About a year ago I got the chance to speak with bsd.u aka Monk. aka Matt from Vancouver Island on the phone. For those that don’t know, bsd.u is arguably one of the most popular beat makers to come out of the cyber based low fidelity hip hop movement, (from here on out as “lofi hip hop”), and for good reason. His beats capture the relaxed yet moody mystery filtered through a haze of Adult Swim, anime, and weed that defines the feel of the scene as a whole. The interview is going to help supplement a different piece about lofi hip hop and cyber music as a whole. It’s been a while since the interview happened, but it’s taken me a long time to get around to transcribing the whole interview. Some of the information, like the release of his tape, Pook, might be a bit dated, but it’s all good and it’s all fresh. For the curious, here is the raw, uncut interview:
Me: Tell us a bit about yourself. Most people only know you as bsd.u, the elusive beat maker. Who’s the guy behind the mask?
Matt: Yeah, for sure. My name’s Matt, I’m 23, and I live in Vancouver- on Vancouver Island. I live in a small town there, and I don’t really do much. I just make beats, and play video games.
Me: Sweet. How did you get into making beats? How did it all get started?
Matt: It was when I was about 15 and had started smoking weed. I’d get home from school and smoke some and listen to Dilla (J. Dilla) and play video games. From there, it was all pretty accidental. I’d find hip hop instrumentals and I’d love listening to them. After about a year of just enjoying and delving into them, I decided I wanted to try making them aswell. The whole lofi thing, that whole sound, it just kind of happened by itself.
Me: So when you started, you didn’t set out to specifically be a lofi hip hop producer, you just wanted to be a producer and the lofi sound just came organically?
Matt: Yeah, between the gear and the samples I was using. The gear would pick up these, this white noise, static, and vinyl fuzz and everything.
Me: What gear did you off with?
Matt: At the time I was just using FL studio, and back then my beats, they weren’t considered lofi hip hop at all. It wasn’t until I got my 404 (Roland Sp-404) when I was 18 that my beats started to naturally progress towards that sound.
Me: The Sp-404. It really has the trademark sound of lofi hip hop in it.
Matt: Yeah, back when I got my 404 I didn’t know lofi hip hop was a thing, or that there was anybody making it. I’d come across certain producers once in a while that had that sound, and I really liked it. I would basically just try to mimic what those guys were doing, and my own style just kind of came out of that.
Me: So it’s been coming on almost ten years already that you’ve been making beats for.
Matt: Yeah, yeah I guess it has. But it’s not like every day or anything, I’m not working my ass off trying to make a career out of making beats or anything. It’s just a hobby.
Me: I see. Do you think that considering it a hobby instead of a career opens you up to less pressure and a wider creative space?
Matt: Oh yes, absolutely. Once you start stressing out and trying to use music to support your financial situation, instead of just a bonus, it changes the characteristic of the music.
Me: I think I see what you mean. Like where it’s rushed where you don’t allow the sample to dictate the way the beat will form, and instead try to cram samples and beats all together as quickly as possible? To try and force your idea of what the beat should sound like?
Matt: Yeah, for me it’s important to give it time and be able to work your drums around your sample. Sometimes I won’t even chop drums, I’ll just chop up a sample and the leave in the resulting drums. They’ll be so wonky because they’re just layered on top of the loop that’s already there.
Me: Who do you consider your biggest inspiration?
Matt: My biggest inspiration. Mostly other guys on SoundCloud, actually. Or that used to be on SoundCloud. Kiyani is my biggest that I can think of, and they’re on Soundcloud. I don’t really know to pronounce it. Also Samiyam and Maxwell. Honestly just anyone that has an SP and can get that sound out of it, I dig their music a lot.
Me: If you had to choose one, what would be your favourite beat that you’ve ever made? I know I’m putting you on the spot.
Matt: My favorite beat? Well I don’t know about my favorite, but apparently the best beat I’ve ever made was a T-Pain acapella called “shawty”.
Me: I agree.
Matt: Personally I don’t think that’s my favorite beat, but I’m not really sitting down and making a beat, trying to make it my best beat ever every time.
Me: I see. So how about instead of favorite beat, favourite release. What’s your favourite tape you’ve ever released?
Matt: Easy. Late Night Bumps 1. It’s my favorite because before that release, I only had like 500 followers, no one knew who the fuck I was. I released that project on Bandcamp and then within a year my SoundCloud profile blew up, just from that one upload.
