How to make LoFi Hip Hop

LoFi Hip Hop

Dusty Beats

Before we get into the meat of this tutorial, let’s take a few moments just to understand the term LoFi. We’ll assume that if you already know what Hip Hop is.

If you don’t know about Hip Hop, check out our other tutorial titled ‘How to make a Hip Hop Beat’.

Technics

LoFi stands for ‘low fidelity’, and is a way of referring to an audio recording which exhibits technical flaws. These flaws make the recording sound poor in quality when compared to the real sound being recorded. Artifacts such as hum, background noise, distortion or a reduced frequency response can contribute to giving a recording a LoFi sound, and as such we can mimic these flaws using our DAW. This will give, what would normally be clean-sounding music, a LoFi vibe.

There are several approaches to creating a LoFi Hip Hop Beat. Sampling old vinyl records, which will naturally contain flaws such as crackling, hums or pops, is a quick way to set the tone. However, for this tutorial we won’t sample any existing records. Instead, we’ll create our own music and apply effects to give the LoFi sound.

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1. Chords and Melody (Music Loop)

Creating an old-sounding, Jazzy chord progression with chord extensions such as 7th and 9th works really well with LoFi Hip Hop. Create a 4 bar loop, then duplicate it and make subtle changes to the second half – this will help to maintain listener interest. Try to vary the chord duration and timing to give a more edgy and less obvious progression.

Here’s a chord progression and melody, in E minor, we made using Captain Chords and Captain Melody. We used the built-in real piano timbres to give it a more vintage and less synthesized sound. The project tempo is set to 100 BPM, which is on the faster side, but completely acceptable for this genre.

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As you can see we used chords with both 7th and 9th extensions plus some strum and swing to help give the impression that it is being played by a human.

The melody is simple with no quantisation corrections. This helps to retain the feeling of being played live.

Here’s how our chords and melody sound:

This could easily have been sampled from an existing piece of music. However, as it stands, it sounds too clean to work as a LoFi music loop.

We can change this by applying some subtle effects. Here are the various plugins used, their settings and their order in the insert chain. These are applied to a sub-mix containing both the chords and melody.

Frequency response/range – LoFi tends to have much less higher frequency content, so we can apply a low-pass filter to remove this. Experiment until you get the effect you desire. We chose a 12dB/Octave gentle roll off from 1500-2Khz. It’s also a good idea to high-pass from around 150-200Hz which will make some space for our bass instruments.

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Bit Crushing – This simple, but effective, tool reduces the sample rate of audio, which can simulate older digital recordings. It was not previously possible to capture audio waves in as much detail as in recent times with modern DAWs.

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Distortion – Originally created by overdriving the vacuum tubes in old amplifiers, this effect can add some nice harmonics and warmth to audio. Use it with care though, too much and it’ll sound harsh and unauthentic.

LoFi_Screenshot 5

Vinyl (effect) – This amazing little plugin called ‘Vinyl’ from Izotope is the perfect tool for adding some vintage vinyl grunge. It has several parameters which allow you to dial in some crackle, pop and hum, and make your audio sound like it’s been lifted straight from an old 12”. Oh, and it’s free!

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Here’s how our completed music loop sounds with the LoFi effects!

Install our software

If you want to write your own chords, install our software called Captain Chords.

2. Create a ‘Dusty’ Beat

Now that we have created a Jazzy LoFi music loop, the next step is making some old-school, dusty-sounding drums. For this we’ll use Captain Beat as it comes packed with preset drums perfect for this style and lots of drum patterns to get the production going in minutes.

Similar to the music loop, we’ll first create a traditional Hip Hop drum loop and then add effects to make it LoFi.

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We’ve selected the drum kit called ‘Dub Deep’ and the pattern called ‘Loner 105’ to get started. The actual pattern is perfect and needs almost no editing. However, some of the drum instruments need tweaking to achieve the desired effect.

The acoustic snare by default has lots of reverb. The sound is great, but it would be better to be dry and free of reverb. We can easily fix this by dialing back the ‘Hold’ setting until we have no reverb tail on the sample.

We can also remove the crash cymbal and lower the closed hat in volume by a couple of dB.

Here are our drums:

Now that we have a simple, but effective, Hip Hop drum loop we can begin to add some LoFi grit.

The first, and possibly most noticeable, effect we can apply is a simple low-pass filter.

We can use Captain Beat’s built-in filter and pull it downward until we lose the “sparkle” from the high-hats.

LoFi_Screenshot 8

Pro Tip

It’s advisable to check the tuning of some of the drum instruments, to ensure the drums gel nicely with the music loop – in this instance the kick and snare drums. These often have a definite pitch, so we can use Mixed In Key Studio Edition and the ‘Pitch’ knob in Captain Beat to tune them to the root note of the scale, ‘E’.

LoFi_Screenshot 9

In this drum kit, only the kick required some minor tuning, as the snare had no definite pitch.

With the drums tuned and filtered, we can now add some compression to reduce their dynamic range. This will give a complete and polished sound to the drums, before we undo that with more LoFi effects.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but remember, the aim here is to make the drums sound like they have been sampled from an old record, and that record would have had compression on the drums.

Any compressor will do, the more important part is to set it correctly and not go crazy on the gain reduction. We’ve opted for a preset for drums and around -4dB gain reduction with slight make-up gain to compensate.

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To complete our drum loop we’ll also add an instance of Izotope’s Vinyl and tweak to get a subtle but convincing effect.

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Here are the completed drums!

3. Sub and foley

We’re getting close to the mixing stage, but first, here are a couple of nice touches to apply.

Adding a sub bassline will give the sense of weight to the completed Beat. We can do this easily by opening up an instance of Captain Deep. Choose a preset such as ‘Sub bass’ and set the octave to ‘zero’. Subtlety is key here, so rather than having a busy rhythm, we can choose ‘On chord change’.

LoFi_Screenshot 13

Having the sub bass notes follow the chords will create some nice movement without making the low end too busy.

Pro Tip

We can side-chain compress the sub bass with the kick as the trigger, so that when the kick drum plays, the sub bass is inaudible. For more info on how to use sidechain compression click here.

Lastly, but by no means least, we can add some foley sounds to create a sense of realism. The obvious, and possibly overused, choice is sampling the sound of rainfall, so we’ll use that for demonstration purposes.

For your own music, why not pick up a recorder, or even your phone, and record something unique.

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The rainfall foley sound can then be mixed with the rest of the parts to complete our Lofi Hip Hop Beat.

And here it is!

Now it’s your turn, try using some of these techniques and create your own LoFi Hip Hop!

Write your own Chords using Captain Chords

It’s super easy to create your own ideas from scratch. Visit the official Chords homepage and see how it will help you explore music and write your own original productions.