Something very, very strange has happened during quarantine. For the past couple months, no matter how hard I try, and no matter how much my friends and family beg me to stop, I can’t stop making lo-fi rap songs about love. Yes, lo-fi rap songs about love — a particularly upsetting and corny type of music of which there is literally no demand.
I make lo-fi rap songs about love (LFRSAL) by downloading “sad type beat” Youtube videos, which are usually accompanied by a black and white Bart Simpson edit. I can’t explain this last part, but it does seem to be a staple of the genre. I then add in a cheesy hook, a few monotone verses, and of course, many references to love and heartbreak.
In most of my LFRSAL, I play the protagonist. The antagonist is usually a girl who, in some way or another, has broken my heart into a thousand pieces. Sometimes, I admit, this is a fault of my own. In one song I cry, “Why don’t you just come home and I promise I’ll be different.” Other times, she is simply a stone-cold assassin who has broken my heart despite my many attempts to keep her happy. In my magnum opus, “Heartbreak and Nyquil” I sing, “You left a big scar / Under my shoulder / Heart’s gotten colder / Buy you a toaster / So it can get warmer.” These LFRSAL are packed with so much candor and passion that you would be convinced I’'ve been through hell and back in my past romantic relationships.
This is not the case.
I haven’t had a real girlfriend in a few years and I’ve been heartbroken maybe once. My LFRSAL are all false narratives. There is no heartless girl who cheats on me repeatedly as some sort of sick joke. There is no one-who-got-away that can’t get over the fatal mistake I made in our relationship. Instead, there is myself, my notes app, a terrible microphone I took from my friend’s closet, and a whole lot of questions as to why I do this.
If we’re going to arrive at an answer, I think it’s important that I explain a bit about myself.
I am someone who cares about being perceived as “cool.” I believe this started around my sophomore year of high school. Before that, I was a typical teenager whose main redeeming quality was being slightly above average at sports. I wore colorful Nike elite socks, tight fitting khaki pants that my mom bought me at Macy’s, and an occasional flat brim hat. I knew every player who had played on the Golden State Warriors since 2006 (still do), and my favorite TV show was How I Met Your Mother. This got me far in middle-school. I famously peaked in eighth grade.
After a year at my small, uber-progressive high school located on Haight street in San Francisco, I started to realize that these interests were not interesting enough. Unlike myself, my peers were suddenly concerned with things like thrifting, SoundCloud rappers and socialism. This is not to say that I was an outsider at my highschool in any way. I was generally well-liked, but I always felt that I was playing catch-up in regards to coolness. At a party during my sophomore year, I vividly remember going to the bathroom after a botched conversation with a group of my peers and staring at myself in the mirror with one question swirling around my brain.
Are sports not cool?
This shattered all ideas I previously knew. In hindsight, I can confidently say that sports are, in fact, cool. But at the time, I was convinced otherwise, and I set out on a mission to become “cool.”
For this I turned to my older brother, Harry, and the internet. Harry was someone who was universally considered “cool.” He cuffed his pants when it was the right time to cuff his pants, and stopped when it wasn’t. He knew about all the best premium television shows and local brunch joints. So, naturally, I decided to adopt the same tendencies and ideas that he held. On the internet, I followed checkmarks and influencers who told me which brands to buy, how to talk to girls and what opinions to have on music. Slowly but surely, I learned.
T-shirts that are ironic are “cool.” Skinny jeans are “not cool.” Referencing The Sopranos is “cool.” Referencing Fortnite streamers is “not cool.” Saying things like “The Barter 6 is Young Thug’s best album” is “cool.” Saying things like “Do you remember when Astroworld dropped? Man I miss 2018” is “not cool.” Eventually, I started to form my own opinions on the matter, rather than only listening to what I was told to be “cool.” Now, this question of whether something is “cool” or “not cool” rings in my head constantly.
As a result, I tend to spend a lot of my time caring for and cultivating a personal image around the things I consider to be “cool.” This can be an exhausting process. Putting on clothes to go get a coffee takes much longer than I would like to admit, as I live in fear that I may go to the coffee shop and encounter what could have been my future wife. She would then notice that the color of my socks and shirt are not complementary, and decide that I am “not cool.” Later at the grocery store, she would meet a taller, stronger man with a much better understanding of the zeitgeist and they would fall deeply in love. I’m shuddering even thinking about it.
This constant fear of being perceived as “not cool” can come at the price of authenticity. Sometimes I want to publicly drink a spiked seltzer or listen to Carly Rae Jepsen’s breakout hit “Call Me Maybe” or wear clothes that are comfortable but look terrible. And sometimes I do — but often I don’t. I instead find myself sacrificing the full expression of who I am for nods of affirmation from strangers. I believe, or at least certainly hope, that everyone feels this way to a degree . While we may have different opinions on what is “cool” and what is “not cool,” people are naturally driven to advertise their most impressive self in most all situations. As a result, many tend to act how they believe others would expect them to act. This can provide an explanation for toxic masculinity, Yeezy boosts, and other problems that have plagued the world.
And in truth, this could all be conjecture. You may be reading this right now, angry that I am assigning these generalizations onto you, internally arguing that they don’t apply. If that’s the case, that’s pretty cool. I hope to get where you are someday. But right now, I’m honestly just trying to understand why I stayed up until 4:30 am last night writing a love song.
If you are a human that has any opinion on what is “cool” and what is “not cool,” you almost certainly believe that a 20 year old writing lo-fi rap songs about fake relationships by himself in his childhood bedroom is very much “not cool.” It is arguably the absolute antithesis of “cool.” This is rare territory for me. As aforementioned, I try to avoid things that even border on the uncool, let alone things that all but define it. But recently, I’ve noticed this is starting to change. Right now, I am writing an article where I admit that I care about being perceived as cool. That is capital N “Not cool.” — so how did I get here?
I’d like to say that I have experienced some monumental breakthrough in which I finally understand just how futile my concern with others' perception of me is. But I do not think this is the case. It seems too easy, too linear. I still care what other people think. If a stranger was to hear one of my LFRSAL, I would surely be embarrassed. I would play it calm and collected, no doubt, but I’d be scrambling on the inside.
Instead, being quarantined at home with my parents, I am now in a precarious position where all potential validation from others has mostly disappeared. This is a rare opportunity. Any action I take, article of clothing I wear, lo-fi rap song about love I make, holds no risk of coming back to haunt me because nobody is around to see it. I’ve started to take advantage of that morphed reality, indulging in things for me and myself alone. I make my lo-fi rap songs about love and I am acutely aware that what I’m doing is “not cool,” but I love to do it. I’ve made upwards of 20 LFRSAL since the beginning of quarantine, and it’s not because I don’t care if people think I’m cool. It’s because I don’t have to.
Maybe this is the way I should always live. Maybe I should act everyday as if I am quarantined in my own house with no one around to judge. Maybe I need to completely abandon the idea of “cool” altogether. Maybe I need to become a zen monk who does not care about the opinions of others, as I’ve achieved perfect harmony between mind and body. Maybe I need to start captioning Instagram photos “unapologetically ME!” Maybe people will love me for this, or maybe this is all too idealistic. Maybe I’ll make a fool of myself. Maybe I’m making a fool of myself right now and nobody will ever consider me “cool” again, and after years of overthinking little decisions writing this article is one giant mistake that I will never recover from. Whatever the answer may be, I think I’m going to keep making lo-fi rap songs about love anyway.