Atlanta’s Controllerise Takes Lo-Fi Vibes To The Streets

Lo-fi might be here to stay.

Atlanta’s influential hip-hop music scene is dominated and heavily molded by trap music. Savage lyrics and heavy 808s make unrivaled club bangers that drown out a burgeoning hip-hop community usually overlooked or felt left out, but not for long. A demand for instrumental beat music is bridging the gap and it’s trickled into Georgia's capital. Monday Night Garage, a low-key brewery in West End, is home to Controllerise.

The weekly chill session — filled with soothing beats, anime screenings, and video games — is set up like poetry open mic night; bashful producers spin melodic beats for 30 minutes each. While there is a master of ceremonies, the spotlight is on the producer. True to lo-fi’s attraction, attendees can passively listen to the set while playing Crash Bandicoot, sit on the edge of their seat as Michiko from Japan’s Michiko & Hatchin kicks a** and takes names, stuff their faces with food or mingle with other creatives.

But before the creation of Controllerise, there was the creation of lo-fi. Coming from the style low fidelity, its sound carries spirits of home recording or as lo-fi producer and DJ Eevee calls it, “bad quality sound.” Producers like Nujabes and the late J Dilla are credited as the fathers of its sound. The idea of the lo-fi beat collective started with Detroit native STLNDRMS and Atlanta native Blkcubes, producers who met through social media.

“I really try to take all the traction that I built up on Facebook and move it to Controllerise,” STLNDRMS said. “Controllerise is us doing all the stuff we do at home in public. That's really it. There's no grand scheme or large-scale plan.”

STLNDRMS, born Chris Wilkes, had a weekly segment on Facebook Live called "Beats And Chill," where he tested his skills by making beats from scratch. Folks who tuned in had the opportunity to collectively make a beat, Wilkes including them in the beat-making process every step of the way. Other days he would play a beat set of instrumentals, some he favored from the last session while others he constructed off-camera.

Producers and lo-fi fans tuned in for two hours twice a week to watch Wilkes make magic. Even though it was well-received online, Wilkes wanted to make his well-adored hobby a profession.

“I didn’t have the real-life interaction with folks,” Wilkes said. “I had this ‘Facebook interaction’ with folks, which was so dope. I really appreciate it. But I was really at the mercy of what Facebook was doing so once I started doing it in public and got to shake hands and really talk to people, it was a whole other thing.”

Wilkes said the two just wanted to do what they loved. Thankfully their love for beats, beer, and anime wasn’t met alone. They combined their skills and in less than a week, Controllerise was born in the most millennial way possible–in pure D.I.Y. fashion.

“Controllerise is us doing all the stuff we do at home in public,” he said. “We sat down and came up with the name, made the website the next day and had a party the next week. By happenstance, we weren’t alone. There was hella people that was into the same s**t. A lot of people came out and supported it, and it became a thing, so I’m grateful for that.”

Birthing the weekly event with their own hands, Controllerise transformed online chat forums to offline chill sessions. The event allows lo-fi producers an opportunity to connect with their fans offline without the politics that come with booking a show in the city’s popular areas like Edgewood or Little 5 Points. In most cases, influence trumps talent and audience pull are measured by followers.

“People make records in their house and they don’t go through a booking agency,” Wilkes said. “If they’re dope, I’ll put you on next week. That’s it. I don’t care if you have 50,000 [followers] or 20. It doesn’t matter. If you got records, you got records. Period. It’s just a celebration of that [and] where we are right now in the sense that you don’t need [the] extra stuff. You don’t need a middleman, you don’t need 20 managers. You can really just get it on your own.”

Although lo-fi comes off as a new, innovative subgenre, Wilkes said it’s always been around. The style’s audio imperfections give it a nostalgic sound, almost like the grooves in a cassette tape or the crackle often heard when listening to vinyl. Since lo-fi is just a way to describe the audio quality of a track, Wilkes says anything can be lo-fi, including hip-hop. Trap is mainstream while lo-fi is underground. Trap music’s simultaneous love-hate relationship inside and outside the hip-hop community is comparable to that of the disco craze in the ‘70s.

“They just gave it a name,” Wilkes said. “People were making dusty dope hip-hop beats since the beginning of hip-hop. They’re just calling it lo-fi now as an alternative to a trap record. It’s almost full circle to where trap is almost disco at this point.”

