If you search “lo–fi hip hop beats to study/relax to,” you’ll come across several 24–hour live streams of ambient hip–hop beats often paired with calming and cute visuals. Starting as an underground phenomenon, this hip–hop subgenre has emerged in the past year, gained popularity and influenced the genre as a whole. Two of the most popular channels—Chillhop Music and ChilledCow—each have over two million subscribers and thousands of people tuned in at any given moment. Crossing over from Youtube, Spotify’s “Lo–Fi Beats” playlist has nearly four hours of “Beats to relax and focus” and over one million followers. Other music platforms like SoundCloud and Pandora are starting to be populated by similar playlists, gaining lo–fi hip–hop’s legitimacy as both a concentration tool and music genre.
In early 2018—as these lo–fi hip–hop channels started to gain popularity—people on Twitter joked about “lo–fi hip–hop beats to study/relax to,” which quickly became a meme among the social media platform’s users. There’s a certain quirkiness to the streams with their anime visuals and long, highly specific titles which make them so easy to parody and joke about.
However, it’s hard to deny that this genre is perfect to study and relax to. While many people use classical music as their go–to background music, lo–fi hip–hop beats have a similar calming quality to them. There’s rarely any vocals—sometimes songs will sample just a single line from a classic movie at whisper volume. Without lyrics, the music isn’t distracting, but it’s not boring either. There’s a strong musicality to the tracks, with soft beats and rhythms that often draw on jazz and blues. Most of these tracks feature light piano–playing, soft drum taps, strums of string instruments, and muted synthetic sounds. The end result is some of the most stress–relieving music around. There’s not much distinction between each track, but that’s one of the reasons lo–fi playlists serve as the perfect background noise for students studying.
“Hip–hop” is a bit of a misnomer, as the subgenre draws more from R&B, jazz, and soul than it does rap. On its own, lo–fi hip–hop is complete, legitimate, and refined, but when paired with R&B it truly takes its form. Lo–fi hip–hop’s influence can be heard in the music of progressive R&B artists like Choker, Mac Ayres, and Raveena. Kendrick Lamar's album for Black Panther drew heavily on this music style, especially on the tracks “All the Stars” and “The Ways". Given its strong influence, it’s about time we give lo–fi hip–hop the credit it deserves.