The legend of Nujabes, Japan’s brilliant hip-hop producer, started with promise and ended in tragedy. He became heralded among a niche, passionate following of hip-hop heads, anime lovers and a cross-section between the groups. Nujabes unfortunately died in an auto accident on February 26, 2010. He’s survived by his discography’s bountiful array of colors, tranquility, beauty and emotion. Plus his fusion of samples with live instrumentation cemented his distinct style and loyal following.
Nujabes’ fan base upholds its fervor for his work although his status remains as an underground diamond in the rough. This is where The Primer series kicks in to set those new to Nujabes on a straight path. Get your best pair of speakers or headphones out to catch some of the enigmatic artist’s noteworthy vibes. Rest in beats, Jun Seba.
1. “Battlecry” Ft. Shing02
Adult Swim heads know what time it is when they hear Samurai Champloo‘s theme. Everyone else may fall victim to the booming kicks and the song’s soft, analog texture. Nujabes’ musical contributions to the show added so much flair and uniqueness to its presentation. Yet “Battlecry” set the tone early as viewers snapped their necks at every episode’s opening.
2. “Lady Brown” Ft. Cise Starr
Nujabes’ collaborations with MCs almost always veer on the path of positivity. Thus Cise Starr’s ode to black queens finds a suitable home on Jun’s heavenly production. This is the kind of track you pre-game with on poetry night.
3. “Modal Soul” Ft. Uyama Hiroto
The title track to Nujabes’ final-living solo album captures everything fans love about his work. Nujabes’ had a gift for expertly combining different sound sources. Plus, oftentimes, the distinction between the live instruments and vinyl’s tough to discern. Don’t rush over to WhoSampled and spoil the mystery. Let Nujabes cook on the ebonies and ivories while Uyama Hiroto adds soul on the saxophone instead.
4. “Who’s Theme” Ft. MINMI
Potential listeners would be daft to let the language barrier ruin this gem. “Who’s Theme” emits cathartic sound waves the audience needs when life gets out of hand. Press play and first-world problems fade away over this record.
5. “Luv(sic)” Ft. Shing02
Every entry in the six-part “Luv(sic)” series delivers straight up audio candy even though there’s no overarching story. Newcomers might as well start with part one and hear them in order, though. The first edition creates a good foundation for the following records and it’s the most traditional hip-hop-friendly take of the bunch. Chopped instruments, a deep bassline and cuts bless Shing02’s rhymes for the rappity-rap set’s delight.
You already know someone new to this song let it run and said “AYO WHERE THA DRUMS AT, B?!?!”
That guy gets the gas face.
Let’s be real, though. Efforts like “Mystline” prove Nujabes still viewed producing through a rap lens. However he held a deeper understanding of song making and music theory than many of his peers. Said prowess let him veer off into other genre-bending compositions and spoke to his versatility.
7. “Feather” Ft. Cise Starr and Akin
“Feather” plays out as an aptly-named soundbed for Cise Starr’s and Akin’s cypher. Light keys, dusty drums and a filtered bassline yield nostalgic sensations. All the trapped in the ’90s bros groomed on Souls of Mischief and A Tribe Called Quest should feel at home here.
8. “Aruarian Dance”
There’s no official subgenre known as “hip-hop easy listening.” Yet this beat might as well be at the forefront if it ever comes to pass. Just wait until the vionlins arrive and take you away to a stress-free zone. You have to be the most irritable person on the planet if this beat doesn’t put you in better spirits.
9. “Counting Stars”
Nujabes had a knack for contrasting light samples with puffy, spacious kicks. “Counting Stars” serves as one of the best examples of the pairing as a spliced guitar melody and various accents fill out the record. Anyone in need of some slept-on headphone music ought to add this joint to the arsenal.
Eyeballs get wide when they see the track length but trust us. Your time is well spent hearing “Horizon” in its entirety.
Nujabes’ expertise didn’t stop at the boards. The producer regularly exhibited his skills on the piano to great effect. “Horizon” stands one of the brightest moments combining keys with his beats as they glue the rest of the song’s elements together.