How J-Dilla Inspired The World
By Farhan Muhammad
From releasing instrumental tapes in the early 2000s to featuring on a lo-fi stream playlist, beat culture has transformed the way we see instrumental mixes. As of now, Lo-fi is an encompassing term that describes most beat tapes, simple mixes, or even highly produced instrumentals. Although Lo-fi is short for Low fidelity, the range of the genre is anything but that. In this article we want to journey you through Lo-fi’s history, influences and its current place in student and work culture.
There are several producers that have benchmarked beat production in the past few decades, an icon, J Dilla, inspired a generation of producers with his simplistic, jazzy, and humanised beats that influenced 90s hip-hop. Working with titans such as Pharcyde, Erykah Badu, A Tribe called Quest and many more. J Dilla’s production was paramount in pinpointing the History of Lo-fi as it identified one of the key streams of influence that can be seen in a lot of lo-fi tracks. Early 90s hip-hop production featured a lot of samples, from Kung Fu films in the Wu Tang Clans entire track list to using a simple gas burner as backing for Mob Deeps Shook Ones Pt 2. Its relative low quality yet impactful style was enough to imprint a need to imbue into other art forms.
J Dilla, felt that hip-hop should be experienced the way he experienced it, which was an amount of imperfection, sort of a lo-fi sounding audio experience.’ – Questlove on Wired 2014
It is clear that the Lo-fi we hear and admire now are clear progressions from 90s boombap. Specific humanised drumbeats and styles that laid the groundwork for the more niche tracks we hear now. Honestly, you could listen to instrumentals from MF DOOMs Doomsday and say there’s ‘lo-fi type beat’ because it was those loops that are being recreated today.
STLNDRMS in an interview with producergrind2.0 outlined the clear parallel with beat producers and kids that watched anime. Saying their lifestyles of just staying at home and enjoying their art lead to the two eventually overlapping.
The next stream of influence as outlined by Okplayer was Adult Swim and Toonami. An American adult orientated night-time programme block of the basic cable network Cartoon Network. It wasn’t just the shows that were on Adult Swim, but it was actually the Bumps and commercials, in which music would play over a series of random images or TV shorts with a grainy filter over it (sound familiar?). The music played were from unknown and independent artists. Adult swim and Toonami, fell into the lap of many impressionable young children (including myself) in the early 2000s, with iconic shows such as Samurai Champloo, Boondocks and Cowboy Bebop.
This early introduction to anime or anime inspired cartoons helped bring forward a stylised appreciation for music as well as animation created from a completely different side of the world. But also, on the other hand shows such as Samurai Champloo and Cowboy Bebop were also clearly influenced by Western Jazz and hip hop. This cross-cultural trade led to Nujabes and Fat Jon’s work on Samurai Champloo to be a precursor to the Lo-fi streams we see today. With ‘Homework Edits,’ essentially just a looped track that ran for hours, that gained millions of views as far back as 2011.
The combination of 90s hip hop influence, as well as the reach of Adult Swim crafted a generation that was already familiar to a lo-fi hip hop before it was ever dubbed so. Over a decade of beat culture had passed and the kids who watched Adult Swim in the early 2000s have now grown up and have been influenced to listen or inspired to make their own tracks. The link in Lo-fi’s growth in 2016 was assumed to be the direct result of this generation of children growing up and appreciating or creating the channels that many flocked to. As a result, in 2020, lofi streams and channels have exploded in popularity, with plenty of international variation. Lo-fi mixes inspired from Brazilian reggae funk, traditional Chinese melodies or sampled and mixed versions of any song you can think of. With each channel pursuing a ‘chill’ or ‘relaxed’ vibe, these streams are home to many students and adults as background music to mellow down to while working.
A recent trend of adapting the ‘lo-fi girl studying stream’ to your own country has been shared across the internet. This helps illustrate the reach of the music and its growth over the internet.
Another splinter from the lo-fi streams are ‘Gong Bang’ a ‘study with me’ broadcast in which lo-fi playlists are played in the background. Whilst in the foreground an actual person studies with you. Unsurprisingly this trend came from South Korea, and according to the comments and feedback help motivate students to study. Whilst some might find studying to be a lonesome task, these broadcasts have added a completely new dynamic into the mix.
Close your eyes and transport yourself into a specific memory of your past, a time where the image itself is grainy. It doesn’t matter if the memory is boring, exciting, or nostalgic throw a mellow melody on top of it and a nice drum loop and you have exactly what Lo-fi does best. The use of these older samples, from TV shows, movies, and anime alongside pleasant drums create an atmosphere that is perfect to zone out to or study to.