The breadth of sub-genres and techniques under the Hip Hop umbrella is nothing short of amazing. Hip Hop purists spout that there is one true sound while there are contemporaries that have made empires off of turning Hip Hop on its head. One such sound that is scratching its way out of obscurity and into the limelight is lo-fi (low-fidelity) Hip Hop and I was able to speak to Jay Vinyl, the originator of The Sandbox, about it. “It’s good [that lo-fi Hip Hop is getting bigger] because it is soulful music and people need that,” shared Justin Forys, aka Jay Vinyl. “If you listen to the [popular] music, it’s all ‘turn-up’ music: Migos, Lil Pump, Lil Xan. That’s fine- I like that kind of music too but it’s lacking. There is no real feeling behind [this type of popular sound] except for ‘lets get f*cked up’”. This vein of music, lo-fi Hip Hop, can trace its roots back to the Bronx, much like Hip Hop in general. Recycled sounds, crunchy textures and pre-recorded instruments are but a few of the pieces that make up the lo-fi technique.
Borne from Vinyl and others’ passion for the lo-fi technique and the growing demand for soulful creative expression is Under Construction. The collaborative tape features 14 tracks (not including the intro) that are mostly instrumental-based. These textured sounds have sprinkles of gritty, braggadocious, ardent and fierce vocals squeezed in when appropriate. Keeping all the soul together are these movie-like transitions that allow for each track to have a clear lane of its own as well as benefit from the thematic cohesion. “If you listen to the tape, it plays out in a movie [type] of way,” explained Jay Vinyl. “[Under Construction] has an intro and transitions. That’s what I want to do with the rest of the tapes too- I’ve been listening to these tapes and collective [releases] and there is just beat after beat. [There are] no skits or breaks”.
This distinction that The Sandbox delivers with their inaugural digital release proves to be an easy listen. Although the artists featured flex their affinity for lofi-sounds proudly via their music, they couldn’t each be any more different than each other. “Each artist is very different but thrown into the same category,” explains Jay. “MichaelMichaelson is boom bap, Karavelo is jazzier, Brain Orchestra is on another level, SpaceGang is on some crazy stuff, Stxn.x is on cut and dry boom bap, Funk.shu is on trap boom bap,”. Under Construction gives us ZOD1AC’s ear for worldly/latin sonic influences, STLNDRMS expert use of crunchy percussion and Korey Wade’s adept sample chops. The collage art present on the cover (courtesy of even more collaboration between Jay Vinyl and Kenzi Adams) keeps in line with the actual collaged presence of so many interpretations of what lofi music is and what it can become.
The major task of gathering up artisans for this idea actually came from a name some in the community may already recognize: “I became a member [of Dust Collectors] and slowly I started making tracks [then] another collective picked me up,” shared Vinyl. “Brestil pushed for me to have my own group. The Sandbox was originally supposed to be a rap group. [So I sought after folks with a unique style and] it’s hard to find people who have unique styles.” After bringing together a more-than-willing talented group, the work on the tape started immediately. These musicians range in locale; one relocating from The States to France, another based in New York, another based in Tampa, another in Akron and so on. The benefits of a digital community proved great in efficient in response to the lack of a universal home base, however. “[The project took] weeks, less than a month,” shared featured artist ZOD1AC. “I talked to [The Sandbox Collective] in early June and the tape came out around mid-July.” Just a month in and the digital tape has just under two-thousand hits on just Soundcloud. The DIY victories and budding popularity claimed by The Sandbox are likely due in part to the popularity of collaboration. “For me, [it’s beneficial] being part a community and having opportunities to work with other producers,” shared ZOD1AC, who is an active member of both Dust Collectors and The Sandbox. “[From] learning whos who to being able to give back and really involve yourself in a network of musicians who look out for each other [is invaluable].” However, most of the big and small victories for everyone over at The Sandbox that worked on Under Construction should translate as what is to be expected of elevated folks who take their craft and pioneering seriously. “If you haven’t seen [The Sandbox’s Instagram] page, it’s absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful,” gushed ZOD1AC. “It’s cool to be part of a collective that is so forward thinking, not only musically, but aesthetically as well. Rarely do you see collectives dedicated to having a cultivated aesthetic.”
The future for Hip Hop is yet to be determined; the present of Hip Hop is being cultivated, created and constructed by the lofi architects of today. From the chillwave playlists on Youtube to local watering holes featuring beat-musicians during the weekends or even the wave of beat tapes flooding the internet- the versatility and diversity of what Hip Hop is is on full-display. “No one is waiting around to give us the green light to start working,” shared ZOD1AC. “We’re going to start working and we’re going to work together to build something together.”
*Other producers featured on Under Construction couldn’t be reached immediately for comment- most likely creating more fire.