Scroll through Spotify’s prolific hip-hop playlists or search lo-fi hip-hop on Youtube and you’ll find dozens of playlists and live streams dedicated to the burgeoning genre. Clint Choi, creator of a New York-based live music event service and promoter IRL Music, attributes lo-fi’s newfound popularity to algorithms and YouTube 24/7 live music streaming channels, Chillhop and Chilled Cow. About 16,000 people passively spend several hours online, viewing the live streams, chatting in the sidebar or handling miscellaneous tasks while the stream plays on.

“YouTube Live streams help because people can engage but at the same time not engage,” Choi said. “People are engaging in this content very passively and the trend reflects that there is a demand for passively consumed music. It’s easier to do tasks with the music at hand because it’s energetic, it helps amplify your concentration but it’s not overbearing that it prevents you from doing the task at hand.”

Choi added although YouTube helped brand lo-fi, Spotify helped push the underground genre to new heights. Its algorithms and lo-fi playlists made it easier for fans to discover new artists that would otherwise be overlooked.

“Spotify is probably one of the first streaming services in history to give it a main category and actually push it and use its full resources to push this genre,” Choi said.

A growing dependency on music streaming platforms also plays a part in leveling lo-fi’s exposure. Genius reports 1.3 billion people turn to YouTube to listen to music in August 2017 and a 2017 Nielsen Music report said 74 percent of those who stream music online do so by playing online playlists. The high accessibility of music production software and hardware paired with the decentralization of music distribution thanks to Spotify, Soundcloud, and Youtube, is slowly bringing little known lo-fi artists who are quietly hitting outrageous streaming numbers, like Eevee, into the spotlight.

The Netherlands based producer Eevee started making beats as a hobby. She said her boyfriend at the time downloaded FL Studio, an audio editing software, on her computer and she’s made beats every day since then.

“He taught me some basics and from that point, I just started making music every day,” Eevee said. “That's kind of how I got into making music.”

She has over 49,000 followers and several thousand listens per song on Soundcloud. After a rush of positive feedback came her way on the social platform, she decided to take her art seriously.

“Soundcloud helped me a lot to believe in myself more and continue making music. It's funny because you [upload a track and] think oh this is so s***ty and someone comments, ‘This is really nice’ and you're like ‘You like this?’ Like what?”

Eevee isn’t alone in her quiet success. Knxwledge, an LA-based producer dedicated to “sample and loop-based” beats, has been releasing beat tapes since 2009. Steadily dropping joints on Bandcamp, he had zero intentions on “having super rappers rapping on my sh*t.”

“Randomly f***ing Joey, the s*** that he rapped on is from my first ever beat tape ever on Bandcamp,” Knxwledge told Fader in a 2015 interview. “F***ing Kendrick raps on some other s**t from Bandcamp. What if I didn't share that s***? That's crazy. It's stupid. It's all up to you. You can't hoard s***.”

The Stones Throw Records signee co-produced for Kendrick Lamar on To Pimp A Butterfly, produced for JoeyBada$$’s debut EP 1999, merged with Earl Sweatshirt to produce a Mach-Hommy LP and shares a collaborative project NxWorries with Anderson .Paak.

Lo-fi still has a long way to grow, but Choi said major labels are paying attention.

“From my observation, yes, they do notice the trends of this music,” he said. “We aren’t itching to sign lo-fi hip-hop artists to a major label, but we do observe the behavior of consumption.”

J Dilla and Nujabes’ legacy lives on through the DIY music culture via lo-fi. While it birthed the “SoundCloud rappers” some people love to hate, it also resurrected a forgotten beat tape culture while including a community of people in hip-hop usually cast aside. Wilkes said Controllerise is a celebration of that.

“I think that's where Controllerise is from as far as DIY music culture,” Wilkes said. “All that stuff that [J] Dilla and Madlib have really set the tone for that went away when trap music kind of took over the radio, it's kind of like that, extended on. That's the cool thing. There's this real horizontal energy. There's not this big giant hierarchy where it's like the top dog and the little dog, and you gotta pay your dues and go through all this stuff. You got beats and they're dope, cool. Somebody finds you, you're lit. That's it. There's no weird stuff.”

