While “Slums” technically refers to a specific crew (consisting of MIKE, King Carter, Adé Hakim), the term has evolved and often refers to an entire scene of underground hiphop. What defines the subgenre is it’s uniquely downtrodden and off kilter production; With harsh old school samples looped to shirk all conventions and scattered percussion, it does so without ever being aggressive. Lyrics are often highly introspective and poetic, examining the MC’s own emotions and societal conditions with heavy figurative language, lowkey flows, and unpredictable song structures. Here we will take a glimpse at some of the best and most influential albums in the sLUms scene.
Standing on the Corner – self/titled
Standing on the Corner is a collective from Brooklyn and were among the first to make the lo-fi hiphop scene what it is today. What’s unique about their self-titled 2016 debut is how it creates such an avant garde, yet subdued atmosphere. Full of obscure, nostalgic samples, it is at once discomforting and warm. These beats, while distinctly hiphop, are so unorthodox that they would be nearly impossible to rap over, and for the most part there isn’t any rapping. Gio Escobar and Slauson Malone deliver beautiful hooks and conversational verses in pitched vocals which make the entire thing feel more like some twisted instrumental album. This project is really one of a kind and inspired a lot of the production patterns that we would see in subsequent years out of New York.
MIKE – May God Bless Your Hustle
In 2017, at only 18 years old, MIKE released a masterful album which would become an inspiration and absolute essential to the sLUms scene. Taking production cues from Standing on the Corner – with twisted, unpredictable jazz and soul samples – he adapted it into something more distinctly hiphop. On May God Bless Your Hustle, MIKE delivers clear, hypnotic raps which dive deep in his own heart and origins. His delivery is a bit monotone, although that has become a hallmark of lo-fi hiphop where there is a lot of power to the MC’s words, but it is also easy to get lost in the sound. Today, MIKE has become one of the most prolific and consistent artists in the scene, surely with even more to say.
Navy Blue – Song of Sage: Post Panic!
Sage Elesser, better known for his work in skating and as a fashion model, is actually one of the most talented artists in the underground as well. As Navy Blue, he pours his heart out with lyrics about struggles with mental health, heritage, and social justice. His quiet flow is welcoming and despite the often downtrodden themes, Song of Sage is oddly comforting; It feels like home. Production is nostalgic, and a bit softer and more traditional than most sLUms albums. Navy produces a lot of his own music (also collaborating on full length projects with Ankhlejohn and Wiki). He is truly proving to be one of the most talented and complex artists in all of hiphop today.
Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs
Earl Sweatshirt is by far the biggest name associated with sLUms and Some Rap Songs played a huge role in catapulting the scene to relative popularity. Having become grown up with Navy Blue and becoming tight with MIKE, Earl adopted this style for his highly anticipated comeback. While it might not be the first or the best sLUms album or, it has a lot of depth with Earl’s poetry; It is also among the most dissonant and inaccessible. Whether you prefer Earl over this or something more traditional, Some Rap Songs is undeniably a watershed moment in lo-fi hiphop.
Mavi – Let the Sun Talk
North Carolina native Mavi has a pretty limited discography and is apparently living like the average kid still, but Let the Sun Talk is arguably the crowing achievement of sLUms hiphop. With slightly more traditional production and a sleepy, sometimes whispered flow, Mavi explores issues such as womanhood and institutional racism, as well as his current mind state. Let the Sun Talk is a perfectly constructed peek at the potential this style holds.
Other great artists to check out: