The godfathers of lo-fi hip-hop and beyond

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An illustration of Nujabes by Omar Palma

Speaking directly to lo-fi hip-hop, two names are almost always given as the godfathers or pioneers of the genre: Japanese DJ and producer Nujabes and American rapper and producer J Dilla.

Nujabes fused elements of hip-hop, jazz and electronica together to create a unique, signature sound. Through him, lo-fi hip-hop has a direct connection to Japan. By synthesizing samples, melodies and beats together, Nujabes elevated composite sounds into richer, poignant moods.

Similar to genres preceding lo-fi hip-hop, Nujabes’ music is less about genre and more about emotion. It captures the warm, longing soulfulness of a fleeting twilight, pocketed between a brilliant sunset and hollow dusk. If nothing else, Nujabes dangles an innocent feeling of optimism that lies just beyond the edge of nostalgia in his music. …

More than sound quality and genre, lo-fi hip-hop is a (nostalgic) mood

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The new anime girl of lo-fi hip-hop, as on ChilledCow’s “lofi hip hop radio — beats to relax/study to” YouTube livestream

There’s another “origin” of lo-fi music. Because lo-fi is technically a measure of sound quality, lo-fi can arguably be traced back to the ’60s. In the ’60s, garage rock and punk rock were emerging. These scenes would evolve into ’90s grunge. They’re also considered predecessors of today’s lo-fi sound. The Beach Boys’ albums recorded in the Beach Boys Studio are considered early versions of lo-fi. Located in Brian Wilson’s home, the Beach Boys Studio was originally a private, makeshift studio the band used because it was more convenient than having to book studio time.

These home-recorded albums coincide with the DIY mentality and burgeoning indie scene of the time. This mentality was also shared by garage and punk rock, as producing music became accessible. The ability to record music at home meant artists didn’t need to land record deals or book studio time anymore. Of course, these recordings also had lower-fidelity than those produced in professional studios. But a lack of resources or knowledge should not lump music with low fidelity into the lo-fi genre of today — doing so would be too reductive and simple.

Will the anime girl ever finish studying? And where was the lo-fi hip-hop scene before she began?

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Yuki of Studio Chizu’s “Wolf Children” (2012), the original anime girl of lo-fi hip-hop

While the studying anime girl is the face of lo-fi hip-hop, the first lo-fi hip-hop livestream I clicked on displayed a soft pink sakura tree growing on the brink of a hazy cliff over an ocean. A whispering wind rocked sakura petals across the screen and lilting sounds of lo-fi hip-hop played in the background. I was alone in my apartment, and the space seemed too big to fill with only music. So I turned to the lo-fi livestreams pushed by YouTube, easily supplementing audio with visuals.

That was two years ago. Since then, the lo-fi hip-hop scene has boomed. The anime girl is still studying. The sakura tree seems to be growing enough cherry blossoms to continuously release them to the wind. …

How does Alita: Battle Angel blur the lines between human and cyborg? Or does the film realize the original intention of the cyborg?

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Movie Poster for “Alita: Battle Angel” as from GeekTyrant


Adapted from a cyberpunk manga Gunnm, Alita: Battle Angel begins with Dr. Dyson Ido combing a scrapyard and finding a fully intact cyborg head and upper torso. He reactivates the cyborg by implanting the remains onto a cybernetic body and names her “Alita” when she wakes up with no memory of her identity. Throughout the film, as she discovers who she is, Alita meets, loves, fights, and kills humans and cyborgs alike, raising interesting questions about the line between human and cyborg. What exactly is a cyborg and what makes a human, human? …

Why does Asian-ness always lend itself to being the futuristic “other” for Western audiences in science-fiction visions of the future?

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Still of cityscape from Blade Runner 2049 from PopCultHQ

In science-fiction visions of the future, Asian characters are easily, and perhaps unintentionally, exploited due to xenophobic sentiment in Western culture — sentiment that birthed and perpetuated techno-Orientalism and Yellow Peril. Often, Asian characters act as gateways to the future, introducing advanced technology and hyper-technologized worlds. But what is it about Asian-ness — whether it be Asian countries, Asian characters, or Asian cultures — that intrinsically evokes futuristic visions?

To elaborate, techno-Orientalism refers to discourse that promotes an array of stereotypes and deformations about East Asian populations (Lozano-Mendez, 183). Similarly, Yellow Peril stems from medieval fears of Genghis Khan and Mongolian invasions of Europe but has since come denote the “flood of cheap labor threatening to diminish the earning power of white European immigrants” in the United States after the abolition of slavery (Marchetti, 2). These sentiments, combined with the limited knowledge of Asia, Asians, and Asian culture in the West, allow Asian characters to provide science-fiction authors with a canvas onto which they can project “Euroamerican desires and dreads onto the alien other” (Marchetti, 2). …

Why is bilingualism a prerequisite for mixed race people?

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Naomi Osaka, as posted on her Instagram account, March 18, 2018

In a recent interview, Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka made headlines for declining to speak Japanese when asked — an interview that took place right after Osaka won her second Gram Slam title at the 2019 Australian Open and became the first Asian player to be ranked World №1.

Rather, it is headline news that Osaka spoke English when asked to speak Japanese because Osaka is biracial. Born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, Osaka is no stranger to critical scrutiny regarding her racial identity.

When asked by a reporter to give one word, in Japanese, about how she felt following her win, Osaka politely states, “I’m going to say it in English,” before answering the question. This warranted headlines such as, Naomi Osaka shuts down reporter who asked her to speak in Japanese following Australian Open win. …


Victoria Vouloumanos

narratives guide perspectives + perspectives influence narratives. collectively, these define reality, letting us inform + share our experiences w each other.

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