An anime girl sitting on her desk doing her homework. While to some this picture might seem arbitrary, many people will instantly recognize her as the lofi hip hop girl. She serves as the background image of one of the most well-known lofi hip hop streams on YouTube and is pretty synonymous with the genre overall. The channel I´m referring to, ChilledCow, has over 7.6 million subscribers and streams lofi hip hop music to over 40.000 people 24/7. But what is lofi hip hop, how did it become popular and why do people listen to it while they study or work?
What is lofi hip hop?
Lofi is short for Low Fidelity which basically means it’s produced with basic equipment and low production value. At least that is the vibe or sound the music should make. It stands in direct contrast to the hifi and highly polished music, published by big labels and heard in the radio. Lofi hip hop music is released decentralized by indie artist that don’t have a label most of the time. The music itself gives of a hard to grasp nostalgic or melancholic vibe and has a somewhat dirty unpolished sound to it. The main instruments are drums, bass and electronic piano for the beat in combination with looped samples of old music. Often vinyl records of jazz music are used. That adds little scratching sounds and provide the characteristic dirty, slightly muffled sound. They are often slowed down to match the feel of the beat. Sometimes other sounds are added to help the feel, rain is especially popular in that regard. Over time the kind of samples have evolved away from just using old jazz music to samples of modern music or rearrangements of videogame music.
The creation or popularization of lofi hip hop is mainly attributed to the Japanese producer Nujabes and the American producer J Dilla. Both of them produced independently from one another in the late nineties and early two thousands. J Dilla slowed his tracks down and used offbeat drums to give his music a human touch. Nujabes popularized the usage of vinyl records and produced the music for the 2004 anime Samurai Champloo which became hugely popular in the US and is still held in high regards in the anime community. His vastly different soundtrack compared to other shows of the time stuck with people and forged a connection between the genre and anime or anime aesthetics. In early 2017 channels like ChilledCow started livestreaming lofi hip hop music and gained traction quickly. As one of the first and biggest channels of its kind, ChilledCow who even used the anime study girl as a background back then, pushed the anime influence into the genre even more.
Lofi music isn´t meant to be actively heard, instead it´s supposed to help you to hear away. It´s more like background music that helps you relax and isn´t overly hectic or spectacular so it doesn’t become a distraction. That is the reason why students love to listen to it while studying or doing chores, it stimulates without being a distraction. Combine that with easy accessibility of just opening YouTube, a connection to anime and videogames and you get hugely successful music genre for young people. So, if you haven’t tried already, next time you want to listen to some relaxing music why not give lofi hip hop a try?