Throughout hip-hop’s history, the genre has been inundated with stereotypes—albeit to some degree of truth, due to the overly confident alpha male image. The story of the tough-guy rags-to-riches narrative has dominated so many rappers’ career perspectives throughout the last decade or two. Today though, even with a new wave of acceptance of women in hip hop, the job of a female hip hop artist to own her sexuality and femininity while not making it a crux in her artistry can be a difficult balance.
Now, as hip hop expands drastically past the alpha male image, a group of female producers and singers from around the world are making waves on the internet by creating a new lane in a subgenre of hip hop: “lo-fi.” They don’t seek acceptance from males, can just as easily dress up as they dress down, and simultaneously create an even blend of empowerment and self-assurance with a sensitive and honest side.
The relaxing and soothing vibe of lo-fi is something that stands as a stark contrast to the lit atmosphere of American mainstream rap music today, and most of all these girls feel like they’re just being themselves. While there are plenty of males who do lo-fi hip hop music (and very well at that), for this article we’re going to highlight some of the top and most talented female lo-fi hip hop artists and producers today. But first, what the hell is lo-fi hip hop?
Lo-fi (short for low fidelity) is a sound recording that contains technical flaws such as humming, poor audio quality, background noise, or record static. Why would anyone want this? Because that’s art. For years, recording engineers spent hours trying to figure out ways to get the hiss out of analog recording equipment, but even after digital recording formats were introduced, music artists still decided to go back and artificially add in a record static effect. Additionally, the term lo-fi is used in contrast to hi-fi (high fidelity) referring to a sound recording that reproduces the sound very clearly and accurately. Some of the production elements typical of lo-fi hip hop are stutter effects on the beat, sample heavy songs, changing the beat mid-song, nature sound effects, and long intricate vocal samples. Now, let’s get to some of these artists.
Melanie Rosé, Chicago, IL
Melanie Rosé wrote her first song at the age of ten, but has only been making music consistently for two years. Early on, her music inspiration was Christina Aguilera and Alicia Keys, but in high school, Rosé began listening to lo-fi music. However, she didn’t know what it was officially called. Today, she writes and performs her own vocals and usually begins her production process by freestyling lyrics and then writing them down later. When asked about her music goals, Rosé wants people to feel connected to her in the same way she feels connected to artists that inspire her.
Sophie Meiers, Durango, CO
One of lo-fi’s best lyricists, Sophie Meiers delivers a mix of well-informed and introspective songwriting with warm and honest vocals. Sophie has been making music virtually her entire life and has already been in several bands, but hip hop was something that impacted her incomparably. She describes it as “…a genius, literary, and sonic revolution.” And added, “It had soul and passion, stories and poetry, woven together with a gorgeous nostalgic sound. Jazz has always been at the center of a lot of the music I listen to and make, so when I came across ‘lo-fi’ on SoundCloud I was drawn to the crunchy and smooth tones of samples hypnotically pacing along with steady hip hop bumps.” Sophie says her early hip hop inspirations were Nujabes, J Dilla, and Erykah Badu. While she has had many big songs, one of her biggest thus far is “Sincerely, Yours.”
Eevee, Dordrecht, Netherlands
Arguably the most prominent female of lo-fi hip hop, Eevee first began her career as a DJ before getting into producing hip hop beats. It started when she bought a laptop that included a basic music production program. She fell in love with it and her ex-boyfriend later uploaded a copy of FL Studio to it. Eevee didn’t listen to hip hop originally when she started making beats, but recalls some of her early hip hop inspiration coming from J Dilla, Nujabes, and Flying Lotus. She describes her music as “…kind of therapeutic for me.” She added, “It’s a way to express myself and put my feelings out, so a lot of times my inspiration is based on my mood and feelings. I hope to let people see if they go through hard times they know they are not alone.” Now four years into making music, Eevee is working on a solo album and will be touring the United States in Spring 2018.
Mxmtoon, Bay Area, CA
artist // provided
Mxmtoon—here’s a YouTube video on how to pronounce that—has been making music since she was a kid. She began originally by playing classical cello and later joining a rock band in 5th grade, and describes the transition as “shocking but I loved every second of it.” She continued, “I was able to realize that I actually had a voice, one that hadn’t been explored through cello.” Mxmtoon explained about the intent behind her music, saying, “My main goal with the content I produce has always been to help people feel less alone in some way.” Today, she uploads songs and videos of herself performing original music, as well as covers online.
