How to make lofi hip hop like J Dilla:

lofi hip hop can be made anywhere, in any program.

Lo Fi = Low Fidelity

Lofi beats are an important and fun part of hip hop. Essentially, lofi beats (short for low fidelity, or quality) are sampled from old vinyl records or played intentionally in your program of choice. Lofi beats are made more from a feeling or vibe. This means that the samples picked and overall quality does not need to be the crispest, clearest recording or beat. Many times you’ll hear old vinyl hiss, noise, or distortion on a lofi beat. This is what helps give lofi it’s desirable character. Here’s some tips on how to achieve the lofi sound on your own.

• Drums + Swing

In lofi music, drums are one of the most important parts to get right. One legendary producer, J Dilla, used special techniques to get his drums sounding perfect. In this case, J Dilla’s drums weren’t perfect at all.

Let me explain;

In order to get the perfect bounce, or rhythm for his beats, J Dilla would purposely move his drums off of the perfect timing grid offered by his equipment. Dilla would often nudge hi hats, snares, kicks, and percs just a little bit behind each marker to slow down or speed up his drum hits and give them a type of rhythm called “Swing.”

Swing in this form is going to give your drums a “human” feel. This means it will sound like someone is actually playing them. J Dilla liked to play his on a drum machine and leave each part exactly where he played them or nudge them around a bit, to give it a “not -so-perfect” sound. This created a cool human type swing groove, which can be explained in a video from Splice here.

To Swing your drums, nudge them around a few ticks on the grid. Move them back and forth, to give a unique movement and groove. Find something you like that’s easy to bob your head to, and don’t be afraid to use a unique sound here and there for some percussion shots. Add a cowbell or fx noise once every measure in a unique spot that sounds nice.

Finally, some people like to use a shaker or tambourine to layer under or over the hi hat. This means that you can add another part to your drums, that’s a consistent or rare shaker that moves with the hi hats. Experiment with this by adding a shaker sample, and copying the same pattern as the hi hats. After you copy it, move the shaker either forwards or back until it sounds right to you.

Once your drums sound like they have some swing, and are a little off the grid, you can start to add a little Sample or Melody to it.

• Samples or MIDI

The next phase starts with your melody, or musical ideas. In the past, a producer would sample, or “copy” a small part of a vinyl record and use it in their recording. For example, here’s a post explaining all the samples from west coast famous hip hop from Dr Dre and Ice Cube.

You may choose to sample something, so start simple. Lofi beats usually utilize a minimal amount of instruments, so that it’s easy to follow along with the vibe. For example, sample something like a single guitar, or one piano, or a saxophone melody. You can add noise, distortion, reverb, or anything you like later.

Once you have a guitar or piano part that you really like, add it to your drums. You’ll want to split it up, move it around, and maybe adjust the speed or pitch so you can glue it together with your drums. This means that things sound smooth, and complement each other in terms of vibe and rhythm. It helps if your drums and music work together. Remember to “swing” or humanize your sampled melody to fit it with the drums. Use your ears, if it sounds right, it is right.

You can use any method you like if you want to play chords or a melody with instruments inside of your program or DAW. I like to use FL Studio, so many times I’ll hook up my midi keyboard and play the epiano, coming up with cool groovy soul or gospel chords. Add that new pattern of those chords to your drums, and you’re ready to go.

Bass – Synth or Real?

Bass is a very special part of making hip hop. Some people like it loud, some people like it spicy, but for lofi, the goal here is to vibe.

J Dilla would use a combo of both sampled bass and synthesized bass. To sample bass, he might use a recording from a vinyl record, and chop it up how he liked. For synth basses, I’ve heard a favorite of his was a Moog synthesizer, which he would filter with a lowpass to give it some low end.
Take any bass instrument you like, and filter it down to make it sound deeper.

Bass rhythm can be explained here.
just put a bass note every time the kick drum hits, and you’ll be on your way. Remember, vibe is key. If it sounds right, It is right.

Here’s a video example of my latest J Dilla type lofi beat:

This video shows swing drums, J Dilla style piano, and a neat way to structure lofi beats

Find More Beats I’ve Made HERE:

@Keeps MN





If you have any more tips, comment below to help out other producers!

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