DJ-rapper-producer Kero One joins this episode to break down the past, present and future of lo-fi hip-hop—from the perspective of an artist who has been making music for almost two decades, but became associated with the "lo-fi" scene only recently after the genre's solidification in the mainstream. We dive into the deep ties among lo-fi hip-hop, jazz and Asian culture, the positioning of lo-fi as an alternative to trap, the role of technology in evolving who gets to participate in the lo-fi resurgence and the reasons why Kero hates the term "study beats." Towards the end, we share our thoughts on Lil Nas X and the infiltration of K-pop groups like BLACKPINK and BTS into traditional U.S. media.
"In All The Wrong Places" (Instrumental) by Kero One
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Kero One, DJ/rapper/producer
[2:40] Interview with Kero One begins
[4:46] More context on the origin of the "Is this a butterfly?" anime meme:
[5:45] Cartoon Network's Adult Swim is referenced several times in oral histories of lo-fi hip-hop—from its role in engineering the success of rapper MF DOOM, to its influence on other, younger producers and the emergence of nostalgia-driven audiovisual mixes on YouTube:
[8:15] YouTube first launched its native livestreaming feature in limited beta in spring 2011, and waited until late 2013 to open up the feature to anyone with 100 or more subscribers:
[10:50] I last interviewed Kero for a Forbes article in summer 2017, during which he shared how one of his biggest breaks as an artist came when underground DJs in Japan picked up copies of his 2006 project Check the Blueprints:
[11:40] The New York Times published a fascinating multimedia article in February 2019 about the presence of Chicano/Chicana subcultures in Japan, including an interview with Japanese Chicana rapper Mona. To be fair, OC Weekly beat them to their own coverage eight years earlier:
[14:04] Links to Nujabes and Cradle Orchestra:
[17:32] Passion of the Weiss' interview with Bas van Leeuwen, founder of record label Chillhop Music, in which he states that "we don’t want the music to be seen as a throwaway or interchangeable product. We want people to recognize individual tracks":
[19:17] You can watch the first installment in Kero's career-driven video series on YouTube by clicking here:
[22:10] Kero's comments connecting EDM to lo-fi hip-hop in terms of both genres' dependence on playlists reminded me of this piece I wrote for Billboard last year about how some flagship playlists on Spotify were underperforming on engagement and conversion to artist fandom, despite having multiple millions of followers:
[26:06] DJ Mark Farina has been commercially releasing a series of downtempo/chill hip-hop compilations called Mushroom Jazz since 1996. Here's a link to the second compilation in full on YouTube:
[31:06] Spotify's "Lo-Fi Beats" playlist currently has over 1.7 million followers; "Mellow Beats" has over 1.4 million followers; "Chill Lofi Study Beats" has over 400,000 followers.
[33:32] Links to the life and work of Sam Gellaitry, an electronic producer in his early 20s:
[37:17] The resurgence of '90s references in fashion, music and other realms of pop culture is well documented:
[40:39] Vulture's Craig Jenkins dove into the rise of the "sad summer song" in 2018:
[44:58] Overrated/Underrated segment begins
[45:25] Lil Nas X. Enough said. For more context on his viral, historic rise, and the technological and commercial forces that made it happen:
[47:08] More context on the "yeehaw agenda," a movement of people of color (particularly African Americans) reclaiming western and cowboy aesthetics:
[49:58] You can listen to BTS' single "Boy With Luv" ft. Halsey here:
Thanks for listening! :)
What is Water & Music?
The fine print of big ideas in music and technology, hosted by Cherie Hu and featuring a curated selection of leaders, innovators, artists and thinkers from across the music business. This is an ad-free audio companion to the eponymous email newsletter.