Me: So that was your stepping off point? That was the one that brought your status up to one of the most popular lofi hip hop producers?
Matt: Yeah, yeah totally.
Me: How active would you say you were in the music community, specifically lofi hip hop as a whole?
Matt: Well I started these forums called lofi.hiphop, and between that and always being on Reddit, I feel like I am pretty active in the online community.
Me: If you had to make a playlist of 3 songs, right now, off the top of your head, what would you choose?
Matt: All three songs would be Fireworks by Katy Perry. No for real, that’s a hard one. I’d probably just throw on three random Samiyam beats.
Me: Could you describe lofi hip hop for me? As a genre or a movement to someone that knows nothing about it.
Matt: It’s like listening to new music that sounds like old music. It’s about using older mediums, hardware, gear in your setup to give your music an aged feel. It’s not like hip hop is the only genre using low fidelity recording as a method, you see it more often in subgenres of Punk, or really anything that’s underground and that people are putting stuff out from their homes. I’m not claiming that it’s anything groundbreaking or innovative, it’s just two things that already exist, low fidelity, and hip hop, coming together.
Me: So you’re saying that it was just a matter of time before it happened? No matter what, someone would’ve eventually come along and started doing this?
Matt: Yeah, I think that now it’s just beginning to get popular because people are bored of turning on new mainstream music and hearing the same thing every time. Super overproduced, one dimensional stuff. Maybe it’s just me, but personally when I turn on the radio and listen to the top 40, I get really bored.
Me: No, I think that’s a really common sentiment with a lot of people where they’re getting fed up with this top 40 music, giving fuel to these internet subcultures of niche music.
Matt: It’s not even that the music is that bad, there’s just so much of it, it permeates everything. It all follows the same rules. It seems that even though there are plenty of genres in the top 40, it all ultimately falls into the same genre. We’ve all heard it so many times, and at this point it’s like please don’t play that song ever again.
Me: So, in that vein, would you say that lofi hip hop, instead of being a genre, is more of an idea, free of any rules that being confined to a genre would dictate?
Matt: Yeah, I mean all lofi really means is the audio quality, that you’re recording with older gear, picking up noise and static and stuff. If you were to record pretty much anything through something like a cassette deck you could call it lofi. I think that the whole lofi hip hop concept has been around as long as hip hop itself because that gear is the kind of stuff the early producers started off recording and producing with. They were using all the same gear, recording it onto cassettes and everything.
Me: So would you say that top 40 hip hop now is further away from the roots and Golden Age of hip hop than lofi is?
Matt: Definitely, I mean, way, way further away. When I listen to current hip hop music it doesn’t seem to be about anything other than a loud catchy beat and sex, drugs and violence. Not to say that all that stuff hasn’t always been a part of hip hop, but now it doesn’t seem like there’s anything underneath all that. Don’t get me wrong, I love some Young Thug when I’m super drunk at a party or something, but I don’t want to listen to that every single day. I don’t want that to be what hip hop is.
Me: So it’s a bit about the lacking in originality. How much would say that the internet has influenced the development and originality of lofi hip hop?
Matt: I mean it basically only exists on the internet. If you ask most average people that aren’t into SoundCloud or these weird cyber subgenres coming out of it they’ll be like “what the hell are you talking about?, what’s lofi hip hop? Why does it sound so shitty?” I don’t think everybody’s gonna understand or want to listen to it. It’s definitely a niche thing. But I get more and more surprised every day, with how quickly it’s becoming popular.
Me: Yeah, I mean I’ve only been following it about a year and in that time the popularity has increased a huge amount. Why do you think that it has started to take off so much recently?
Matt: Honestly, I’m not really sure. But this last year really has been a stepping off point, like this year the forum started. This whole little community that lofi hip hop exists in, the internet born lofi hip hop, has only really been born this year. Before that, no one really talked to each other. They pretty much just did their own thing and a lot of them ended up making similar sounds and styles of music. It was just given a name, lofi hip hop. I just saw that there were so many people doing this, making this style of music, and thought that I should bring them all together.
Me: What is your role in the forum?
Matt: I’m very active in the forum, I’ve got the highest post count on the forum. Usually I’m just on their talking to people and helping them work on beats. I don’t post as much anymore, because it’s at this point where there are enough people posting and replying. It’s in a good place to be able to just run itself. It’s got like a ton of tutorials and resources, drum packs and samples. Even if you’re just interested in making beats, not necessarily lofi ones, I think it’s a really great resource to have.
