Nujabes – Modal Soul

Don’t ask me how to pronounce NUJABES. Just listen to “Sea of Cloud” twice while in a supine position and then come back to read the rest of this article, preferably with a beverage. No hard liquor unless it’s smooth as hell and in a chilled glass.

That sample is none other than Chet Baker’s trumpet easing through the clouds, a perfect taste of everything that makes this Japanese DJ a legendary addition to any collection. Nujabes, which may or may not rhyme with Jujubes, was born Jun Seba in Tokyo in 1974. Coming of age just as hip-hop was finding its footing in mainstream America, Nujabes had access to a new musical lifeline in hip-hop. Picking up on the trends established by Yellow Magic Orchestra and Hiroshi Fujiwara in the east and A Tribe Called Quest and Gang Starr in the west, Nujabes created a repertoire of music that could be at times cutting and direct, and other times, transcendentally beautiful.

Using the catalyst of cool jazz, with which the Japanese have had a long love affair, Nujabes played with samples and traditional instrumentation in a way that had been done before, sure; some artists were going as far to say that jazz rap was “played out” by the mid-90s. But Nujabes continued on, including elements of trip-hop, ambient music, hi and lo-fi samples and committing himself to music, pouring through hours and hours of vinyl on the hunt for the missing piece.

There is a Japanese cultural concept known as Wa, or harmony. As this Wa was also used as a derogatory term for short-statured people and was a nasty name for early Japanese folks coined by the Chinese, it is useful to thing of Wa as a harmony accessible to the most common of men. A harmony that is accessible and unpretentious comes from Nujabes’ music, and it is the same reason why his music created some of the first “homework edits” on YouTube

Homework edits – one song extended to last for an hour or more at a time, to aid in the mental state of flow. Jazz and hip-hop were always art forms “for the common man”, and Nujabes saw this clearly, hunting for the perfect flows in recorded music and stitching them together into the rich tapestry before you. It’s thinking music for everyone.

Nujabes brought Japanese hip hop into the mainstream on both sides of the Pacific ocean and helped to establish the foundation for electronic music as it is today. One piece of his legacy is his label, Hydeout Productions, which produces music and hosts tribute concerts even after Nujabes’ death. He was involved in a motor vehicle accident in Shibuya City in 2010. His body did not survive. His music, however, is on the steady path to immortality.

Nujabes Modal Soul Album Cover


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *