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Lo-Fi Hip-Hop Has Become One Of The Internet’s Most Popular Subgenres; Is Slowed & Reverb Next?

Lo-Fi Hip-Hop Has Become One Of The Internet’s Most Popular Subgenres; Is Slowed & Reverb Next?

Graphic: Okayplayer

Slowed and reverb and lo-fi hip-hop share some distinct similarities, with both subgenres birthing their own subcultures online, and becoming the soundtrack to Generation Z.

On TikTok, the hashtag for slowed and reverb has over 30 million views. Among some of the top videos associated with the hashtag are DJs making slowed and reverb remixes in real-time, such as this clip of a DJ remixing Lil Uzi Vert’s “20 Min.” It clearly articulates what the subgenre’s sound is as the song begins in its original form, only to change in a matter of seconds as the DJ uses his controller’s pitch fader to slow its tempo. The process stretches the track, doubling its length and transforming its upbeat bounce into a moody, sedated haze, and Uzi’s distinct high-pitch sing-rap delivery into a deep and hollow croon.

Slowed and reverb has become the soundtrack for Generation Z since first rising to prominence in the late 2010s. A spiritual successor to the chopped and screwed sound credited to the late DJ Screw, slowed and reverb is now a popular online subgenre with its own subculture, as casual and more professional remixers alike are creating their own slowed takes on old and new songs across genres, with the remixes primarily existing on YouTube. The burgeoning slowed and reverb phenomenon comes at a time where similar internet-based hip-hop-derived subgenres like lo-fi hip-hop have become a more commodified and monetized sound. Rising to prominence in the early 2010s, lo-fi hip-hop has grown in popularity thanks to the many lo-fi hip-hop radio shows that are operated by some of the subgenre’s most popular YouTube channels, who’ve gone on to create record labels promoting their own lo-fi hip-hop artists on streaming services like Spotify. The subgenre has also been branded in some notable ways — from Will Smith and Pepsi releasing their own YouTube lo-fi hip-hop radio shows to meditation app Headspace having its own curated lo-fi hip-hop playlist. With both slowed and reverb and lo-fi hip-hop sharing some distinct similarities, the former seems poised to become the latter’s successor as the next internet-based hip-hop-derived trend: a contemporary reinterpretation of a nostalgic sound.

@xxtristanxo

f a s t #liluzivert #liluzi #20min #Levitating #dj #slowedandreverb #fyp #EmilyinParis

♬ original sound – xxtristanxo

Both lo-fi hip-hop and slowed and reverb are derivatives of some of rap’s most prolific sound shifters, the former owing itself to the soulful samples and unquantized, boom-bap drums of J Dilla, and the latter to the hypnotic slowness of DJ Screw’s chopped and screwed. The two subgenres have faced similar criticism because of this: both are seen as diluted, palatable, and simplified versions of the original sounds they’re replicating, as well as appropriative, with most of the producers — and YouTube radio show operators — representing the lo-fi hip-hop subgenre being white men. (Although slowed and reverb has also faced this criticism, it’s important to note that fans of the subgenre consider Slater, a Black man, as its originator.) The subgenres are also similar in the ambiance they evoke — a sense of isolation, melancholy and nostalgia that is amplified by the synchronized looped anime clips that accompany the tracks on YouTube.

With both styles, the slow instruments and deep vocals tend to evoke sad emotions,” Jack, the founder of the Jazz Hop Café, a lo-fi hip-hop channel on YouTube, said in an email. “I often associate the sound with depressive mindsets, and probably tend to appeal more to audiences going through tough times.” 

Goblin Jae, who operates a slowed and reverb channel out of the United Kingdom, agreed.

“I think a lot of people listen to slowed music or lo-fi hip-hop for similar reasons. To chill out after school or work, relax, help calm them down if they suffer with depression and anxiety,” Jae said in an email. “Something about the tempos and ambiance in these types of sounds really help people unwind from normal life.”

