi hip hop offers a unique listening experience

March 27, 2019 — by Justin Guo

A new genre of low fidelity music has found a home on YouTube with a strong following.

Low fidelity music, often shortened to lo-fi music, is a relatively new form of music purposely recorded to include technical flaws such as distortions in sound or added background noise. Artists intentionally downgrade the audio quality of their track to emulate the aesthetic of being recorded on old recording hardware.

Over the years, lo-fi music has spawned many similar styles and subgenres, including the illustrious lo-fi hip hop genre that started in the late 2010s.

Alternatively known as chill-out music, lo-fi hip hop is often described as an electronic blend of jazz and hip hop, with an added bassline and a melodic tune that is often guitar or piano. The melody usually loops itself, but with different integrations of instruments or additions of varying background sounds.

On the surface, many of these songs sound almost the same, but on closer examination, subtle nuances emerge within each track. What’s even more impressive, though, is the emotions that these songs evoke.

Perhaps the best word to sum this up is “anemoia,” defined as “nostalgia for a time you’ve never known.” Though not officially recognized as a real word, the word describes exactly what it feels like when you listen to a lo-fi hip hop song: vague longing for something or someone that you can’t exactly identify.

Lo-fi hip hop has quickly gained popularity on mainstream sites such as YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify and many others.

YouTube is probably lo-fi hip hop’s biggest claim to fame due to the existence of livestreams on the site. A quick YouTube search will present viewers with pages upon pages of livestreams and song compilations.

Unlike Twitch.tv, which  is primarily intended for gamers and vloggers, YouTube’s platform allows lo-fi hip hop to thrive solely as a hub for other lo-fi hip hop enthusiasts.

These livestreams have played a big role in building a well-reputed community surrounding the lo-fi hip hop genre. One channel in particular, ChilledCow, has amassed an impressive 3 million subscribers and averages above 10,000 viewers on its livestreams. Other popular lofi hip hop channels include Chillhop Music and No Copyright Music, to name a few.

The livestream chats are almost always filled with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other listeners. Users chat about endless topics, ranging from frustrations at work to the latest Ariana Grande song. Above all, the chats foster an altogether friendly and welcoming environment, with administrators and bots keeping the chat almost entirely free of racist, sexist or otherwise degrading remarks.

Sophomore William Yin, a fan of the genre, said he likes listening to it while studying. “It is soothing music paired with a drum beat that you can ‘bop’ to; the background artwork is another plus,” he said.

Aside from the calming rhythms, a major theme that the majority of these lo-fi hip hop songs share is in their video thumbnails and titles. Most of the thumbnails share an anime or cartoon-based theme, often reflecting in the beats of the music itself.

Additionally, the titles often include variations of the phrase “beats to study/relax to.” One of the biggest attractions that lo-fi hip hop offers to its listeners is that it supposedly provides music suitable for studying.    

When students lack the motivation to study or do homework, many tend to listen to music to get inspired; the biggest problem with lyrical songs is that they have been repeatedly proven to be distracting when studying.

Lo-fi hip hop offers a better alternative. The absence of lyrics as well as the gentle ambiance that lo-fi hip hop supplies calm the listener’s mind, leading to greater concentration.

“I feel like the music makes me more productive because I usually work to the beat of the music; but unlike lyrical songs, I’m not sidetracked by the singing because there is none,” Yin said.