In the latest of Exeposé Music’s attempts to highlight non-English language artists from around the worl, Louisa Ling shows us Nujabes of Japan.
Hailing from Japan, Jun Seba, or Nujabes (1974-2010), was a producer and DJ who combined smooth jazz with lyrical flows and hip-hop beats to create what is still considered to be one of the best sounds in jazz-hop and chill-hop today. Collaborating with both Japanese and American MCs like Substantial, Shing02 and Cise Starr, Nujabes is introspective in both his sound and style – his loops stay on the right side of repetitive, propelling his music forwards without overwhelming other seamless streams of saxophone, piano, keyboard, and guitar.
The founder of record label Hydeout Productions, Nujabes, as well as his labelmates, wrote and recorded tracks for the soundtrack of critically acclaimed Japanese anime, Samurai Champloo. ‘Battlecry (feat. Shing02)’ and ‘Aruarian Dance’ are particularly poignant, with unwavering strength in the verses of the former, and smooth jazz transitions and breaks interwoven throughout the second.
Nujabes’s debut album, Metaphorical Music, is seen as being groundbreaking in the world of hip-hop for bringing together samples inspired by Japanese traditional music, jazz, and American-style hip-hop. In ‘Lady Brown,’ Nujabes takes the gentle guitar of Luiz Bonfa’s ‘The Shade of the Mango Tree,’ and adds a subtle orchestral sample underneath, lessening the hardness of Cise Starr’s flow, to create a slow-burning earworm. Other tracks like ‘A Day by Atmosphere Supreme’ are pure instrumentals, heady and dreamy, with build-ups of broken chords on the piano, and sustained chimes over a steady, but not intrusive, drumbeat.
Indeed, some of Nujabes’s best tracks have been collaborations with fellow hip-hop producer and DJ, Hiroto Uyama, whose saxophone glides through pieces like ‘Next View,’ in distorted harmony with the various hints of woodwind. Similarly, on ‘Spiritual State’ from the posthumous album of the same name), the transition from tinkling piano melodies to Uyama’s soaring saxophone is beautifully uplifting.
Nujabes’s sophomore album, Modal Soul, garnered him even more critical acclaim, with ‘Feather’ perfectly encapsulating his sound, and highlighting his skill for creating breezy piano melodies to intersect with the contemplative verses of Cise Starr and Akin. Modal Soul also continues the ‘Luv (sic)’ series with part three emphasising how connected music is to everyday life. This series, featuring Shing02, would eventually have six parts, which can be listened to here, and is one of the greatest accomplishments of both artists.
Therefore, even though Nujabes isn’t with us anymore, no one can ignore either his reinvention of hip-hop, or the legacy he has left behind. May he rest in peace.
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