As a subculture, both are also similar in their preference for anonymity, with notable figures in both subgenres — from the founder of Chilled Cow, one of the most popular livestream lo-fi hip-hop channels on YouTube, to the founders of Rum World, a popular slowed and reverb channel — preferring to remain anonymous despite their growing fanbases.

Production-wise, the two are similar in terms of their general accessibility. Although lo-fi hip-hop can be more of an involved process — some producers still sample (the practice was an integral part of lo-fi hip-hop’s beginnings) but it has become less common considering most samples used are uncleared and producers are trying to avoid legal problems as the subgenre grows in popularity, while others collaborate with instrumentalists or use sample packs (collections of royalty free pieces of music that are played by sessions musicians and sold to producers) — beatmakers have often talked about how the subgenre’s simplicity makes it easy for anyone to participate and create original instrumentals.

“It’s so easy to listen to,” idealism, a notable lo-fi hip-hop producer, told Hypebeast. “It’s very simple music — beats are usually uncomplicated, chords and melodies are simple to follow and predictable. Yet it gives you that ‘good feeling.'”

Slowed and reverb is essentially remixes of pre-existing songs from various genres (but primarily rap) that solely uses screwing, or slowing down, and avoids chopping — overlapping the same song milliseconds a part from each other and cutting up certain sections so that they repeat — topping everything off with a layer of reverb that emphasizes the slow haze of it all. The process can be a bit more involved, with tutorials showing how to make remixes on Adobe Premiere Pro or Fl Studio, or not at all, with websites like Slowed + Reverb Generator doing all the work for someone wanting a remixed version of a song.

This accessibility has aided in slowed and reverb’s growing popularity — from non-slowed and reverb YouTube accounts like karma (which is home to this viral one-off remix to Childish Gambino’s “Redbone”) to accounts solely dedicated to the subgenre like Slater, Chovies, and Rum World.

“Some of the channels might try to frame it like it’s a complicated process, but it’s really not,” one of the operators behind Rum World (who wanted to remain anonymous), said. “Anybody could do it and that’s how we always try to frame ourselves — we’re moreso curating.”

Rum World, which is operated by two Black men from Houston, came about when the pair were inspired to make their own slowed and reverb remix of Trippie Redd’s “Wish” after they heard Slater’s remix of the same song. Since then, they’ve done remixes of Tame Impala’s “The Less I Know The Better,” Juice Wrld’s “All Girls Are The Same,” and Travis Scott’s “Goosebumps,” with all three having millions of views.

Rum World considers slowed and reverb a Generation Z phenomenon. It’s primarily people from that generation engaging with the subgenre, with proof of that evident on TikTok. In November 2019, teenage TikTok star Mattia Polibio shared a video where he recited the hook from Don Tolliver’s “No Idea.” However, the version shared wasn’t the original — it was Rum World’s slowed and reverb remix that was uploaded to YouTube in June that same year. After that, other teenage TikTok stars followed suit: Andre Swilley, Charlie D’Amelio, Elmo O’Dwyer and many more. The popularity of the videos gave rise to the “Feeling Like I Did Too Much” trend that has since evolved into a full-on dance routine. (Although a different slowed and reverb remix of “No Idea” now soundtracks most of these videos, Rum World’s version can still be heard among recent viral videos, too.)

@mattiapolibio

can you tell i like this song #foryou

♬ No Idea – Don Toliver

Rum World agreed that slowed and reverb and lo-fi hip-hop share some similarities, particularly that they’re a type of music “you could really vibe out to,” adding: “It’s something that you could feel and actually listen to, or it’s something that you could put on in the background, study to, smoke to.”

They also acknowledged the subgenre’s clear ties to chopped and screwed, and view slowed and reverb as a homage more than anything else.

“That was definitely something we always wanted to be clear from the start. That we weren’t trying to position ourselves as having the skill as people who did chopped and screwed, or that we were replacing it or anything like that,” they said. “It’s kind of like a celebration or modern take on that style.”

Tabi, a Canada-based slowed and reverb creator who focuses on making remixes of R&B and neo-soul artists like D’Angelo and Erykah Badu, also acknowledged the subgenre’s connection to chopped and screwed.