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Interview: Suave House Founder Tony Draper Links With Celebs Like 2 Chainz, G Herbo and Nick Cannon To Feed Their Cities

The harrowing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately disrupted Black communities across the United States with cities like Chicago being among the hardest hit. Throughout the year, artists from the city have stepped up and held socially distanced food drives and PPE donations across the city’s South and West sides. With his deep ties to Chicago since the early 90s, Suave House Records founder/entrepreneur Tony Draper, alongside NBA veteran Ricky Davis, made the Chi’ their next stop as part of the nationwide Feed Your City Challenge this past October 17th at the Pullman Park Community Center.

The chilly, yet bright and sunny Saturday saw hundreds of people drive through the parking lot of the complex, receiving groceries from the many volunteers, gathered from across the city. Masked up with PPE in the trenches with the civilians were local natives and celebrity supporters like Chitown’s Grammy winning producer/music executive No ID, rap star G-Herbo, new rapper Queen Key, NBA star Jabari Parker to media/music entertainer Nick Cannon. Draper and Davis were handing off items and loading boxes of farm-fresh produce and meats in the trunk of cars, and offloading the 95,000 pounds of food to feed 7,000 residents. While they were not in attendance, Common with Jhene Aiko and Social Justice Collective donated funds for the free groceries.

“You can’t lead the people until you feed the people. We’re out here in the community in a real way. People always talk about what’s going on in Chicago and these are the things going on in Chicago. Positive things for the community during a time like this. People coming together and it’s a wonderful event,” said Cannon.

For Draper, bringing the Feed Your City Challenge to Chicago and being able to pull it off successfully was crucial because October 17th, marks the 24th anniversary of the death of one of Chi’s most influential DJs, Rapmaster Pinkhouse, who passed away in 1996. “It feels like myself and my partner [Ricky] Davis coming to Chicago and partnering with Common, No ID, Jhene Aiko, Nick Cannon, G-Herbo, Jay Allen, [local FM radio] Power 92 and Pat Edwards was a sign from God that it’s meant to happen on this day. Even though Pinkhouse is gone, he’s still influencing the south side of Chicago and he’s still sending us blessings. We had to pull it off, we had to,” Draper said with conviction. 

Meanwhile, Power 92.3’s DJ Pharris, DJ Nehpets, DJ Commando, DJ Amaris and Hot Rod were on the 1s and 2s while Parker, Hot Rod, G-Herbo, and community activists Joey G and Nico Naismith played basketball with the kids. A nonprofit Hoop Bus was set up with a small hoop with Black Lives Matter symbols and the names of victims who were killed by police officers. 

G-Herbo, who has been volunteering his time to the kids of Chicago throughout 2020 says that events like this are important to build and strengthen Black unity across the city. “It’s beyond just being able to feed and provide, it’s allowing people to feel unity in the city. This is the city coming together and a lot of important and powerful people coming from the city, all walks of life coming together for a positive reason and that’s what it’s all about.” When asked if this event defied the stigma of Chicagoans not being unified, Herbo exclaimed, “Absolutely! We unified right now and it’s only gon’ get better, so we’re just trying to lead by example and make this normal. This is not just an event, this gotta be the normal for guys like myself and for the city.”

And the people who showed up to receive their free groceries were more than appreciative. Takara, a mother from the Southside of Chicago says that while she found out about the food drive at the last minute,“It’s a lot of food out here, a lot of good people out here and it’s something that we need. Events like this are very necessary and it’s filling the need for families who can’t feed their children during these times. I wish I could have volunteered and done something more, but we need this.”

In a one-on-one with VIBE, the legendary Tony Draper talks about his connections to Chicago, the importance and impact of the Feed Your City Challenge, the role celebrities play in activism, and more. 

VIBE: Earlier you shared that Oct. 17th was also the day that Rapmaster Pinkhouse passed away. For the younger readers who might not know who Rapmaster Pinkhouse is, could you share who he was and why he was so important to Chicago?

Draper: For young people that don't understand how music was heard back then, there was no social media [in the early 90s], there was no Instagram, so you had to get your record to the hottest person in the city. That person had to make a decision about whether it was good or not. And if that person touched your record in Chicago, that person would spread, it was automatic. That’s what happened to a young Tony Draper with 8Ball & MJG’s first albums. He put his hands around it and he exposed it to the Chicago market. Every time I think about Chicago, I always think about Pinkhouse. Pinkhouse was the main reason why I even came to Chicago.

Talk about that. What was Chicago like for you when you first came here?

