By: Nick Pinder
Well, it’s technically spring according to reason and logic, but Aomori decided that it’s not quite ready to be warm and joyful as the rest of Japan’s prefectures. NEVERTHELESS, in my mind it’s spring, and I’m gonna soak up the sun while it’s out and sunbathe to the best I can while I can. Hanami and the cherry blossoms are just around the corner, which is something beautiful to look forward to.
This month I’m going be talking about hip-hop, and in the world of hip-hop an artist named Lil Nan X just realized a song collaborating with Billy Ray Cyrus (yes, Miley’s dad). It’s an interesting combination of trap and country and low key pretty funny.
I’m going to talk about probably the most famous alternative hip-hop producer to ever come out of Japan. This person is the reason for the sudden rise in “lo-fi hip-hop” and chill-hop and why the soundtrack to Samurai Champloo was so great.
Without further adieu, this month’s artist is…..
Name: Jun Seba
Genre: Hip-Hop, Jazz
Latest Release: Luv(sic) Hexalogy 
Nujabes is prolific across the Japanese hip-hop scene. He was a hip-hop head in the underground scene in Tokyo in the mid 90’s while also owning two record stores in Shibuya. Nujabes was also very internationally recognized, collaborating with rappers and hip-hop crews in the US, UK, and other countries, including CYNE, Fat Jon and Funky DL. Nujabes was rising to fame before Myspace and before the internet became as essential as it is now.
These international and domestic collaborations are what made Nujabes not only a heavy hitter in the scene, but also a beloved and essential figure. Fat Jon said the following about Nujabes in an interview with The Japan Times: “I think he was building a musical family for himself: people he liked to share and work with. It wasn’t just, ‘Hey, I have this track and I want you on it.’ I know he gave a lot of people opportunities.”
On February 26th, 2010 at about 22:00, Jun Seba was in a car accident leaving a highway in Tokyo which eventually led to his death at a hospital in Shibuya later that night. Many of Nujabes’ close professional friends didn’t know about the accident right away, so the world wasn’t informed until about a few weeks after the tragedy happened.
Nujabes’ style is immediately recognizable as he is all about mixing and matching hip-hop and (for lack of a better description) “easy listening,” i.e. jazz, classical guitar, ambient sounds, and endless samples of classical music. Nujabes usually only incorporates one or two samples into his songs and then adds his own beat or flavors and occasionally the lyrics and rap performance of MCs.
Each one of Nujabes’ songs has a common theme of “chill,” “relaxing,” and “softness” to them, which makes it so easy to put on a Nujabes record and complete any and all tasks for the day. This type of easy listening expertly blended with hip-hop—as featured on the soundtrack of the cult-classic anime Samurai Champloo, adored by millions of people—has become world-renown on the internet, alternative hip-hop communities, and ever slowly into the mainstream. The full album video of his second record, “Modal Soul,” has over 16 million views on YouTube, if that gives you a frame of reference.
Luv(sic) Part 3
This is by far my absolute favorite song in Nujabes’ catalog. The beat starts us off with ambient, muffled piano slowly coming in from the background followed by some disc scratching over it all when suddenly the piano comes in unfiltered and Shing02 drops his chorus, rapping about how music walks hand in hand with people’s lives and can even help us understand and process all types of events that happen around us.
Luv(sic) Part 3 is a song that makes me feel a lot of emotions at once, all of which are very difficult to process. It makes me feel like I’m walking outside late at night listening to waves on a beach or staring at the stars and just thinking. I could be thinking about sad thoughts—influenced by the piano and accompanying strings—but I also am thinking about hopeful thoughts of the future, influenced by the walking hip-hop beat. However, at the same time, the flow and tone of Shing02’s voice smooth these two out to make a soothing listening experience.
Arguably this song is tied with “Shiki no Uta” for being the most famous song Nujabes produced for Samurai Champloo. The song starts us out with some altered nylon string guitar shortly followed by an accompanying beat. This overall mood makes it feel like I’ve just woken up in the morning, rubbing my eyes trying to wake up and pouring myself a cup of coffee while the sun and plants and flowers are singing just outside my window.
Nujabes sticks to the main beat and guitar melody throughout the song, adding different filter and chorus effects to the guitar to give the song an almost underwater-type feeling, or at least a feeling of the melody being pushed to the back of a room. These effects are incredibly interesting and give this song, which has a fascinating history, some new shoes to strut its stuff.
The beat is as important as the guitar here in providing the feel for this song. Nujabes is extraordinarily talented with mixing songs with different emotional feelings to create a completely new feel. He is essentially combining red and blue to make purple through music.
Island (ft.Uyama Hiroto & Haruka Nakamura):
This song has always been very powerful to me after I discovered the story of Nujabes and of the final record. Spiritual State, the record this is on and Nujabes’ final studio release, was actually released after Jun passed away. Longtime collaborator and friend Uyama Hiroto, alongside many other of Jun’s friends, found multiple demos on Jun’s phone for a new project he was working on but never got to release because of his passing. Uyama, Shing02, and others came together and finished putting together the pieces of the record and released it as they thought Jun would have wanted.
I think the overall tone of the entire record is summarized very well in this last track, Island. It’s a beautiful farewell to a beautiful record, and also a somber one. I can only imagine the tears and emotions Jun’s loved ones and friends shed and experienced, and I am reminded of that every time I listen to this song. It’s as if I were on an island, sitting on the beach looking at the most beautiful sunset (the colors of the album art) in the distance. Beautiful in every sense of the word.
For an artist who never speaks a single word in any of their art, there is a lot to be said about Nujabes. I wholeheartedly recommend jumping into his catalog and exploring the mind of one of the geniuses of Japanese hip-hop.