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“When I was younger chopped and screwed was still really popular,” she said in an email. “When I hear slowed and reverb it makes me feel like a kid again.”

Last year, Rum World tried to start a 24/7 slowed and reverb radio show akin to the shows that lo-fi YouTube channels like ChilledCow and Chillhop Music have. Livestreamed radio shows are integral to the lo-fi hip-hop community, with curators pairing a high-quality looped image (such as ChilledCow’s anime study girl) with high-quality audio from a range of lo-fi hip-hop producers. The process not only requires a lot of time but can be costly; Ryan Celsius, a D.C.-based DJ who operates a number of lo-fi hip-hop channels, told Vice back in 2018 that it cost him between $200 and $300 a month to rent the cloud servers he uses to keep the channels running. Maintaining a 24/7 live radio show requires not just a lot of time, but a computer that’s basically only used to loop through a playlist. As college students, Rum World didn’t have the time — nor a computer — to devote to their own livestream show.

But there are other limitations slowed and reverb could face as its popularity grows. Remixers like Slater have spoken on how some of their slowed and reverb uploads have been pulled down for copyright-related issues before on YouTube. Now, most remixes carry a “Licensed to YouTube by” descriptor that includes the label and publisher that the original song was released through. This means that both entities — who are the copyright owners of the content — receive the advertising revenue from slowed and reverb videos, and not the creators. This is why some channels like Rum World have created a Patreon account to profit off their slowed and reverb content. Those copyright issues also extend to streaming services like Spotify, where users are classifying slowed and reverb playlists as podcasts to avoid being taken down.

“…due to the copyright issues that arise with most of its content, you couldn’t distribute the music on many platforms, which restricts exposure growth to a significant extent,” Jack said. “If, however, artists started creating original compositions with/without vocals, like we have seen in some instances, the slowed and reverb style could work legitimately.”

Jack also used lo-fi hip-hop as an example, noting that the subgenre’s beginnings with more sample-based beats is now mostly original composition as its popularity has grown. Slowed and reverb has, to a degree, experienced its own alternative to this, with up-and-coming artists releasing slowed and reverb versions of their own projects.

Another isse that has plagued slowed and reverb and lo-fi hip-hop is increased fan engagement with the subgenre but not the creators behind the music. In “The Economics of 24/7 Lo-Fi Hip-Hop YouTube Livestreams,” journalist and researcher Cherie Hu explained how inflated streaming stats around lo-fi hip-hop doesn’t necessarily reflect the popularity of an artist.

“Because the average listener treats a lo-fi hip-hop playlist as background fodder for other activities (like relaxing, sleeping or focusing), actual recognition of, let alone engagement with, individual artists is rare,” Hu wrote, noting that lo-fi producers like Moods and Brenky may have over a million monthly listeners but their follower count isn’t anywhere near that.

The same can be said of slowed and reverb: Rum World’s popularity on YouTube doesn’t translate over to TikTok where, despite their “No Idea” remix being prevalent on the social media app, their account has less than 300 followers.

Despite them both sharing this problem, lo-fi’s commodification has helped the subgenre as a whole become the music of not just the internet but bars, cafes, stores, and other spaces in the real world, the sound appealing “to a wide range of audiences due to its inoffensive-relaxing nature and all-purpose background usability,” according to Jack. This is why Tabi believes that slowed and reverb won’t succeed lo-fi hip-hop in this sense.

“Lo-fi is a much more casual sound — I see it becoming the new ‘elevator music,'” she said.

But for now, members of the slowed and reverb community aren’t concerned with succeeding lo-fi hip-hop, instead just focusing on ways to maintain the subgenre’s longevity beyond a trend.

“I don’t think it really needs to succeed lo-fi hip-hop or that there is any kind of war between the two,” Goblin said. “A lot of people are into one or the other and if both genres can grow to a point where artists in the game are actively trying to incorporate these sounds or styles into their own music the better.”

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