Asylum from Armageddon: Revival Thrives in Lo-fi Hip Hop

    A girl typing on her laptop adjusts her glasses

    Projects, homework, and studying were way more prevalent in my life back in 2016/17. I was living on campus, had shared spaces with other people, and the only places to work were in study areas where there were… more places you had to share with other people. It was hard to focus. I needed my own world to get in the zone. I soon figured out that not only did [loud] noises and people distract me, but lyrics within music also distracted me. And thus, Lo-Fi hip hop came into my life to fill in that gap perfectly.

    The music genre ”lo-fi hip hop” has been popularized- and some might even say revolutionized– since its start in the 2010s (though its roots go way back into the 1990s). Lo-fi hip-hop (or “chillhop”) is a downtempo genre that combines “chill-out” music with hip-hop. It became popular on YouTube in 2017 with 24-hour live streams, like ChilledCow’s, dedicated to the genre. 

    ChilledCow, ran by a 26-year-old in Paris by the name of Dimitri, began his first lo-fi hip hop stream on Youtube in February 2017. (Some research even strongly suggests that the rise of lo-fi beats also correlates with the presidency of Donald J. Trump). 

    After six years of being on the platform, ChilledCow officially rebranded the channel’s name to “Lofi Girl” back in March. “ChilledCow’s name was chosen many years ago, and is no longer reflective of what the channel is about anymore.” Lofi Girl stated on Twitter.

    Versatility is lo-fi’s strong point; since there is no specific task that is attached to the music. Students and young people across the world bonded over the infamous Lofi girl stream, as they sat down to study, journal, relax, procrastinate, or complete tasks. 

    Lofi Girl studying at her desk as her cat chills on the windowsill
    The Infamous “Lofi Girl” from ChilledCow’s Youtube Stream.

    On the stream, Lofi girl studies in a continuous loop, never going anywhere or moving much except for some subtle animation. Her stability and consistency helped a lot of people ground themselves during times of uncertainty and chaos.

    Speaking of: The pandemic last year reportedly made the genre- and Lofi girl herself- skyrocket to more views and plays than ever before.

    If you’ve listened to this genre long enough, you start to notice classic beats, and they may even start to get repetitive over time. That’s why I tasked myself with making sure to play a different style within Lo-fi Hip Hop this summer. My favorite category I discovered was Nintendo Lofi. This includes Super Mario Lofi, Zelda and Chill, Animal Crossing lofi, and so much more.

    Rifti Beats‘ “Super Mario Lofi” on Youtube (top) and Waddle Dee Pop’s “animal crossing ~ lofi MEGA mix ☀️🌴 ” on Youtube (bottom)

    Although there’s no doubt in its popularity, some music-savvy folks point out that it doesn’t equate to the quality of the music itself. But as Sadie Van Wie recounts: “I don’t know if the music is necessarily “good” (I can’t say I listen to it outside of my study sessions), but I don’t really care. All I know is that several papers would not have gotten turned in without it.”

    One thing is for certain: the therapeutic qualities of lo-fi hip hop can’t be denied. There is no shortage of cacophony or disarray in this world/on this planet. So maybe it did rise due to Trump’s entrance into the Oval Office back in 2016. It’s a no-brainer that was an incredibly stressful time for a lot of people… for 4 years straight. So maybe it rose again (to even higher numbers) in 2020, with the pandemic, George Floyd’s murder, and another election.

    Lo-Fi Hip Hop’s peak streaming times seem to be in direct correlation with the listener’s need for mental preparation before a period of stress, a place of solace during a crisis, or recovery after these events have passed.

    In response to what happened in 2020, we wanted to focus on exploring the healing and restoration that we’ve had to go through as individuals and as a community. Not only globally, but nationally, in Chicago, and even right here at Street Level. For our summer Multimedia Journalism (MMJ) Program; we worked with five MMJ’s to create content around the theme: “Street Level Summer Revival- Revive All!”.

    For six weeks, we created sort of an oasis surrounded by Lo-Fi Hip Hop. We wanted to explore this aspect of self-care, reflection, healing, and recovery. The participants were able to journal, discuss with each other different topics, and all-around be in a safe space to retreat from the world. Then, the MMJ’s worked to create stories based on their responses to last year.

    We’ll showcase these projects that were created in the thematic space of “Revival”, covering Social Anxiety, FOMO, Financial Stability, and Social Isolation.

    (EN: The term has also been written as Lo fi, Lo-Fi, or Lofi interchangeably. All are correct.)

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