Your Favorite Rap Song, But It's a Lo-Fi Remix

We go inside the world of lofi rap remixes on YouTube, where producers are taking popular rap songs and turning them into relaxing, hypnotic remixes.

Complex Original

Illustration by Bárbara Abbês/Complex Original


Like all mutating scenes, the lo-fi movement in hip-hop began as something far different from what it has become. In the beginning, it was purely an aesthetic choice. Beatmakers like J Dilla, Nujabes, and Madlib brought the raw feeling of lo-fi indie rock music to rap production, favoring unmanipulated live-sounding instrumentation instead of the glossy boom-bap that was becoming more popular at the time. Those producers pulled from the recording methods of jazz players, which in turn, has had an outsized effect on the creation of lo-fi hip-hop. While the sound from Dilla to now has changed immensely, the ethics of the style has stayed the same. That remains the defining link between the original forms of lo-fi hip-hop music and the latest phenomenon, particularly the subsect of “Beats to study to/Beats to chill to” that are dominating YouTube. 

This evolution has been slow but steady, and the emergence of the genre in its current iteration has as much to do with democracy and a level playing field as it does with musical trends and styles. Quite simply, it’s easier than ever to record music. Lessons are all over the web and they’re readily available to anyone with internet access. Tools can be purchased for cheap, or found on not-quite-legal areas of the internet. It’s turned high school students into superstars, and two of the producers who are flourishing in the YouTube lo-fi hip-hop remix community, Zeuz Makes Music and Syn Beats, have demonstrated just how popular the genre has become.

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Both artists came to the genre in unexpected ways. Syn Beats was an EDM kid before he got more into rap music as a high school freshman. “I was not into hip-hop at all when I was growing up,” he says. “I was totally into EDM. Around freshman year, I finally started listening to hip-hop and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool.’ A year goes by and I’m like, ‘Oh, let me try making this.’ I just started making it from there.” 

One thing both Syn and Zeuz explain is how few barriers to entry there were to get into the genre. The gatekeepers were nearly nonexistent. The community of lo-fi hip-hop beatmakers and connoisseurs have created a world based on equality and open source lessons. 

“I started blowing up because of these meme videos I was doing,” explains Zeuz. “I switched to lo-fi and I started blowing up even more because people went crazy for my remixes of “Shotta Flow” and “Ransom.” I was just like, ‘Yo, I really love doing this. It’s getting a lot of views. At first I couldn’t comprehend getting that many views.” Zeuz currently boasts 388,000 YouTube subscribers, and his video for “Ransom,” which was uploaded in July of 2019, has gained over 4 million views.

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Syn, for his part, was introduced to the world of lo-fi hip-hop thanks to Zeuz. “He was actually one of the big reasons I got into lo-fi because I was just scrolling through YouTube and I saw one of his remixes,” he says. “I was like, ‘Damn, this is sick.’ So I just started listening to some lo-fi on Spotify. I got a few other friends who are pretty big in lo-fi. So I’m like, ‘Damn, I could try this.’ I started by copying his ideas because they were good ass ideas. From there, I evolved.” This sentiment shows how lo-fi hip-hop remix culture isn’t different from any other genre, really, aside from the fact that it exists almost entirely on the internet. The best way to learn is to study those who came before you, to memorize their moves, and learn why the things they do work. Once Syn had an adequate lexicon to draw from, he was able to branch off in his own directions, like on his “Flaws and Sins” Juice WRLD remix.

Both Syn and Zeuz have earned reputations for remixing rap songs instead of creating originals. It’s part novelty, part innovation. Zeuz has parlayed it into more traditionally legitimate work, with an official remix included in Lil Nas X’s “Montero” rollout. It’s a new take on rap, where textures are favored over lyrics, where melodies pop while ideas are subdued beneath layers of haze.

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So, why are these remixes so popular? A big part of it, obviously, is the infinite teenage desire to chill. Now more than ever, with the world at our fingertips, and the ability to judge and be judged based on looks and activities available at the press of an app, people just want to forget about the bullshit. This new iteration of lo-fi hip-hop has allowed for some semblance of peace while studying for the SATs or just smoking a blunt on a Saturday afternoon. 

“It’s just something you can put on,” Syn explains. “You can chill. You’re just trying to do homework, relax. Just chill. Put on some lo-fi. Have a good time.” The isolation and anxiety that came with the pandemic helped Syn understand the importance of his work. “COVID is probably the reason my channel started doing well and took off. I quit soccer because we weren’t allowed to play at the time. So I’m like, ‘Oh, I need something to do.’ I had a bunch of free time, and started uploading more and more. People started loving it. That was my escape from everything going on, and I think my songs worked like that for a lot of other people, too.”

