History Of Lofi And Hip-Hop


Some may argue that ‘lo-fi’ isn’t necessarily a genre of music, but instead a style or aesthetic for music. However, since its creation in the 1950s, it has evolved to so many different ideas and many new heights. Because of this, I see it as a genre in itself, with subgenres sprouting off from it. Some of these subgenres might be anything from lo-fi grunge, hip-hop, new wave, bedroom pop and many more. This is because lo-fi essentially means ‘low fidelity’, and this signifies that the song would be produced with imperfections in mind during the production or recording of the song, so anything that sounds wrong is deliberately kept in, deeming it ‘low quality’ (but in terms of lo-fi, it would be high quality). Some problems that most producers wouldn’t want in the final song would be incorrect notes, tape noise or scratches, studio ambience or incorrect timing, but a lo-fi producer would long for these sounds and keep them in the final piece to maintain that authentic sound.

The idea of lo-fi started in the 1950s by amateur musicians who were new to production and recording music. The amateur musicians often produced music on a budget, using outdated and cheaply made hardware to make the music, and their recording studio was hardly even a studio for most musicians. The DIY music made strange and unnatural noises and malformations, therefore giving it uncommon and unique characteristics compared to other popular music at the time. Most lo-fi sounds would be paired with blues or jazz music, and the new style grew hugely though the 50s and 60s amongst young people, with help from big artists like The Beach Boys. Even though the production of these songs were cheaply done and usually rushed, ‘My Song’ by Johnny Ace (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKYQkUaRMAI) hit number one on the R&B Billboards in 1952, which is a great example of what lo-fi sounded like at the time.

During the 80s and 90s, the term started to become an interest for indie, rock and grunge bands who also longed for that unfinished and imperfect sounding music, despite popular music at the time like pop and disco wanting to sound the opposite. Bands often used simple recording techniques from home to record and that, combined with musical experimentation, obscure lyrics and uncommon structures, solidified that lo-fi sound. A great example of lo-fi in bands would be Nirvana; a lot of their music has imperfections like wrong notes, rhythm and tempo changes, and just a general sense of chaos and flawed sounds that they wanted to shine through in their music.

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Minimal home studio layout built with 1980s and 1990s equipment. Credit: (Ahrentorp, 2008)


Hip-hop is known worldwide for its rap, culture, musical style and long history of influencing new music and styles. The movement started in the Bronx in New York City and since has spread to all over America, and then the world. Hip-hop lyrics are often politically aware and philosophical, and the music can involve breakbeats on the drums and extended chords, influenced by jazz music. There are considered to be three eras of hip-hop; old school, new school and 21st century.

During the 70s, after white, middle-class people left for the suburbs and therefore leaving African American and Latino Americans in the cities, the youth there started to create their own culture, which would be later called old school hip-hop. Because so many people left the cities, budget cuts took place there, leaving the habitants with an extremely poor economy and rife poverty rates. So, the youth had to find ways to entertain and express themselves on a budget. This came through many forms of art like dancing, graffiti and rapping, which is what hip-hop is still built upon today. Breakdancing became an extremely popular dance style and involves lots of variation and difficult movements, usually done alongside hip-hop or breakbeats. Hip-hop fashion was important in the 70s, and still is now; it is a great way to define yourself as a hip-hop fan. Artists like The Black Spades and DJ Kool Herc influenced the old school hip-hop scene massively, with Kool Herc being credited for inventing the blueprint for hip-hop. This blueprint involved things like drum breaks, using slang phrases in the music, rapping and turntable manipulation. By 1979, hip-hop had become an extremely popular genre, with ‘Rapper’s Delight’ by The Sugarhill Gang taking the worldwide music charts by storm, and this influenced a new wave of hip-hop; new school.

As hip-hop started to get nationwide attention, new artists emerged onto the scene and these would be much more recognisable to a casual music consumer, these being artists like The Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Run-D.M.C and N.W.A. Hip-hop also grew thanks to the growing popularity in MTV, which often played hip-hop artists and hosted performances from them. Around this time, the genre started to get more meaningful, with romantic and political themes being used in the lyrics. A crucial period in the hip-hop scene occurred when Rodney King, an unarmed civilian, was a victim of police brutality in Los Angeles. Four officers beat him around 53 to 56 times and video footage went viral, sparking an outrage. The LA riots in 1992 were in reprisal to this and numerous hip-hop artists got involved with the demonstrations to show their anger at the police. In the mid-90s, the East Coast-West Coast rivalry came about, dividing the hip-hop scene in the US. The main artists of the feud were The Notorious B.I.G. from the East Coast, and 2Pac from the West Coast, who were both murdered in the late 90s. 2Pac’s death spurred on a summit, which called for peace between the two groups, and another summit was held after The Notorious B.I.G’s death also. By the last 90s, New school hip-hop was massive; it was the best selling music genre in the US.