Last February, at 36 years old, Jun Seba (a.k.a, Nujabes — his name spelled backwards) died in a car crash. As one of the biggest underground hip-hop producers in recent years, he pioneered the fusion of jazzy, smooth rhythms and hip-hop and became an inspiration to many producers. Before his death, Nujabes released three albums and collaborated with numerous other artists, allowing his music and delicate beats to resound in the hearts of his listeners for the years to come.
Nujabes owned Shibuya record stores, T-Records, Guinness Records and his own independent label, Hydeout Productions, and he collaborated with well-known Japanese artists (Uyama Hiroto, Shing02 and Minmi), as well as underground American hip-hop artists (Substantial, Cise Starr and Funky DL). However, little is known about his personal life because he was a private person, and despite all these accomplishments, his name and work may be unfamiliar to many. However, if you’ve seen the Samurai Champloo anime series and heard its soundtrack — surprise! – you do know Nujabes’ work. The anime’s popularity is actually a big factor in the spread and influence of his style.
The quality in Nujabes’ music that stands out the most is its peace and serenity. Most hip-hop tracks contain a heavy, rhythmic beat, especially the mainstream ones that get people moving out of their seats. Nujabes’ music, however, makes the listener want to sway like a leaf in the air, more than anything. Before Nujabes, I had not heard much use of jazzy tones within hip-hop, but he does it so well and so uniquely. In fact, his work opened me up to jazz and soul-fusion hip-hop and helped me discover artists like Kero One, Uyama Hiroto and Cradle. He was a man of few actions and few words, but his music spoke volumes to its listeners.
Japan’s culture is known for his peace and beauty through symbols like the sakura and traditions like the tea ceremony. Nujabes’ music is a perfect reflection of this culture: It has those qualities of peace and everlasting beauty while providing a fresh flavor to hip-hop.