What To Expect?
The genre of LoFi Hip Hop has become extremely popular. While Channels like Chilled Cow or Chill Hop have millions of streams on popular streaming services like YouTube or Spotify, some producers already managed to get an income from their LoFi productions.
If you are a new, or even an advanced producer, that has no experience in making this type of genre, it can be pretty overwhelming to find the right tools for getting started. In this article, I want to give you a general overview over which plugin-types are generally used in LoFi HipHop productions. I broke this topic down into 3 parts:
- What are the main characteristics of this genre?
- Which Audio-Effects do you need to achieve a smooth LoFi HipHop sound?
- Which instruments are generally used for making LoFi HipHop?
What Is LoFi HipHop?
Before we will dive into which tools you will need for producing some smooth LoFi-Tracks, we need to understand what their main characteristics are. When you take a closer look at the term “LoFi HipHop” you will see, that it contains two words: “LoFi” and “HipHop”. Pretty obvious, right? If you know what these two words are all about, you will get a deeper understanding of this topic.
Let’s explain the word LoFi first:
So when you have a look at the Wikipedia article about LoFi, you get a pretty good definition of this production-style. To sum it up: The aim of a LoFi production is to falsify the sound in such a way that it deliberately appears dirty or old.
Let’s have a look at the main characteristics of HipHop-Productions:
Because music is all about creativity and self-expression, it is pretty hard to define the main characteristics of one genre. I think if you want to understand it better, studying history and evolution can be a pretty good starting point.
If you have a look at the pioneers of HipHop production, like JDilla, Pete Rock etc. making beats in the old days mainly used to be all about picking a great sample, chopping it up, and creating some simple loops with a vintage sampler. Add some gritty drums and a great Bassline with a synthesizer to it et voilà: you have an old-school boom bap Hip Hop beat.
With the rise of modern music technology, producers had more options to experiment with. Some people are still making “classic beats”, others are focussing completely on the sound of modern plugins and some are doing it the hybrid way, trying to combine the best of both worlds.
Because hip-hop music is continuously evolving and there are lots of different production styles, I tried to define the stereotype characteristics of old school and new school Productions – this is what I came up with:
Oldschool (Boom Bap):
- BPM: 80-100 (or 160 – 200 if you are doubling it)
- Drums: Simple Down-Beat Patterns
- Instruments: Mostly Samples, vintage Synths and Keys
- Basslines: Simple Subbass, Low end of a sample
New School (Trap):
- 60-95 Bpm (or 12-190 if you are doubling it)
- Drums: Slow Rhythms with fast rolling Hi Hats
- Instruments: Simple Melody Patterns & modern VST Instruments
- Basslines:Mostly 808’s
So after we found a definition for the Word LoFi and the Word Hip Hop, we can finally bring them together and get an idea about what the genre LoFi HipHop is all about: The goal is to make a HipHop beat, that has a vintage feel to it.
You achieve that with the help of analog sounding effects and vintage gear. In the next sections of this article, I will show you, how you can make this sound in any DAW like Fl Studio, Ableton Live, Logic Pro, etc. Because I don’t want to make this post simple advertising, I’ll just name the main tools. So that you will know for what type of Plugins you have to search for.
There are several plugin types, that can make your productions sound dirty and old. After 5 years of constantly making Lo-Fi Hip Hop Beats, I came up with 3 different tools, that turned out to be very useful.
Using a Bitcrusher is a very common technique to generate a sound that is produced when you are sampling your music with some vintage gear like an old Akai Mpc.
There are even some bit crushers on the market, with some presets included, that mimic the sound of such analog equipment pretty well. When you are adding these effects to your drum kits or instruments, you will get a nice, warm sound that will satisfy your ears.
Vinyl-Effects & Tape Emulation
Back in the days, the only option to listen to music was to buy some vinyl or tape. Even these days, lots of people prefer this way of hearing music, because it sounds much better to them than streaming it.
The reason for this is that playing music on an analog source will always add some retro color to it because it’s adding some imperfections like a “wow flutter effect” or some dirty crackles. Adding some vinyl or tape emulation to your instruments will definitely add some great LoFi-characteristics to your beats.
This is a must-have tool for all music-producers. (Not only the LoFi ones) Saturation basically adds some overtones to your virtual instruments, which automatically lets them sound warmer.
There exist tons of saturation plugins with different characteristics. I think using this tool the right way is just a matter of experience Just experiment with some demos, watch some tutorials, and I’m sure, that you will soon get a feeling for when to use which type of saturation.
After we broke down what audio effects will LoFi-Up your beats, I want to give you a quick overview over what vst instruments you can use to compose them.
Like mentioned before, sampling from old records is a very common technique for making some smooth LoFi HipHop Tracks. Samplers are included in nearly any music production software and you can even buy some advanced ones, that will provide you more creative options. It’s really a great tool with a lot of potential.
Besides chopping some records up and replaying them, you can also experiment with some alternative effects like pitching and reversing.
Quick Tip: Make sure to study every option that your sampler of choice is offering, because you may miss some great features that will blow your mind!
Hip hop beats from the past were often filled with elements of jazz. Because genres like cool jazz or jazz noir are characterized by gentle, soothing piano sounds, they are still present in many popular LoFi hip-hop productions.
You can find a lot of great VST plugins, both paid and free, that produce a great sound. My recommendation here is to add some great acoustic and electric pianos to your library to access a wide range of inspiring sounds.
Here is a shortlist of cool electric pianos that are widely used in the scene.
- Hammond Organ
The universe of virtual synthesizers is endless. An old friend who has been honing his sound design skills for years explained to me that you only have to find the right purpose for every synthesizer.
And I can agree with him! It’s really just about experimenting a lot and discovering your own preferences. A little tip: If you are very impressed by the music of a special producer, you can often find a hint about his equipment on Equipboard.
Here is a short list of synthesizer emulations that I love:
- Mini Moog
- Roland Jupiter
- Oberheim SEM
Making LoFi HipHop is really just the art of combining some HipHop Beats with the sound of some vintage Recording equipment. Because the taste and preferences of some producers are so different, I just gave you an overview of which tools you will need, to lead you in the right direction. After you know how to produce this sound, it’s really just a matter of research and experience, Hope, that I could help you with this!
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