Me: Do you have any advice for beatmakers trying to get started?
Matt: Get on the forum, get on lofi.hiphop. I know it’s a plug for a forum I started, but I really think that it’s a great resource because I know that when I started out there was nothing like that. Sure there were a few forums, but everyone was always so far apart in their ideas, in terms of what sounded good and what techniques to use. People were always arguing, there was never really a consensus on anything. It’s a chill little community of people all making the same style of stuff.
Me: What else do you do in spare time?
Matt: Mostly just blaze and play video games. It’s a little tough because doing that makes it really easy to procrastinate. Just today I got a Playstation VR and it’s pretty crazy. After this is done I’m gonna try it out for the first time.
Me: When is your next project, Pook supposed to drop? (it’s now out)
Matt: It was supposed to drop last summer, but I decided to scrap it and just start again.
Matt: It was sounding too much like my older Late Night Bumps series, and I just felt like what’s the point of putting this out, I might as well just call it Late Night Bumps 5. I still have all those beats and they’re not bad or anything, but I just wanted to break away from that four- and eight-bar loop format. It just sounds really basic. I want to try and getmore creative with this tape. I want to try to get into some more creative loops.
Me: That seems like the place to go after releasing so many tapes that use that format really well. Time to explore. Are we ever going to get to see those unreleased beats?
Matt: I’m sure I’ll release them eventually. I want to try and get more active on Bandcamp, so that’s probably what I’ll do. All my old throwaways will end up on Bandcamp. Not on any official projects or anything.
Me: Anything else you wanna add? Any questions for me?
Matt: Do you make beats?
Me: Yeah yeah I do. When I first got into lofi hip hop last year, I started making beats, but never really uploaded much, mostly out of insecurity.
Matt: Yeah, I feel like that never really goes away. I was reading Jonwayne’s twitter last year and he was ranting about the insecurity that he still felt, even though he is so successful. I was like, damn that’s somebody I look up to and I found it really comforting to hear.
Me: I’ve heard you drop a few names from the Stones Throw roster. How do you feel about Stones Throw?
Matt: That’s my favorite label, for sure. It’s the label that got me into beats.
Me: What’s your process like? From zero to beat, what do you go through?
Matt: I usually start with the drums first. Once I have a nice drum loop, I’ll usually go to my current sample collection, which is full of things that I’ve pulled off Youtube, vinyl, or cassette. I’ve got quite a few samples I think are dope that I just haven’t found a use for yet. I’ll get my drums down and then cycle through my samples until I find something that I can kind of work with, something that I can see going well with the drum loop. I throw it in and then EQ and shape my drum pattern around that sample, even chopping it up. Then I’ll arrange it in FL Studio while sampling back and forth between my 404. Then when I feel like I’ve got the final track, ready to go, I run it through my 404 again with compression, then run it through my cassette deck, then back to the 404. If it still needs any beef after that I’ll run it through another compressor, so it compresses an already compressed beat with the cassette hiss on it. Usually a track will get compressed two or three times.
Me: How often to produce solely in the 404, or all “in the box”?
Matt: I used to do that, that’s how I was making beats for the first year that I had the 404, I wasn’t really that deep in FL Studio. I didn’t even know that you could combine the 404 with other programs. That’s something I figured out after I’d been trying to make beats on it for that long. The 404 isn’t bad, it’s just a bit limiting, you have to use a lot of workarounds, the patter selector is kind of annoying, the pads can be hard to push. There are just so many reasons not to use it as your main production tool than there is to. When I do hear 404 based production, the best are always the tracks that use them in tandem with other Roland SP’s, whether it’s the 202, 303, or 404-SX. Using two or more to bounce the samples around and create effects and progression with them, it just sounds perfect.
Me: Thanks a lot for this Matt, I’ll see you around. Or I guess I won’t because you’re far away.
There is it. The whole conversation that Matt and I had on a cloudy day in November. His wise advice on music and life in general could be taken by a few, if only to chill out a little. Stay tuned for the followup article on lofi hip hop and cyber music culture.
Check out bsd.u at his Bandcamp or at Inner Ocean Records.
Benjamin Hollihan spends his spare time thinking about what you’re doing. Contact him at 780-708-4210. Check out his other project on Bandcamp.