Coming to Chicago was a very interesting moment for me because when I came, I had my hat cocked a certain type of way and I didn’t know the rules and regulations. And he told me, “Tony, man you gotta keep that hat straight (laughs). And I kept it straight ever since. So, for me, doing my journey as a young Black man from the inner city, raised by a single parent, establishing Suave House at 16 years old, seeing what I went through to establish [the company], and make it a force to be reckoned with. That was an accomplishment, but also I wanted to touch people I knew understood the music and understood where I was coming from and the importance of a young Black man that was a true, independent CEO and giving me the avenue to get my music heard. I’m from Memphis, raised in Houston, but Chicago is Suave House’s biggest market to this date. They supported everything Suave House did and I wanted to bless them [with the Feed Your City Challenge], the same way they blessed me.

With the conversation within the music business revolving around Black Lives Matter and supporting Black communities, what do you think it’ll take to get many of these CEO and executives from the major labels to support these communities like what you and many of the artists have been doing across the country?

I think they have to be involved with people they’re not comfortable with. Stop giving money to these organizations you think is giving the money to Black people, because they’re not. Nobody is holding these organizations accountable. Do business with somebody that has their finger on the pulse. A person that you know is in the music business that has been very successful in the business. Like right now, the Feed Your City Challenge, we’re in our ninth city. We’ve had eight of the top music artists host these cities without funding from the parent companies. [The artists] are giving the money themselves. Jhene Aiko gave money herself. Nick Cannon, himself. Rick Ross, 2 Chainz…Pee from Quality Control. 

Pee was on vacation in Mexico and he took a private jet back to Atlanta just to attend Feed Your City in Atlanta. He didn’t have to do that, but he did because he cares about where he’s from. He cares about the area. He wants to take [talent] from the area, but he also wants to give back to that community. See, white people want to come and exploit your community, but don’t want to build a library over there, never build a basketball court, never build anything. When an artist is dead, they say ahhh aahh ummm. If you wanted to demonstrate good character, you would have said, ‘I made a lot of money off that artist. Let me do something for that community as a token of appreciation for birthing that particular artist.’

I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before.

And you’ll never see it unless I do it and I am going to do it. That’s why I’m in Chicago. I’m going to every city that has blessed me and fed my family because every time I feed myself, I feed my family, my loved ones, it comes from my fans. My fans gave me the opportunity by buying my records. I had a dream, I had a drive, but without the opportunity, you might not have heard of Tony Draper. So, I’m always appreciative of people that have helped me, that’s why I want to help them. I’m in the best place I could ever be in my life. I’m 49 years old, I’m successful, I’m good. Bro, you want to know what makes me happy? Giving to somebody else. There’s another star out there that’s hoping and praying that they could get an opportunity and if I could give them that opportunity, I’ll give it to them. I don’t relish in the attention; I relish in the accomplishment. Let me help somebody. And if I help them and they become successful, they don’t owe me a quarter. I won’t sign them to a management deal or nothing. I just want you to acknowledge it and pass it on. See, we got to learn how to pass it on.

With the timing of this event brought on by the pandemic, how do you feel about it all?

I think it was God’s mission. With COVID that’s really unfortunate, a lot of people lost their lives during this pandemic. A lot of people have lost their jobs, their homes, their properties. My heart goes out to them. But if me and Ricky Davis can put a smile on a mother’s face, a father’s face and feed their children, that’s all I need. I remember me and my mother going to churches and food banks, walking with free government cheese, powdered eggs and we was happy. We were so happy, smiling and grateful. I think without that, I don’t think we would have made it to the following week. So, I’m always thankful for everything God blessed me with. I don’t think I’m special. I think that I had a plan and I stuck to my plan and made it happen.

Suave House has had a lot of artists who have always been outspoken about social and political issues, [similar to like an] Ice Cube recently. Considering that, and what you’re doing with these artists for the Feed Your City Challenge, do you think that the role of the celebrity today is to get in front of these issues or to fall back and support the people who're already doing the work?

I think it’s a choice. For me, I’m not a city official, I’m not a politician. I’m more comfortable with doing and getting my hands dirty on the ground. If I was in Chicago building houses for people, I would actually be there. I wouldn’t [just] send no money or send a crew there. I would be there. That’s how I feel blessed. I feel blessed by actually talking to the people and them seeing me out there distributing groceries. I feel good when a person drives up in their car and they pop their trunk and say ‘Draper?! You putting groceries in my car?!’ And they may be happy about ‘Space Age Pimpin’’ or ‘I’m So Tired of Ballin’’ or whatever, but just the mere fact that they were happy about me putting groceries in their car meant more to me than anything else. I think it’s a choice you make as an individual.

