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… and why never leaving your desk may be a good thing, after all.
It was May 2018 when I first became a shut-in. I’d lock my door, get coffee and then spend hours trying to figure out how to find the Cournot equilibrium output of two firms in a duopoly.
It was a solitary time, holed up in my room in Lonsdale with maybe an hour or two of fresh air a day. Yet despite the seemingly unending stress at my failure to correctly derive marginal utility or explain the nuances of bicameral systems, I found an unlikely ally.
It was through the aptly named ‘lo-fi hip-hop beats to relax/study to’ I gained consolation. The dusty 808s and stretched samples soundtracking what could have made for the most boring biopic of all time (in my case, Robert de Niro would at least deliver a seminal performance).
Naturally, this music has its limits; you can’t listen to 5 hours of drums over a sample that sounds suspiciously like the intro to an 80s climate documentary in any context but a room you are forced to work in at pain of academic failure. Yet, there is a beauty in this minimal, nostalgic and almost escapist subgenre.
Rejjie Snow – Loveleen
With a smooth Irish brogue and even smoother Irish beats, Dublin’s own Rejjie Snow weaves autobiographical bars over instrumentals suited to any library or orthopaedic waiting room.
Like Nas, if he rapped over Adult Swim intermission music, snow is almost prophetic about his rise, the social background of his work and his millennial experience.
Madvillain – Accordion
This song is somewhat unique among this list, and not for its use of an oboe.
Coming off MF DOOM and Madlib’s 2005 classic, Madvillainy, the track displays all the best of Madlib’s original, sample-heavy production and DOOMS dexterous and off-kilter rapping.
I could say many things about this song, but no description can capture the essence of the track better than a YouTube comment I chanced upon when first listening.
“This song makes me think of a guy in an apartment in Boston drinking Mountain Dew and watching WWE while buying thermite off the dark web”.
I’ll leave you all to ponder that anecdote, but one thing is sure, MF DOOM has more lyrics than the church has ‘ooh lords’.
Smino – Amphetamine
One half an introspective reflection, the other a posse cut, Smino’s Amphetamine is music for pondering the meaning of your life and future. The line ‘like an amphetamine, how it marinate on my mind’ reflects the almost addictive nature of neuroticism but driven by relaxed, synth-laden instrumentals assures you that if you can make it through the night, you will indeed be alright.
Saba – Heaven All Around Me
At first, you’d be right to think that this is just another relaxed, feel-good rap song. Yet in the context of the fantastic, and my opinion highly underrated Care For Me, Saba closes his sophomore effort with a song, not about happiness or freedom from stress, but instead an in-depth description of his friend’s death from a gunshot wound, and ensuing ascent to heaven. With harrowing but somehow darkly comedic lyrics, Saba follows the previous track, in which he delivers a biography of his murdered friend and cousin, with this effort that is somehow light-hearted in the face of trauma.
So there you are five of the best lo-fi hip hop tracks. What you do with this power is up to you, but try not to fall asleep.