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With both artists firmly entrenched in the lo-fi hip-hop remix world, there’s the occasional itch to branch out and try other forms of production. “I’m trying to press super hard because the lo-fi stuff has always been what gets me views, but I’m trying to branch out as hard as I can,” Zeuz explains. “Right now I’m working with hella other people doing different sounds. I’m trying to be a producer chameleon. I can produce in so many genres—one hour I’m making a super harsh beat for some screaming dude, then another day I’m just making like, the most relaxing shit ever.” This exposure has allowed Zeuz to explore and figure out new ways to convey his artistic style. One of the key points, both artists tell Complex, is that lo-fi hip-hop is a gateway toward other genres; it’s not the only place they want to exist in. 

“I’m trying to get into everything,” Syn says. “Me and Zeuz are working on some EDM stuff, too. I don’t listen to it much anymore but I still have that love.” He adds, “I also recently got into drill. I only got into that because of YouTube. For these artists, the internet is a playground, a forum in which anything is possible. It’s the platonic ideal of what the internet can offer, and an education in the history of music at your fingertips. As long as you respect and properly honor those that came before, there’s no problem with diving into new styles. 

With that being said, lo-fi hip-hop production is what made Zeuz and Syn (internet) famous. The genre will always have a special place in their hearts. “I’m just trying to keep the vibes,” Zeuz says. “Lo-fi hip-hop has taught me the importance of taking a deep breath and moving with purpose.” For Syn, he’s used the tenets of the genre to create his own world. “The most important thing in lo-fi is to try to find something unique. It’s so saturated that you need to bring something new,” he explains. “It’s easy to say, but you really have to set aside some time and just think, ‘What would people want to hear? How can I make it new?’”

If you’re looking for something to listen to right now, we’ve put together 10 essential lo-fi hip-hop remixes you can enjoy below.

$𝕒𝕧𝕖𝕞𝕖, “Backseat Freestyle” by Kendrick Lamar Remix

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Few remixes prove the value of lo-fi like $aveme’s take on “Backseat Freestyle.” The original is a swaggering, stadium-ready anthem, while $aveme backs Lamar’s vocals with a laid back guitar riff and snappy snare drums.

J O K E R, “When We Shoot” by Lil Durk Remix

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We need an entire album of Lil Durk slowed + reverbed. It’s nothing different than the old chopped and screwed era, but there’s something about Durk’s emotive, powerful vocals that sound particularly great when slowed down.

Zeuz, “The Box” by Roddy Ricch Remix

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Zeuz’s take on “The Box” is a defining moment in the history of lo-fi rap remixes on YouTube, racking up over 5 million views to date. The song completely refrains Roddy’s magnetic delivery, with Zeuz fragmenting his flow to make it more abstract and unpredictable.

Syn Beats, “Martin and Gina” by Polo G Remix

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Syn Beats drowns Polo G’s iconic “Martin and Gina” in layers of sludge, turning Polo’s massive flow into something more restrained and morose.

Zeuz, “Ransom” by Lil Tecca Remix

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Another hit from Zeuz. This one reframes Lil Tecca’s smash “Ransom” as a sunny day, boom-bap jam, complete with crackling vinyl pops and unassuming synths.

Win, “Love Sosa” by Chief Keef Remix

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Chief Keef is perhaps the exact opposite of lo-fi rap music. His flow is electric, his delivery undeniable. But here, Win takes the iconic Chicago anthem and layers Sosa’s bars in harp samples and stuttering hi-hats.

Them., “Many Men” by 50 Cent Remix

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It’s fun revisiting old classics updated as lo-fi anthems. On them.’s version of “Many Men,” 50’s melodic brilliance is on full display with the beat stripped to little more than simple piano chords and head-nodding drums.

Zeuz, “Life Is Good” by Future and Drake Remix

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On Zeuz’s “Life Is Good” remix, the lo-fi producer slows everything down, recreating the song in an entirely new light. Here, Zeuz takes cues from chopped and screwed music, revealing new angles in the song not visible in the original.

L.Dre, “Nuthin’ but a G Thang” by Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg Remix

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It takes serious confidence to remix Dre, one of the greatest producers in the history of rap. But L.Dre turns the Cali anthem into a laid-back tune, backed by jazzy keyboard chords and perfect for an afternoon BBQ.

Justiinn, “Magnolia” by Playboi Carti Remix

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“Magnolia” has been turned into a lo-fi tune by a number of producers, quite simply because many of the producers in the scene grew up listening to Carti. Justiinn turned in a fan-favorite, centering the unforgettable chorus around jazz guitar and occasional percussion flourishes.

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