For a lot of people, some celebrities end up causing harm because their celebrity and actions might overshadow the actual issue.

You know what though? Without you being a celebrity, you might not be heard. So why not use that platform to be heard? I think LeBron James is phenomenal. I think Ice Cube is phenomenal. You don’t have to agree with him, but you have to respect him for speaking his mind and trying to get something for Black people. Nobody else did it! Nobody else took the initiative to write a Black America contract and present it to both [Biden and Trump] camps. So, I think that was a phenomenal move, whether I agree with it or not, it was still a phenomenal move. We got to stop with all this goddamn talking and do some action.

Draper and Davis’s Feed Your City Challenge will be arriving in Compton, California as their next stop on November 21.

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Interview: T.I. Talks Activism, Verzuz Battle, And His Desire To Produce A Biopic On His Life Before Fame

Although Tip "T.I." Harris has earned some very respectable stripes as an emcee for his successful rap career, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” moniker really began to take true form once he stepped into his community activism calling. He’s acted in blockbuster films opposite Denzel Washington, Paul Rudd and Kevin Hart, but his willingness to speak truth to power has shown an unwavering commitment to being on the good side of history, as opposed to choosing silence to secure a spot on the good side of Hollywood.

During this recent conversation, Tip talks about his upcoming Verzuz battle with Jeezy, politics, the Trap Music Museum, and his desire to make his TV/film directorial debut.

Be sure to check out his newest album, L.I.B.R.A available on all streaming platforms.

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Ziggy Marley's First Time Voting In America

No more long talking from politicians. Today, the people have their say at the ballot box. Judging by the number of voters who showed up early this year, the 2020 election is going to smash all records for voter participation. With a deadly pandemic, wildfires, floods, economic pressure, and a struggle for survival playing out from the tweets to the streets, the stakes have never been higher.

If you're reading this right now and you haven't voted yet, it's not too late. Get up get out and let your voice be heard. As Samantha Smith recently discussed on her IG Live, this year's election is too important to sit out.

Snoop Dogg will be voting for the first time this year—and he's not the only one. Ziggy Marley voted for the first time this year also and documented the process on social media. "I decided to vote and I wondered to myself why," Ziggy wrote on his IG. "Then I thought about those who came before, the price they paid. In part, I am voting in honor of them and to honor them, to not belittle their many sacrifices and struggles with my high jaded righteousness and indifference. Many brothers and sisters from numerous backgrounds and origins marched, bled, and died to give people like me basic rights in 🇺🇸 , the right to be treated like a human being, the right to vote."

As the eldest son of the Robert Nesta Marley aka the King of Reggae, Ziggy is part of a mighty musical legacy, but his father is more than a musical legend.  The new film Freedom Fighter—part of the 75th anniversary series "Bob Marley Legacy"—examines Marley as a symbol of human rights with a voice more powerful than any politician.

Ziggy has continued his father's musical mission as a solo artist and part of the Grammy-winning family group Melody Makers. His 2018 album, Rebellion Rises opens with a song entitled "See Them Fake Leaders," leaving no doubt about his views on the institutions of government. Still, Ziggy remains engaged in the political process, doing his part and encouraging others to do the same.

"Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, and others thought, 'Voting rights? Civil rights? Who cares? What difference will it make?'" Ziggy wrote on IG. "Just imagine what the world would have looked like now if not for their sacrifices. Go ahead, imagine it. Can you see it? Well, what do you think?"

"To be clear voting is not the end-all," Ziggy Marley added. "It is a small piece of a puzzle and just one of the tools in our toolbox that we must use as part of a larger effort to bring positive beneficial changes for all people. The work must continue at maximum effort after elections regardless of the outcome." Ziggy emphasized that he was not voting for a party or a person for an idea. "Even though we have differences we can be better human beings, more united human beings, more loving human beings, equal human beings, just human beings. The politics will come and go left right and center but still through it all the humanity that we must show to each other is not negotiable."

Ziggy voted by mail this year, but for those of you standing in line today to exercise your right and let your voices be heard, Ziggy curated a special playlist for Tidal's "Hold The Line" campaign. Music to vote by—from Ziggy and Bob to Fela and James Brown, not to mention Public Enemy and Rage Against The Machine.

Ziggy Marley’s new album, More Family Time, is out now on all music streaming platforms.

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