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Nujabes

Overshadowed.  I guess that’s the way Nujabes will always be looked at, not just in his life, but also in his death; the date of his death coming at around the same time as fellow jazz-rap pioneer G.U.R.U.’s heart attack, and the announcement coming on the same day as the death of the more famous Alex Chilton.

I can’t help but feel that a man unlucky enough to not be American, and thus finding himself entirely ignored by hip-hop in general, deserved a little bit more luck here.  There really is no way to say this without sounding like a collossal prick, but Alex Chilton’s death was just a shame and nothing more – he was a nice man, and it’s sad that he died, but he’d peaked as an artist decades ago.  Nujabes, by comparison, probably wasn’t due to peak for another few years – his work had just been getting better and better as time went on (2006’s Modal Soul being one of the best hip-hop records of the last decade).  The man was 36, for Christ’s sake.  There were plenty of people in the Western world that thought any hopes of the vibrant Japanese hip-hop breaking out internationally rested with him; that he would be the one that followed DJ Krush (no megastar himself) into having a sizeable international following.  Who knows how important he might have been?

And yet, the likelihood is that he’d always have been a cult figure.  He simply didn’t look, feel, or sound like a star; his music was far too easy-going and far too blissed-out to really sit with the average, ultra-serious American rap fan, and the association with animé series Samurai Champloo (for which Nujabes contributed several tracks) hardly helped.

I won’t lie to you; I’d never heard of Samurai Champloo until I’d heard of Nujabes.  I’ve never seen it and I’ve never even heard anybody talk about it, other than when they’ve done so in conjunction with Nujabes (or Fat Jon, with whom Nujabes collaborated).  For all I know it’s the coolest show on Earth; but the reality is that most people are going to see the word ‘anime’ and run a mile.  Yet despite my lack of interest in the show that he’s most famous for, I know and love his music.  I know I’m not the only one, either; Nujabes is a real word-of-mouth artist, a man who built up a small but devoted fanbase in a country 6000 miles away from his own, without any promotion or any high-profile associations.  You can see that just by searching YouTube for his name and clicking around; aside from still images, the only real videos of his are fan-made mash-ups with the likes of 2pac and Nac (the mash-up with Jay-Z’s “Pray” is worth checking out, incidentally).  His music isn’t on Spotify, either, not is it streamable or even previewable on Last.fm.  This is an artist that nobody thought was worth promoting; and yet there’s been an outpouring of grief all the same, just because his fans kept on forcing his music on other people (how many of these people do you think are Japanese?)

With any luck, that’s where his influence will be felt.  Japanese hip-hop might be successful within its own country, but for international eyes looking in, it’s a mess – the blackfaced imitations of Africans that Europe and America outlawed decades ago still run rife there, while far too many of the biggest stars simply offer up carbon copies of U.S. acts without adding any of their own national or personal identity.  Nujabes was different, though; his music was distinctly Japanese, and a world apart from American hip-hop – not just the Jay-Zs and Kanyes, but also the vast majority of underground acts.  He certainly wasn’t the only one like that, and we shouldn’t forget that – but death has a funny way of thrusting people into the spotlight (case in point; who gave a fuck about Corey Haim before last week?).  Jun Seba at least deserves this moment; for a wave of new fans, however few there may be, to go and discover some of the most blissful, feel-good music in hip-hop’s history – or in any genre.





Athom
03.23.10
amen!

joshuatree
03.23.10
great read, makes me ashamed to never have heard of him before

n3cr0ph4g1st
03.23.10
Modal soul was such an amazing album. RIP :(

Eclectic
03.23.10
"great read, makes me ashamed to never have heard of him before"

123

Ghostechoes
03.23.10
Metaphorical Music is awesome.

DiceMan
03.23.10
That song was really neat. I'll have to look around and see if I can find anything by him, which by reading the article makes the chances seem quite slim if there is any chance.

robertsona
03.23.10
modal soul and metaphorical music should be relatively easy to find. this guy was one of the great producers, for real. dude's death makes me genuinely sad.

Oblivioncry
03.23.10
mystline is an awesome track. i heard it the first time in samurai champloo andchecked out who wrote this song immediately. the whole soundtrack was amazing and it was from thanks to this anime that i got into nunjabes. a great great great artist i recommend to everyone. his two solo album and the joint future on the champloo soundtrack is brilliant.
i really can't imagie that there will not be anymore of his work. his music was vibrant but still soothing. one can put in on under any situation.

srsly i will miss nunjabes.

Oblivioncry
03.23.10
btw samurai champloo's 4CD OST and the anime is worth looking into. the anime was made by the same guy who made Cowboy Bebop (and that had an awesome OST too ;O)

Oblivioncry
03.23.10
btw great read Iai, i expected something like this from you....

[wtb] edit button ;)

clavichordwolf
03.23.10
Damn, I had no idea this guy passed away. I have a little familiarity with the Japanese hip-hop scene. Some of it's awesome (Krush), some of it's interesting (Tha Blue Herb, Shing02, Shuren The Fire), a lot of it's crap (Nitro Microphone Underground). I mean, the Teriyaki Boyz have worked with some of the most brilliant western producers around right now (Just Blaze, Mark Ronson, Kanye West, Automator) and they still couldn't write a decent song to save their lives. I never really got around to checking this guy out, other than a few instrumentals from the Samurai Champloo OST. Now I kinda regret not doing it sooner. Great write-up.

focksy
03.23.10
song was beautiful

Tits McGee
03.23.10
Yeah he was def underrated. RIP

Transient
03.23.10
shit didn't even know he'd died :'(

Damrod
03.23.10
Awesome write up Iai. All I can say.

RIP Nujabes

Ghearufu
03.23.10
You are right that Nujabes is a word of mouth artist. Even my japanese friends had never heard of him, but they have now because I told them it was worth checking out.

Man everytime I see this I truly get sad because of the lost potential and the lost life. R.I.P

Wish
03.23.10
Great producer.

RIP

Minus The Flair
03.23.10
fantastic and moving work nick. that jay z mash up is really cool.

this still cuts me up, its like you said, he hadn't even peaked yet.

Skimaskcheck
03.23.10
Very nicely written, deservingly so for him

PatchworkNeurology
03.23.10
So sad, thankfuly enough people felt his music to make things like this.
Amazing write up Iai, regardless this is the best vibe music ever, you can put this
on at any time and just pick a song to relax, think, study, talk, just about whatever.

Gonna miss this man's take on hip-hop, cause so far it was the best i'd ever had listened
to.

SmurkinGherkin
03.23.10
will def check this guy out now

Circa4life
03.24.10
Its terrible to see him gone, but his music will live forever!

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