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08: Nujabes

Photo By Jun Seba

 

 

You’re A Flower, You’re A River, You’re A Rainbow…

 

Minato-ku. Minato City in English. It’s a special ward in Tokyo, Japan. Home of the symbolic cherry blossom. Viewing season peaks from the end of April until the beginning of May. These crimson flowers signify the beginning of a new cycle of seasons, wrapping connoisseurs in a warm mood, enchanting them with their beauty. It’s a symbolic flower of spring, representing a time for renewal and the fleeting nature of life itself.

Another native of Minato-ku, Jun Seba, better known as Nujabes; the pioneer DJ and producer born in Nishi-Azabu, Minato on February 7th, 1974. Donning his “Nujabes” moniker as a play on his government name, he used this reverse order of words as a symbolism to himself. He is the one who defines his direction. He is the one who decides what path he goes in.

 

Coming from a place not known for being an urban hub in any shape, Jun looked to change that, redefining the trajectory of his journey. Levelling up by opening not one, but two Shibuya-based record stores, T-Records and Guinness Records, by his early twenties he’d begin to develop his own sound through collaborations with Funky DL, Uyama Hiroto, Shing02 and Minmi.

Guinness Records

He had ambition in abundance, looking full steam ahead to form a subgenre in hip-hop to be more palatable to Japanese audiences. His musicianship was in full flow and on display for anybody paying attention. Garnering a reputation for his atmospheric use of instrumental mixes, sampling hip-hop, soul and Jazz. He later founded “Hydeout Productions” in 1998 which billed local talent like Uyama Hiroto and international artists alike.

Multi-Instrumentalist Uyama Hiroto

His vision would manifest itself whilst producing his first studio album, “Metaphorical Music.” It offered a combination of hip-hop and instrumental jazz, featuring some of the artists listed above. Even though the album has contributing vocals from several artists, it is classified as a breakbeat album, with some listeners believing there was room to improve. The majority however, loved the project:

I can’t really ever do this project justice with just describing it. You have to experience it for yourself, so do yourself a favor and listen to this beautiful album.

 

Receiving critical acclaim from fans and critics alike, this would propel Nujabes into stardom domestically and internationally.

Cover Art For Nujabes's "Metaphorical Music"

A collaboration with production studio “Manglobe” would be the result of his newfound prominence. Their debut television series “Samurai Champloo” needed an iconic soundtrack, and Nujabes would answer the call. He brought together contemporary hip-hop and anime, an idea that was a novelty beforehand. The series is set in a fictionalized version of the Edo period in Japan, blending traditional elements with contemporary cultural references. This was a perfect fit, and the result was a timeless track that would later be the foundation for today’s symbiotic relationship between Japanese art and the urban sphere.

He became a premier producer from here on, with his next project dubbed the apex of his career. “Modal Soul” was the ultimate embodiment of the “chill-hop” and instrumental hip-hop, and an important building block and foundation for the modernized lo-fi subgenre of beats that are so popular today. This was a full force display of Nujabes’ strengths, an expert performance of the traditional sound he spent years developing:

“Modal Soul is an album that passively presses itself on the themes of tranquility and human contemplation. A gentle acknowledgement followed by the observation.”

An emotional, timeless album, with those that followed the path he paved, Bonobo and DJ Okawari.

Cover Art For Nujabes's "Modal Soul"

He had achieved feats even he couldn’t have imagined, becoming an icon in the underground music community with fans worldwide and two lauded albums. But like the metaphor of the cherry blossom, greatness and beauty are fleeting, manifesting in heart-breaking tragedy on February 26th, 2010. Jun was involved in a traffic collision upon exiting the Shuto Expressway. He was presumed dead whilst in the ambulance, with many feeling the loss of a truly genre-defining artist in the immediate aftermath:

“We deeply regret the loss of a unique talent and a close friend. Through his soulful music, Nujabes has touched so many people around the world, even beyond his dreams. He was a mysterious character to most as he avoided the public limelight, rarely conducted interviews, so only a few got to know the man behind the signature production.”

This is just one of many tragic deaths of quintessential musicians. Jimi Hendrix, Aaliyah; whilst they left a heavy mark, Nujabes’ legacy was one of positivity and spirituality. The last album he would produce would be released posthumously, aptly named “Spiritual State.” This was an incomplete project and contained variations from the traditional Nujabes sound. A Jazz-coated, strict message about depression and a guide for listeners to move forward with hope and vigor, regardless of what life throws at them:

This posthumous release leans on Jazz more than instrumental Hip Hop - but not to the album’s detriment. This is emotive,beautiful work., as the cover art suggests, colorfully spiritual.”  

Cover Art For Nujabes's "Spiritual State"

Nujabes shaped many nineties influenced hip-hop artists, with newer talents like Logic, Joey Bada$$ and SahBabii just a few who have been vocal about his influence on them and giving him the recognition, he deserves. His almost interdependent path with the legendary producer J Dilla adds to his legacy of excellence even more. With the rapid expansion of Japanese culture into the mainstream since his sudden death, he has garnered a significantly larger following now than when he was with us. The Internet has aided in this, through his pioneering of the “Chill-Hop” subgenre and sewing the seeds of the world’s love for LOFI live streams through YouTube. This, overall, suggests that music fans should try to give primaries their flowers whilst they are with us. Appreciation for one’s craft should be awarded to those that innovate and to those that carry the torch for an entire genre.

Written by: @Arriv3r

Edited by: @Whosaria

Insight.