Although the vast musical landscape is always evolving and progressing, a recent major trend in music has taken a nostalgic step back into the past. I am of course referring to lofi Hip-Hop.

This downtempo musical style is purposely designed to NOT take centre stage in your mind. Instead, it’s formulated to provide a calm relaxing music bed for your subconscious.

Its mellow and nostalgic characteristics evoke a calming and soothing effect on the listener. Many people find that listening to lofi music helps them focus on tasks, such as studying or working, as it can provide a background noise that’s not distracting. Some people even claim that listening to lofi can help manage certain mental health issues.

Pioneers of Lo-Fi

Many people argue the template of lofi was set by the late great Detroit-based Hip-Hop producer J Dilla. During his career, which was tragically cut short in 2006, Dilla built a name for himself sampling obscure dusty and often emotional music. His style was highly melodic often with a heavy leaning towards jazz.

Dilla pioneered an almost drunken style of drum programming. This resulted in a human feel to his heavily swung drums. It is very much this sound that can be heard in the rhythmic feel of modern-day lofi Hip-Hop. This particular track appears to be a prototype for all the subsequent lofi music that followed.

Dilla instrumental – Life courtesy of MT. Fujitive

Inspired by Dilla’s distinctive sound, Japanese producer Nujabes is credited with further developing the lofi sound and aesthetic. Nujabes produced two groundbreaking albums of atmospheric jazzy Hip-Hop beats but like Dilla, his life was also tragically cut short. Nujabes extremely chilled musical approach helped to steer the direction of lofi. This helped to earn him the title ‘The Godfather of lofi’.

Other notable early exponents of the lofi vibe include DJ Shadow and Madlib who were known for their prolific crate digging and heavy sample use.

The Lofi takeover

Although the musical seeds had been sown in the late 90s and 00s, lofi needed a vehicle to flourish. That vehicle came in the form of YouTube and in particular its introduction in 2013 of live streaming. 24 Hour “radio stations” started to emerge focusing on niche musical subgenres including lofi.

By 2017 it became increasingly clear that music streams labelled as lofi and Chillhop were amassing huge followings. This popularity was mirrored on Spotify with numerous lofi playlists garnering millions of listeners.

Image courtesy of lofi girl

It was in 2017 that the French YouTube channel ‘Lofi Girl’ launched. This channel went on to become the biggest exponent of Lofi on the internet. With Its image of a lonely Japanese girl studying, Lofi Girl helped to establish firm links between both Anime and a musical aid to study.

RouteNote even has it’s own dedicated lofi playlist, that features some of the best lofi talent currently distributed through us!

It’s thought that the global lockdowns of 2020/21 turbocharged the popularity of lofi. With millions of people stuck indoors, lofi seemed to provide musical solace that was universal in nature.

So now we’ve briefly charted the rise in lofi’s popularity, what exactly defines a lofi Hip-Hop track?

Key Characteristics of Lo-Fi Hip-Hop

The ‘Lofi’ sound

The main thing that sets lofi music apart from other genres is its intention to NOT sound like a contemporary high-quality, expertly engineered sound recording. Lofi music is centred on a retro vintage aesthetic where a warm saturated ‘Lo Fidelity’ sound is very much the order of the day.

The extreme overuse of tape or vinyl static noise is highly prevalent in lofi. The intention is to make lofi tracks sound as though they are based on old original recordings. The use of ambient background textures is also popular. These textures are designed to give lofi music an immersive feeling.

The mixing of lofi music tears up the traditional rule books. Instead of trying to create a polished full-frequency balanced recording lofi seeks to sound as degraded as possible. This often involves the cutting of high and low frequencies in favour of a more Mid-ranged almost muffled sound.


Melodically, lofi is characterized by a relaxed and mellow vibe. Jazz, soul and ethereal music are all major influences. This stands to reason as the original inspiration for lofi, i.e 90s Hip-Hop heavily sampled these genres.

Originally lofi also relied heavily on sampling dusty old records but in recent years, partly due to copyright issues, there has been a move away from this. Lofi producers now generally play their own melodic content or use specifically created sample packs.

Instrument choice and manipulation are crucial aspects of Lofi. As a rule, lofi aims to imitate old vintage recordings of the past so the types of instruments used are reflected in this. The two most popular instruments used in lofi are Piano and Guitar. Piano tends to take the form of either an acoustic piano or Fender Rhodes or Wurlitzer electric piano.

Various techniques are used to degrade the quality of lofi instruments. These can include; Hi and low-end filtering, saturation, bit-reduction and of course the classic lofi wobble!!!

One of the most popular plug-in processers for lofi is the RC-20 retro colour by XLN Audio. The RC-20 single-handedly provides producers with control over all the necessary lofi parameters mentioned above in one highly usable plug-in.


The iconic Akai MPC 3000 as used by J Dilla

As lofi is a direct descendant of 90’s Boom Bap style Hip Hop, the drums very much fit into this mould.

More precisely, the distinctive Lofi drum sound can be attributed to the masterful drum programming of the aforementioned J Dilla. Traces of Dilla’s humanized style of drum programming can be heard in the drums of almost all modern-day lofi Hip Hop.

Although the drum programming is very much in this traditional Boom Bap style, the drum one-shots used tend to be much less punchy and in your face. In fact, some lofi drums don’t even use traditional drums at all! It’s not uncommon to hear `found sounds’ manifesting themselves as lofi drums. Think the ticking of a grandfather clock, footsteps or even snapping twigs!

As for tempo, most lofi Hip-Hop drums dwell in the 70 and 90 BPM arena. You do get the occasional exception but downtempo is certainly the default setting.

Additional FX

Sound effects are synonymous with lofi music. These are intended to create a sense of intimacy, warmth, and nostalgia, and to transport the listener to a different place and time.

One of the most used traits in lofi is the incorporation of underlying ambient textures and sound beds. As well as the obvious tape hiss and vinyl crackle, lofi commonly employs various field-recorded style sound effects. Expect to hear textures such as rainfall, birdsong, and city soundscapes not to mention the joyful sounds of a children’s playground

Spoken word is also a common feature of Lofi. Dialogue from old movies is a much-used trope but it’s also not unusual to hear poetry, speeches, talks etc.


Judging from the huge streaming numbers, lofi isn’t going away any time soon. If anything the lofi aesthetic is being embraced by other music styles as an antidote to the clinically polished sound of contemporary music. Think lofi House!

As content ID and sample identification technologies improve there seems to be a trend away from sampling old recordings. A great deal of lofi is being produced using purpose-made samples. There’s certainly no shortage of fantastic lofi themed packs out there. Here at RouteNote Create we have an abundance of samples ready to cater for all your lofi needs, including some FREE ones! (see below).

If you are thinking about getting your lofi on then it’s a really liberating musical genre to dive into. You don’t have the pressure of trying to make your track sound as ‘Big’ as say a Calvin Harris or Dr Dre production. You can happily experiment with melodic ideas, sounds, textures and effects. As long as you can capture the pleasing glow of nostalgia then you’re good to go. And who knows, you might even get your track featured on Lofi Girl or Chilled Cow.

Stop Press: FREE Lofi sample bundle available NOW!

As well as the great lofi sample choice on RouteNote Create we are very excited to announce that we have recently launched our first exclusive ‘in-house’ sample collection. We have prepared 3 lofi Hip-Hop packs for new users to download. Lofi Drums, Melodies and FX. Check out the following video for a flavour of the wonderful samples featured in this collection.

Remember – RouteNote Create subscriptions start from as little as $2.99, and you also get 10 FREE credits to spend on samples when you sign-up as well as your Free lofi samples!