Seneca B, Boston, MA
@senecabeats // Twitter
Seneca B started out playing piano as a kid, but later switched to drums and would practice diligently every day. Throughout her youth, she wanted to be in a band but could never get a group together, so she switched to producing to be the entire band herself. For hip hop inspiration, Seneca originally listened to The Game, 50 Cent, and Eminem, but as she began to craft her sound, she slowly found more obscure producers on SoundCloud and realized that her style seemed to fit with lo-fi. When asked about her goals in music, Seneca says, “I just want to be constantly improving. I only got into music because it was an outlet and I was able to practice a lot, so honestly I’m kind of surprised it’s even taken me this far.” She now plays guitar, bass, and piano. When asked about women’s place in hip hop, Seneca added, “Most of the time it’s other people that get to decide when that sexuality is too much for them. People are going to think what they want to think, but women don’t need to make that their problem. If your music’s good, it’s good, and that’s all that matters. If someone doesn’t like the way you present it, then that’s on them.”
Paper Latte, Anchorage, AK
Paper Latte originally began learning to play piano around age six and would later go on to compose her own classical music. While talented, her passion for the piano was not formidable and she ended up quitting by the end of high school. Later in college, she studied creative writing with a focus on poetry. After meeting her now-husband, he introduced her to rap music and she found herself writing poetry to lo-fi hip hop that resonated with her. One day, she created the random handle name Paper Latte in a YouTube chatroom and the rest is history. Now she writes and records all her vocals herself and says she almost always begins her production process with the writing first. On women’s place in hip hop, Paper Latte says, “I think issues of over-sexualization have also become subtler; people still often expect women to appeal to a sexy or cute aesthetic. I’m not saying those aesthetics are negative, but rather, our society’s expectation of female voices impacts the diversity that will be heard. I once received an email from someone asking for me to show them my vagina, with much less kind wording, and I still have no idea if that person likes my music. I’m not bothered writing sexual lyrics or dressing down if it’s part of an expression I fully believed in. I think it’s good for females in hip hop to claim the sexual expression they want for themselves if they want it—and if it throws society for a loop, the balance will come from conversations that follow.”
Lilja, South London, UK
@lilja_4evr // Twitter
Lilja was born into a musical family and has kept up that tradition herself. When describing her earliest musical influences, Lilja says her parents are 100% the biggest as her father played in English band Portishead, considered one of the founding bands of trip-hop. Lilja does her own production and vocals and says she enjoys distorting things, using “messy sounds,” and seems to express herself better when sad. For her musical goals, Lilja says, “I never took making music seriously until recently. I still don’t know what I’m doing with it. My dream is to continue making music, set up a small studio in my flat, and just thrive with all my talented friends. I also couldn’t care less if it goes nowhere and I end up broke, as long as I can continue to make music and be happy.” With regards to women’s place in hip hop, Lilja says flat-out, “Women are over-sexualized in every aspect of their lives, not just hip hop. Fuck the patriarchy.”
Xkatiesmith, Orange County, CA
Originally, Xkatiesmith began making music because her “cool” older sister played guitar and piano, so she decided to learn each instrument herself. She laughs now that the first song that she wrote, at the age of 11 no less, was about heartbreak. But she says now, at age 17, her subject matter hasn’t changed much since. Today, she plays guitar, piano, and ukulele, but enjoys singing the most and says her vocals are still the focus. With her music, she hopes people can understand her better and feels her music is a “way of bringing clarity” to herself and grasping what she is feeling.
I know a lot of people might read this article and think, “So what? You record music at a crappy quality and now, all of a sudden, you are this pioneer in a new subgenre of hip hop?” So I wanted to end this with a quote from David Byrne, former member of the band Talking Heads, with a passage from his 2012 book, How Music Works:
“Why would bad quality, fuzziness, and distortion imply that the music is more authentic? The idea is that if one accepts that crisp and clean recordings are inherently soulless, then the opposite, dirty and rough, must therefore be straight from the heart. It’s all part of the recurring belief that conflates new technologies with being inauthentic. Bad—even fake bad, in this way of thinking—means good. It’s confusing, because most digital music does not sound ‘bad.’ If anything, it sounds conventionally good—clean, spotless, with a full range of frequencies. Though it is actually less rich sounding than previous technologies, it fools the ear into believing that it sounds better. So, while the cleanliness and ‘perfection’ of much current music is not a guarantee of a moving musical experience, neither is their opposite.”
“I first heard rock, pop, and soul songs on a crappy-sounding transistor radio, and they changed my life completely. Though it was an audio transmission that carried the news, it was the social and cultural message embedded in the music that electrified me as much as the sound did. I’m not saying that tiny sound should be considered satisfying or desirable, or that we should never strive for more than ‘good enough,’ but it’s amazing how much lo-fi or lo-res information can communicate. Now I begin to ask myself if the fuzziness and ambiguity inherent in low quality signals might actually be a factor that gives listeners a way in. By letting the listener fill in the blanks, the work becomes personalized and the audience can adapt it to their own lives and situations. They become more involved with the work, and an intimacy and involvement becomes possible that perfection might have kept at bay. Maybe the lo-fi music crowd has a point?”