Remembering Nujabes


Who is your favorite musical artist?

This is a pretty common question that one gets asked many times, and for most of my life, it was an impossible question to answer. I’ve never really been one to put that much weight on any one artist or group or genre. I’ve always listened to a lot of different music of all genres and types. That’s not to say that I don’t have several favorites or anything, but there has never been that one artist.

Somewhere in the mid 2000’s, when the late night cartoon program Adult Swim was running and I would watch it, they would use a certain style of music for their text-based promo’s before and after commercials, and I always really liked what they would play. They would never name the artist or the song title, so I would just have to live knowing that I should enjoy the little snippets but not expect to collect the songs or hear them again.

But sometime in 2010, when talking about music, my brother suggested I listen to Nujabes, someone that Adult Swim used in their promo’s all the time. I remember the exact song I listened to that night, my first Nujabes track. It was called ‘Horizon’.

There it was, it hit me right in the face. No build up or intro to the song, just the drop of a beat and a melody, but both of them were of different styles. An up-tempo hip-hop beat with a jazz style piano laid over it. It was simple, but it was something I hadn’t heard before for more than a few seconds. I was enchanted. I immediately looked for more results on Youtube. I found other tracks like Aruarian Dance and Reflection Eternal, instramentals with more blending of different instruments and styles.

Then I heard something new: actual hip hop tracks with rappers dropping lines over these sensational tracks. There are 4 tracks in a series, called ‘Luve Sic’, that I came upon, and my world changed. I have always been a fan of rap, but something about what mainstream people did just felt like it was just brushing over the top of what the genre could produce. The popular American artists have mostly empty lyrics with generic beats made only to have a lot of bass or something else just as superfluous. But Nujabes didn’t just use cute little chord progressions like most others do, he used real samples of jazz songs and real instruments, and the artists who put their lyrics on these tracks don’t talk about sex, drugs and money, the ideal content material for a top 5 track for the popular hip-hop ‘artist’ in the popular scene. This is what I was hoping someone would do, what I dreamt someone would do. This isn’t to say that this is the ideal hip-hop creation, but this is much more than what most everyone I know has experienced.

 

Had things really changed? Had I found an artist that I could follow for the rest of his career and enjoy his music for years to come? It seemed too good to be true, and it turns out it was. A few days later, when I was looking to learn more about this incredible new producer, I found out the worst possible news. A few months earlier, on February 26th, a day after my birthday, Jun Seba [Nujabes] was involved in a fatal car accident. He was 36. I was devastated. Sure, I like a lot of music frmo artists and bands that have passed, but to feel true joy from music only to find that the source was destroyed for the first real time, I felt robbed. I felt like the world has been robbed.

I decided to turn on some music to mull over this sadness, and the first song that came on in a random selection was ‘Kumomi’, by Nujabes, one of my favorite tracks. I realized that even though he has passed, I still had his music. Sure, I wouldn’t get any more for the rest of time, but I had a pretty good little collection to live with.

And I did live it. I still do.

I’m not one to quote cliche’s or use them in my writing if I can help it, but I find it necessary to explain how Jun Seba lives through his music. I can feel a personality in his songs, something really rare for me to find in music. Just listening to his music while I write this post is inspiring to keep writing, even though this is definitely the most that I’ve written on one subject in my blog, and this isn’t even about movies!

So I don’t come here today to stir feelings of emptiness and sadness that an incredible musical producer has passed, but to realize how lucky I am to have discovered his music and that he was able to make so much before he left. I finally found an artist that I can call my favorite, and the felling of excitement I get when people say they have no idea who I’m talking about is so deep and real that I can’t help but gush about him when I share his story and music with others. And then when they share my feelings about his work, I can’t help but smile.

May you rest in peace Jun Seba. 2 years ago today, you were tragically struck down before any person should be. You will be missed by myself and countless others, but you will never be forgotten.

Nujabes – Wikipedia

Jun Seba (瀬場潤 Seba Jun?, February 7, 1974 – February 26, 2010) was a Japanese hip hop producer and DJ who recorded under the name Nujabes (ヌジャベス Nujabesu), the reverse spelling of his name in Japanese order. Nujabes was also owner of the Shibuya record stores, T Records and Guinness Records and founder of the independent label Hydeout Productions.

In addition to Japanese artists like Uyama Hiroto, Shing02 and Minmi, Nujabes collaborated with Nitish underground American hip hop acts CYNE, Cise Starr (as a solo apart from the hiphop collective CYNE), Apani B, Five Deez, Substantial, CL Smooth, Terry Callier, as well as British rapper Funky DL. He was also a member of the production duo Urbanforest, an experimental collaboration with Nao T.

Nujabes was one of the most prolific contributors to the background music and soundtracks of Samurai Champloo, an anime which blends a feudal Japan setting with modern anachronisms, especially in regard to hip hop culture.

Nujabes is also very respected within the bboying (breakdance) community, as many of his rhythmic melodies and recording are used as break-beats.

A distinguishing feature of Nujabes’ sound is his incorporation of Jazz samples in his tunes. For an example, the track “The Final View” on his album Metaphorical Music features the Jazz Standard “Love Theme From Spartacus” by Pianist Barry Harris, as played by Saxophonist Yusef Lateef, sampled over the track. Nujabes incorporates Lateef’s head melody on oboe, cuts of his solos, and background piano comping in his piece.

On February 26, 2010, Jun Seba was involved in a traffic accident upon exiting the Shuto Expressway late at night. He died at a hospital in Shibuya Wardafter failed efforts to revive him. He was 36 years old. There was a private burial with only family in attendance. Hydeout Productions has stated that Nujabes has left behind tracks which were released in the posthumous album Spiritual State.

Discography

Studio Albums

Album information
Metaphorical Music

  • Released: August 21, 2003
Impression

  • Released: September 16, 2004
Modal Soul

  • Released: November 11, 2005
Spiritual State

  • Released: December 3, 2011

Anthologies

Album information
Hydeout Productions 1st Collection

  • Released: April 23, 2003
Hydeout Productions 2nd Collection

  • Released: November 11, 2007

Single Albums

Album information
Ain’t No Mystery

  • Released: 1999
Luv (Sic.) Part 1

  • Released: 2002
Luv (Sic.) Part 2

  • Released: 2002
Lady Brown 12″

  • Released: 2003

Compilations

Album information
Sweet Sticky Thing

  • Released: 1998
Ristorante Mixtape NUJABES

  • Released: 2004
Modal Soul Classics

  • Released: June 6, 2008
Modal Soul Classics II

  • Released: November 11, 2010
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2 thoughts on “Remembering Nujabes

  1. I can only nod my head in agreement with every word that you say and I heard of him from my brother as well. I’m in the process of write a post on my blog about nujabes and I am glad I ran into your blog to inspire me even more. Please visit, it was a pleasure reading your blog

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