When conversing with lovers of lo-fi hip-hop and chill-hop, there are a few names of artists that always come up for discussion.
Along with J Dilla, Nujabes is probably the one that is particularly often mentioned.
In the international lo-fi and chill music scene, J Dilla and Nujabes are deified entities.
However, I feel that Nujabes is not so well known in modern Japan. Some people may not even know his nationality.
What kind of person is Nujabes?
How did it come to be so deified?
What is his influence on the genre?
If you enjoy lofi/chill music, Nujabes is a must-have. In this article, we will unravel the Nujabes in an easy-to-understand manner.
Let’s get right to the commentary!
Profile of Nujabes
First of all, I would like to tell you that Nujabes is Japanese. Many of you may have somehow imagined a foreigner from this mysterious artist name. If you are not, you are falling right into the trap of his branding.
Real name, Jun Yamada.
He was a young man who loved music and would often go to clubs and ask the DJ, “What’s this song?”
He began to contribute to magazines as a music writer, taking advantage of his extensive knowledge of music. It was around this time that he began calling himself Seba Jun.
In 1995, while still a 21-year-old student, he opened a record store, GUINNESS RECORDS, in Shibuya. While collecting records, he finally started trackmaking in 1998 and began his career as Nujabes.
It is well known that the artist name Nujabes is an inverse reading of his pen name, Jun Seba. If you put the Romanized Seba Jun backwards, you get Nujabes.
His tastes were exclusively foreign music. Among his favorites were mellow soul music and spiritual jazz.
At the time, hip-hop was particularly popular in Japan, and Nujabes was also interested in its unique beat.
He liked smooth soul and spiritual jazz, and the beat of hip-hop. His musical style was formed by the combination of these two. His music became popular in Japan as “Jazzy Hip-Hop” and created a huge boom.
Nujabes is such an artist
Superior branding has earned a strong fan base
Nujabes’ natural energy led him to launch his own label, Hydeout Productions, in 1999. In the early years of its operation, Nujabes intentionally concealed the fact that it was a Japanese label, which, combined with the mysterious name “Nujabes,” led many listeners to believe that he was a foreign producer.
Since he rarely exposed himself to the media and never showed his true face in magazine interviews, there was no other way to understand his personality than to listen to his music.
Always play only with sound. As a result, listeners become the greatest understanding.
It can be said that he pursued the most important mindset for an artist from the very beginning of his career.
They understood the importance of collaboration and approached us on their own
The year 1998, when Nujabes debuted, coincided with the spread of the Internet. It became easier to reach out to people all over the world.
He quickly took advantage of the Internet. He actively went around talking to trackmakers and rappers he liked from overseas.
Eventually, he approached Shing02, a Japanese rapper living abroad, about a collaboration. This collaboration would prove to be the springboard for the explosive hit “Luv(sic),” released in 2001, one of the greatest hits of Nujabes’ career. It was so popular that it became a series of songs.
As a trackmaker, singers and rappers are important to him because they breathe life into his songs. His willingness to reach out to those he is interested in is full of elements to be emulated.
No compromises, no mercy for foreign partners
When talking about Nujabes, the intensity of their commitment to production is inseparable.
He was definitely the type of artist who pursued perfection in his work to the hilt.
Even when collaborating with overseas rappers, at a time when data-based communication was becoming the mainstream, Nujabes would prepare the money and always have the person in question come across the ocean to Japan.
That is not all. It is a well-known story that he was always present during rap recordings, giving detailed direction to his foreign rappers.
He would never give an OK just because of a groove or atmosphere. He was a genuine producer who would not call a project complete unless he and all the people he trusted gave 100% OK.
Committed to promoting hip-hop as background music
Nujabes’ belief is to find the best two bars. His continuous pursuit of the feel-good factor of loop music has come to be known as “jazzy hip-hop. It became recognized not only in Japan but also in the world.
At the time, hip-hop was still dominated by boombop music and was generally perceived as aggressive music heard in clubs and live music venues, and it is known from related conversations that Nujabes was always looking for ways to change that.
