When Kendall musician Joshua Hicks — better known as Ashiyushi — started planning a new hip-hop night at Las Rosas, he knew exactly where to turn for a theme: "Lo-fi hip-hop radio beats to relax/study to."
This fusion of hip-hop and ambient music, also called "chillhop," has gained broad popularity on the internet the last few years thanks mostly to a few YouTube channels that livestream the genre nonstop. Songs are typically under four minutes long and frequently under two; they usually feature a basic, boom-bap beat and a jazzy melody or sample played on a piano, synth, or sometimes a xylophone or guitar. Like all the best ambient music, you can either listen to it actively or let it fade into the background. But because the added thump and kick of the beat gives the music a sense of forward momentum, it's become as closely associated with relaxing as it has studying; hence the moniker of the aforementioned YouTube stream.
Lo-fi hip-hop's appeal goes beyond pure function. The most popular channel, ChilledCow, which regularly sees over 25,000 views on its stream and currently has 4.24 million YouTube subscribers, features anime-style thumbnail art of a girl studying. It's a signal to lovers of Japanese culture — whether cartoons, video games, food, or anything else — that this music is for them. More specifically, it's a direct tie to the work of Nujabes, the pioneering jazz-rap producer whose soundtrack for the cult anime Samurai Champloo forged a permanent bond of sound and vision between the two subcultures.
Nujabes was at the forefront of Hicks' mind when he decided to name his new party Bento Box. The monthly gathering's namesake derives from the picture-perfect boxed lunches found in schools and supermarkets throughout Japan.
"Especially with a name like Bento Box, Nujabes was like the first thing," says Hicks. "As to why a bento box, you have all these eclectic little pieces where [when] you group them all together, you just have a really good, divine culinary force. So that's how I tried to present Bento Box with all of these musicians and guests, because everyone is just so hella talented."
Before organizing this party, which takes over Las Rosas the third Saturday of every month, Hicks had been putting together BPM, a video game-inspired monthly get-together at DIY venue Space Mountain, along with friends and fellow artists Sohn Jamal, Lautlos, and Gry.Clds. He decided to start a hip-hop night after seeing a dearth of such events following the closure of Purdy Lounge in Miami Beach. However, owing to the close relationship between hip-hop, lo-fi hip-hop, and jazz, he wanted to make sure his own party featured jazz musicians playing live.
"Hip-hop is just pretty much jazz remastered, rearranged in a sense," says Hicks, who cites late Detroit producer J Dilla as a profound influence on the party. "What's being played is a real eclectic repertoire of things inspired by lo-fi and jazz and hip-hop."
Bento Box has proven popular since the first party on December 8 last year. Performers, some from Broward and Palm Beach counties, have included DJs, jazz bands, and other instrumentalists, providing the evening with a melange of styles and influences. Bruh Collective, RZU, Penthouse Suite, and Girlnextdoorproductions have been among the artists showcased, and Hicks has even been spotted filming the nights on a VHS camcorder. At some point, he plans to convert the collected footage to digital video.
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"I put on for my city, so I really like to record just what is happening in those nights so that I can show people," he says.
Attendees can do more than just watch, too. One of the more unique features of the Bento Box is its cypher, a type of freestyle rap circle where performers are encouraged to express themselves. It's less high pressure than a freestyle battle, and Hicks invites everyone at the party to participate, be they rapper, instrumentalist, spoken word poet, or artist of any discipline.
"I try to make it as open, as safe, and as inviting as possible," he says. "People are kind of intimidated by the rap session because it's hip-hop. But really, every time I promote [Bento Box], it's just like, Yo, if you're a poet, a lyricist, even if you want to sing a little bit or do some spoken word poetry, you can by all means do so."
Bento Box. 10 p.m. Sunday, February 16, at Las Rosas, 2898 NW Seventh Ave., Miami; 786-780-2700; lasrosasbar.com. Admission is free.