Review Summary: The body may be gone, but the soul is eternal
Why Spiritual State
took so long to be made is something that we’ll probably never know. With only two years separating debut Metaphorical Music
and sophomore album Modal Soul
, Japanese hip-hop producer Jun Seba from then on seemed content with simply riding in the background; releasing some assorted mix sessions being one of the highlights. So as shocking as his death was, it’s not like he was a fountain of material that was suddenly and abruptly halted. Yet when news of a posthumous album was announced by his self-made label Hydeout Productions, the clamor for the final recordings of a near mythical hip-hop artist was mixed with both anticipation and dread: those anticipating a culmination of everything that Jun Seba had put out, and the dread of being dished out with a haphazardly slapped together piece of work that was kept under wraps by Jun for a reason.
Regardless of any way you would’ve spun it, Spiritual State
was destined to be a success. Had the album just been a simple continuation of the jazz-influence, horn arrangements that Nujabes’ prior material had been, it would’ve been swallowed whole and thanked profusely, regardless of the fact that this approach was the same he had doing for his entire career. No, Spiritual State
is a success because of its casual departure from that very same sound, while still paying homage to the style that made Jun Seba such a beloved international music figure. Starting the album off with some of the most stripped down pieces of work in his discography, tracks “Spiritual State” and “Sky is Tumbling” are as ethereal as they are relaxed; “Spiritual State” with its lone piano and its casual clarinet solo with Uyama Hiroto, before a rolling Miles Davis-esque drum beat, flourishing piano work and an unsurprisingly stellar performance from emcee Cise Star of Cyne fame on “Sky Is Tumbling”.
While rooted firmly in the smooth jazz-hop anchor, Spiritual State
shows many aspects of Nujabes' music that were never touched upon prior. Showing a love for world music (“Gone Are The Days”), eastern string arrangements (“Far Fowls”), and even delving into straight electronica (“Yes”), Spiritual State
tries to break its predecessors molds at nearly every angle. Now whether or not this is the genuine direction that Jun Seba wanted to go in, or a redirected hand by Hydeout associate and Nujabes’ right-hand man Uyama Hiroto (whose horn arrangements and influence is starkly recognizable on many tracks), well… it’s pretty much impossible to know for certain. But neither is it relevant. At its heart, Spiritual State
flows naturally with what Nujabes has always sounded like: while outside influences are apparent, its soul is pure.
But like any Nujabes album, a question is always raised about the performance, or necessity for that matter, of the emcees present on the album. In its fourteen tracks, Spiritual State
boasts only four with very recognizable rappers of Jun’s past. Featuring performances by Cise Star, Substantial, and Pase Rock, anyone familiar with Nujabes back catalog will be able to acknowledge the hand that these men had put forth in their contribution to Juns’ work. And while the past performance of their lyrical abilities have been generally between acceptable to subpar, there is an odd sense of nostalgia on every track with an emcee; as if the song is given an extra boost of depth by the performance. Cise Star’s track, on both Spiritual State
and in Nujabe’s past work, are stellar, and Pase Rock and Substantial both do admirable jobs at pouring their heart and soul into each track they are given to perform in. Even if their rhymes may seem corny or unnecessary to some, once again, the main emphasis on each song is given to the production of the beats, essentially placing the emcees in the backseat.
makes the pain of Jun Seba’s death both compounded upon and accepted. Compounded by the sole fact that this will probably be the last of the truly original recordings of one very enigmatic artist, and accepted by the timelessness of his work. Spiritual State
sees Nujabes come full circle, a celebration of everything that he has accomplished in his life as a producer, as a friend, and as a genuine human being. A fully realized piece of work, nearly half a decade in the making, proving that some of the best things in life truly can’t last forever; rest in peace, Jun Seba… the body is gone, but the soul is eternal.