It would be nice to have some laid-back hip-hop that we can listen to as background music at home.
His first album, “Metaphorical Music,” is the fruit of these thoughts. It was an explosive hit.
Gradually, his style shifted from an emphasis on sampling to an emphasis on live performance. In particular, his encounter with sound producer Hiroto Uyama proved decisive.
At any rate, Hiroto Uyama was full of musical sense. He could play live, and he could put together the scales of various parts beautifully. With such talent right next to him, why not have him play and put it all together himself, instead of relying on sample recordings that had already been played? There is no doubt that such an idea clearly sprouted within Nujabes.
The second album, “Modal Soul,” was born during just such a transitional period.
With a genius musician on his side, it was a very musical and ambitious work, intertwining various elements of jazz, soul, rock, and pop music. This work was very well received overseas, and this led to an increase in the number of foreign producers who wanted to collaborate with him.
The birth of LoFi HipHop
Now, Nujabes is deified as an originator in the LoFi HipHop world, but how did this genre come into being?
To unravel it all, you need to understand the anime “Samurai Champloo”.
Let’s summarize the conclusions first.
・Samurai Champloo was a work in which the emphasis was not only on visuals but also on musical expression.
・The animation was also created with a focus on hip-hop
・Nujabes, who had worked hard to express “hip-hop as background music,” was hired as the music producer for the animation.
・The anime’s popularity was sparked overseas, and it was revived and broadcast over and over again.
・In today’s world where many people suffer from insomnia and sleep disorders, the demand for relaxing background music has increased.
One by one, we will unravel them.
After the success of Cowboy Bebop, animation director Shinichiro Watanabe decided to go all out with his next film.
What he had in mind was an animated work that fully incorporated hip-hop culture. By incorporating a style in which music and images compete 50:50 and elements closely related to hip-hop into the visual expression, he was able to create a work with an unprecedented taste. They also incorporated breakdance moves into the animation. In any case, we were trying to create an animated work with an emphasis on music.
At the very time the production of this work was starting, jazzy hip-hop was becoming popular in Japan under the influence of Nujabes.
Director Watanabe’s decision to accompany Nujabes as the producer of the play was a natural progression.
Samurai Champloo may not have been a big hit in Japan, but it was highly acclaimed overseas. At a time when hip-hop was flourishing around the world, Samurai Champloo was loved by many people as soon as it was broadcast.
For boys around the world who were still young at the time, Samurai Champloo was a very interesting anime. Not only was the quality of the work high, but the music, which was “smooth, jazzy, comfortable, and somehow hip-hop, even though it was not a gory ghetto song,” left a strong impression on them. As they grew older, lo-fi hip-hop began to gain momentum in the late 2010s.
It is definitely a story of childhood influences that, as adults, appear as part of their own expression. This is what they had to say when they created the movement called LoFi HipHop.
I saw Samurai Champloo and was influenced by Nujabes.”
The Nujabes’ style of sampling always employed vinyl records to create warm noises, and their music tended to lean toward jazz and soul, so there is no doubt that they created a relaxing sound. The essence of such music permeated the world and created the LoFi HipHop sound.
The 2010s were also a time of major changes in people’s lifestyles. The number of people with insomnia and other sleep disorders was on the rise, and healing music was in high demand. The chill sound of LoFi HipHop was a perfect fit for this time period.
It was no surprise that this genre, which was so sought after by the people, grew and grew quickly.
I think Nujabes is a treasure of Japan
I have tried to explain him in an easy-to-understand way so that those who have never heard of Nujabes can understand his existence.
There are more anecdotes about him if you look for them. If you are interested, please look them up. The more you learn about his personality, the more you will understand how much he loved and was loved by music.
I’ve described the Nujabes, but I hope to soon describe another LoFi/Chill genre legend, J Dilla!
Enjoy that one too!
Well, that’s about it for this issue!
See you in my next post!