If you haven’t been acquainted with lofi hip hop (from now on which I will be referring to as just lofi), then please get acquainted with 30 seconds from whatever this radio station is playing at the moment.
And now, without further ado, here are some meditations on lofi as a genre.
Why Do People Like It?
Chances are, if you ask people that know what the genre is, the overwhelming majority will have a fairly positive opinion of the mellow genre. From my experience, this is one of the only music genres to lack an opposition from a contentious group of cynics. It’d be hard to find someone that vehemently dislikes the genre, as most that know the genre fall within the range of being a fan to being indifferent. I believe the reason why lofi is seemingly universally accepted is because of its inoffensive nature and that it is truly just music of existence. It doesn’t have any prerequisites to enjoy – you merely have to exist.
I’m not sure whether having lofi on in the background while we work or think provides a reprieve from overstimulation or is a manifestation of need for stimulation, but in both cases, lofi has come about in the most connected and fast-paced time in history. I’m both surprised and glad that lofi has become as popular as it is in a world it seems so antithetical.
When people describe the feelings associated with lofi, the main adjectives include relaxing, aesthetic, and nostalgic. Lofi is undoubtedly relaxing based on its mellow beat and soft sounds, but I don’t think nostalgic (we’ll cover the association with aesthetics in a bit, don’t worry) is a word used to describe an entire genre of music very often. What other genres of music can elicit nostalgia? I’d say the feeling I get from listening to The Black Eyed Peas is quite a bit different from that of lofi. But when I listen to lofi, I’m not sure what time I’m nostalgic for. Nostalgia is usually associated with fond memories, but growing up, did any of us have fond memories with lofi beats in the background? I’d venture to guess that not a single person reading this did, and would like to conjecture a reframe of how to describe lofi. Instead of nostalgia, try wistfulness.
Do these stock images of “wistful” look familiar to you?
Coincidence? I think not. Nevertheless, wistfulness is an emotional state that is difficult to describe and uncommonly used in relation to music. I think lofi is interesting because it elicits feelings that are quite unique in a world where music always tries to catch your attention. So go ahead and be Chihiro on the train or a character from a Wong Kar-wai movie once in a while.
Do the words “v i b e s” or “a e s t h e t i c s” mean anything to you? Adjacent to their use in vaporwave, vibes and aesthetics are often tied to lofi. And similarly to vaporwave, lofi is almost ubiquitously paired with some form of animation, and most frequently, anime.
This is most likely the influence of Nujabes’s soundtrack and work on Samurai Champloo, one of the pioneering forces that brought lofi to a mainstream audience in the West. Although there were other acts like JDilla that achieved acclaim, no other artist or art form had the reach that Samurai Champloo had while airing on Adult Swim in the 2000’s.
The calming lofi soundtrack fit immaculately with the vibe of the show, which on many occasions was merely following the “existence” of a motley group of badass friends.
Is Lofi a Japanese Genre?
Well… no. But at one point of my life, I would have believed this was the case.
Although the anime aesthetic has outlasted many of the other qualities of early lofi, the relation to Nujabes and the Japanese named artists have largely dissipated as lofi has reached a larger audience. Although it is sad to see one of my favorite artists take a backseat in defining the genre, it is obvious that Nujabes is no longer the gateway to lofi as numerous radios and playlists on YouTube make it easy to find new artists. Ultimately, the decentralization of the genre is healthy and has contributed to the massive boom in content produced and consumed. In conjunction with the decentralization of lofi in regards to Nujabes, lofi’s association with Japanese names and culture in general has also diminished over time. Early lofi acts seemed to lean into the naming convention of using Japanese aliases to appeal to the genre’s community, but within the past few years, I’ve happily seen this trend lose steam. It never quite made sense to me why artists felt the need to use a random Japanese noun as their alias since I never really paid all that much attention to the artists themselves anyways and the goal of lofi was never to get famous off of the music, but this issue has mostly disappeared for the better. Music is for the people.
If You Like Lofi…
Lofi has its origins in jazz, so if you like lofi, there’s a good chance you’d enjoy the jazz, it is influenced by as well. Although most of the jazz that lofi samples is older, there are still plenty of contemporary acts that are ripe for picking samples from. Now, go make me a song to cry to!
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