Lofi hip-hop is a music genre that is heavily associated with Anime. This style of music, which has been a mainstay on many music platforms these days, is used to create samples of various anime opening and closing themes. One quick search in the formula of “(Insert your favourite show) lofi mix,” and you will find multiple mixes in these low-key beeps and boops that you can chill to for hours.
The anime and lofi relationship hit its honeymoon stage once Toonami, a TV network that mostly aired reruns of older shows, broadcasted Samurai Champloo and Cowboy Bebop. These shows introduced a treat of smooth, jazzy cadence that mixed house and hip-hop into a chill yet relaxing head bopper to the mid-2000s anime audience.
In an era where hip-hop and underground street cultures were booming, it was a potential match waiting to happen; Champloo focused on blending these tones with the cool and classic theme of the Samurai. Who were the brilliant minds behind these beats that caused a revolution – a spillover – into modern-day pop music culture?
Samurai Champloo’s Music and Flow
Samurai Champloo’s soundtrack, in particular, sets it apart from many other shows. Pairing the visual delight that is lofi with the action-packed and stylistic sequences present in the anime is akin to France’s finest sommelier pairing your fillet mignon with his wine of choice. It encapsulates the show’s overall feel with its melancholic beats, complementing the dark and hopeless mood. Japanese hip-hop juxtaposes this tone through beatboxing and flow, creating a match made in hell that you can’t seem to take your eyes off.
Although not necessarily lofi, Cowboy Bebop was just as crucial in associating music with animation. Music plays just as important a role in the storytelling and setting, balancing a tightrope that keeps audiences’ hands covering their mouths and sitting on the edges of their seats. Having the same director, Champloo and Bebop share similar themes of dread and existentialism. What separates the two is the former’s disposition towards moody hip-hop and the other’s inclination towards orchestral jazz.
The Genius of Nujabes
The mastermind behind the carefully curated rhythms present in Samurai Champloo is lofi legend Nujabes. Seba Jun’s moniker is recognisable in any circle that appreciates the mellow melodies and jams of lofi. If you know this style of music, you would associate it and credit its popularity with the renowned producer. Unfortunately, passing away in 2010 at the ripe age of 36, he left a deep and permanent dent in this genre and style. He laid the groundwork for what is now known as modern-day “chillhop,” leaving a legacy that not many have been able to follow.
His unique blend of jazz and hip-hop captured the hearts of western audiences, bringing an overwhelming prestige and cool factor to anime never once seen. The musical production perfectly complemented the show’s underground street hype and graffiti tones. It wasn’t too overwhelming and in your face; it was something you could kick back to and relax after a long day. It takes us back to when we were young after a long day at school; the meditative, monotonous drums accompanied by the soft hit of high hats represent nostalgia in ways that relax us and take us back to better days.
The Process behind Champloo’s Musical Production
Being the second show produced by now-renowned anime director Shinichiro Watanabe, Samurai Champloo reached the low-key international cult following that Cowboy Bebop did. The show’s main inspiration came from how anime and lofi hip-hop initially associated with one another. While Watanabe was conceptualising the series’ main character, Mugen, he was listening to hip-hop at the same time, creating the show around what would be a “rapper samurai”. These themes are established early in the show, setting the tone and giving viewers a good view of what to expect. Shinichiro throws a slew of ideas you would never put together into a witch’s cauldron: Samurai, tea parties, rap, baseball, and breakdance, other early 2000s Western street attitudes.
At the time of the hit series’ early idealisation, Watanabe tapped Nujabes and two other rising hip-hop and jazz personalities, Fat Jon, Shinji “Tsutchie” Tsuchida, and Force of Nature. Having worked with Watanabe on his previous work, Tsutchie was onboard early on and captivated by the idea of the concept. Fat Jon on the other hand, was already a fan of the director’s work, adding passion and motivation to his contributions as one of the rising stars in musical production.
Force of Nature was a duo from the US, allowing for seamless integration of the music with the themes in the show. To tie it all together was Nujabes, who was the director’s first choice and musical productions lead sound designer. His genius was the main reason behind the success and acclaim of the show’s track. His speciality was what the show ordered: blending tracks from various eras in musical history.
Modern-day Ripple Effect on Lofi
Nujabes’s influence on producers who succeeded him was astronomical, with most citing him as a primary reference when talking about their roots. A quick search of “lofi” on music-streaming platforms contains a sampling of whatever genre or artist you can put your mind on. You will be able to find a remix of literally anything in the same savoury and soft lofi style. Whether an hour sampling of modern-day rap legends such as Drake or Kanye, pop figures Taylor Swift or Harry Styles, or even RnB icons Beyonce and Alicia Keys, there is something for everybody. Anime songs from Attack on Titan, One Piece, My Hero Academia, and the like are no exception, as googling “(Your favourite anime) lofi” will yield a day’s worth of smooth listening.
Nujabes was able to do something that, at the time, was not apparent. He successfully remixed established songs and put his signature stamp on them. Sampling is now one of the most popular ways to generate new music; originality is hard to come by these days, with new music constantly being churned out. These days, you’d have an abundance of comparison videos, seeing exactly where new music takes inspiration. Seba Jun was arguably the first, or one of its progenitors, to blend classic Japanese soul and sounds with Western hip-hop influences such as A Tribe Called Quest and J Dilla.
The marriage between Anime and lofi has been in the making for a while now. Having roots in early 2000s TV, lofi has only gotten stronger and evolved due to the legacy left by Nujabes. Accessing your favourite titles and musical genres with the twist and tang care of the godfather of lofi makes for an easy way to be introduced and fall in love with the vibe.