Updated: May 12, 2021
SOME MUSICIANS HAVE AN INNATE ABILITY for making music that transports listeners to an alternate universe. You know what I’m talking about? Doesn’t matter if you’re doing work or just relaxing, feet up, listening to music; these artists find a way to put you in your own little world. The late, great, legendary Japanese producer Nujabes is, and always will be, one such artist.
Considered by many as the “godfather of chillhop” and the “J Dilla of Japanese hip hop,” Nujabes’ impact has been felt across the globe. From big name artists like Joey Bada$$ (a very young Joey at that) and Logic, to underground artists worldwide, his influence runs real deep. For those who love to throw on some Chilled Cow (now Lofi Girl??) while doing work, well, gonna be honest. You probably wouldn’t be able to without Nujabes.
Just like the Lofi Girl live streams, Nujabes strengths shine brightest while combining hip hop and jazz beats with atmospheric and spacey melodies. Pioneering a whole subgenre of hip hop, Nujabes created music that transcended the need for lyrics. His music can tell a story, paint a picture, and embody a whole culture, without ever having a word rapped, spoken, or sung. Letter From Yokosuka is the perfect example of this. Combining elements of traditional Japanese music with modern jazz sounds, it’s impossible not to let your mind wander with this track playing in your headphones. That’s part of the beauty of Nujabes’ music. Yes, he made amazing songs, but this song's ability to make every listener feel something different, taking each to a unique place, is what makes it so special. For me, I gain a sense of hopefulness and satisfaction, imagining what life in ancient Japan would be like, all while it invokes a state of serenity.
With that all said though, I don’t want to sit here and pretend like his songs featuring lyricists were shit. Cause they weren’t, and not in the slightest. Three of his most popular songs utilize underground rappers from both Japan and America, all three of which are absolute bangers. On Feather (feat. CYNE), his most famous song for obvious reasons, Nujabes built out a beat for Cise Star and Akin to float all over, like literal feathers. Luv(sic.) pt3 (feat. Shing02) is a real cool song, where neither the beat nor the lyrics outshine the other. For nearly all songs, instrumentals are added in as a background to the words, allowing the lyrics to take center stage. On this song, the two are on a level playing field. Add in a dope rhyme scheme that’s mirrored between verses, and you’ve got yourself a real impressive song that’s stood the test of time. Finally, Lady Brown (feat. Cise Star) is a rare entry from Nujabes into the romantic realm. While many songs that focus on love hinge on sensuality and sexuality, the two artists opt for a different route, cause well, that’s what Nujabes does. More than anything else, Lady Brown is a proclamation of love, making you wanna dedicate your life to your significant other, made possible first and foremost by Nujabes exceptional production.
As well known as Nujabes is for his individual career, he’ll forever be immortalized for his work on the Samurai Champloo soundtrack. An anime series, considered by some to be a classic (and my personal favorite), the show would not have seen as much success without Nujabes working his magic. Talk to anyone who’s seen the show, they’ll tell you how impressively the soundtrack sticks out. For a show whose popularity is only bound to grow here in the States, I truly hope that Nujabes will continue to receive the praise he deserves, having his work be introduced to a whole new generation - that’s how I was lucky enough to stumble on his music. Nujabes was an artist that oversteps the boundaries created by generations and cultures, producing music that continues to connect with listeners, old and new alike, decades after he’s gone. For those that know of him, you only wish that he had lived longer. For those that don’t, you’ll only wish you had found him sooner.
PERSONAL FAVORITES: Blessing It (feat. Substantial & Pase Rock), Kumomi, Letter From Yokosuka, Feather (feat. CYNE), Reflection Eternal, Imaginary Folklore