One of Hip-Hop's Greatest Producers to Ever Live: Seba Jun AKA Nujabes
I wrote this guide a while back and may revise parts of it, but here is my personal guide and retrospective of, without a doubt, one of music's greats and a Japanese music staple that revolutionized hip-hop in Asia. Respected by all producers throughout any of music's genres, it is said that Nujabes was one of the most inspirational, revolutionary and unsung producers of all-time. The guide is split up chronologically starting with studio albums, then progressing into collaborations and mixtapes.
Seba Jun, a Japanese hip-hop producer and DJ who produced some of the most innovative and classical-sounding beats of his time, is without question one of the best producers of all-time regarding hip-hop, often compared to J Dilla's magnificient work. He passed away in 2010 after sustaining fatal wounds from a car accident in Shibuya. It is not known what his last work truly was, publicly.
Metaphorical Music - 2003
This was what most would consider his freshman album. Nujabes at this point had a stance in the scene as an extremely solid producer, but failed to break into the mainstream due to his music sounding somewhat aged and worn. Little did people know, this was intentional and a trend we'd see until his death and beyond, spicing up his tracks with an aged feel to make them feel warmer and closer to the listener. Most tracks sounding like rough drafts to an extent (we can compare this feeling with Tyler, the Creator's third album, WOLF, if you can make the connection in sound) were expected, as this is roughly half a decade after his initial step into producing beats and music as a whole, having released his first tracks in the mid-1990's through 1998 before taking a hiatus to work on this album. The main attraction of this piece, outside of the oriental sounds, was that it showed promise in a producer from Japan; a rarity.
Impression - 2004 (Anime Collaboration)
This album was a collaboration between Nujabes, Fat Jon and Force of Nature. An extremely jam-packed 23-track album filled with drum-based beats and instrumentals with just a few vocals from Suiken and S-Word provided the audience with a real look into what a year's time would result in for Jun. We see that, after looking at the album's cover art for a split second, Samurai Champloo artwork can be found on it. This was a huge break for Nujabes -- some of his biggest hits including Counting Stars would result from this deal he had with the anime developer's firm.
Departure - 2004 (Anime Collaboration)
In this album, we see Shing02 make his way into the music of Nujabes; a new character to the array of notes and beats, but one that would stay throughout the rest of Nujabes' life, eventually becoming a regular on nearly all of his later tracks, and a best friend outside of music. A very rustic sound can be seen from Shing02, but a meaning behind it that went with the anime. Although Departure was released before Impression, its music was not played until near the end of the anime in 2005, hence the listing in this list below Impression. Mystical dream-like sounds can be heard for the first time from Nujabes on this album, an incredibly unique approach to such bass-heavy beats. From this, Shiki No Uta would become one of the biggest hits for Nujabes, playing a critical role in the flow of the anime on top of delivering a soothing yet meaningful sound with some Japanese vocals. Three albums in, and Nujabes is starting to cement his place in the Japanese hip-hop scene.
Modal Soul - 2005 (Collaboration)
This is, in most people's eyes, the piece of artwork Nujabes put out that made him what he is today. The metaphors, allegorical queues and puns, flow and production quality of this album blew away anything he ever made before. A surgical attempt, taking months to master for each song, paid off for Nujabes in the end, resulting in what many call one of the best-produced albums of all-time. The collaboration of musical notes and tunes flow perfectly. Featuring Cise Starr, Akin, Terry Callier, Shing02, Substantial, Pase Rock, Apani B and Uyama Hiroto, Modal Soul was a goldmine for any underground fan, catering to both chilled and hardcore fans of hip-hop with its malleable material. We see that guy Shing02 come back for Part 3 of the Luv(sic) series making his return in what many consider the best of the six-part story, along with being statistically the most popular. Lyrics that hit close to home for both teenagers and young adults going through relationships and their musical puberty made it an instant hit. Skyrocketing to the top in Japan and making an impression in the international concrete of hip-hop, Nujabes was nearing his career's prime.
Spiritual State - 2011 (Posthumous)
Spiritual State would be the album released posthumously (after his death in 2010), despite being an unfinished work. His family and friends decided it would do no good to keep it behind closed doors, and decided a year after his death and six years after Modal Soul to finally release the final work of Nujabes to the public. Sounds of waves, trees, birds chirping, people cooking and kids laughing can barely be heard in the background, but enough on some tracks to make an impact on whoever's listening. An extremely abstract mix of piano, rusty clips of old vinyls being played, heavy drums and more resulted in the cleanest and most refined work to date of one of the best producers to ever live. Although we will never hear any new work from Nujabes, this final album was a great way to end his discography.
Sweet Sticky Thing - 1998 (Side A, Mixtape)
Sweet Sticky Thing - 1998 (Side B, Mixtape)
This was Nujabes' first ever mixtape(s), showcasing basic skills of remixing but true talent from the beginning. An incredibly heavy influence of jazz, classical and slow-jam-styled music, it was obvious Nujabes' future work would set him apart from anyone else. Not much is known about this collection other than it was a limited domestic release near Shibuya and Tokyo before Nujabes gained steam and was a publicly known musician.
Nujabes Ristorante Mixtape - (2003 Side A, Mixtape)
Nujabes Ristorante Mixtape - (2003 Side B, Mixtape)
These two mixtapes bundled together like brothers was focused more on fast-paced beats and a more uplifting sound opposed to the sorrowful, more grim and oriental sound the audience was accustomed to previously. A refined example of Sweet Sticky Thing, the beats and samples on this album were cleaner, less tinny-sounding and came off as more complex yet simple, if you will. A true masterpiece, but again, simply a mixtape -- Nujabes would gain respect not from mixtapes, but from albums he produced solely by himself.
Hydeout Productions Collection 1 - 2003 (Mixtape)
Focusing on drums, jazz samples and a sound we can associate with [Joe Hisaishi of Spirited Away's OST, This album released before the Samurai Champloo pieces further made a name for Nujabes in the Japanese scene. Despite not making waves of hype internationally, this definitely made him known throughout Shibuya, Tokyo and Japan as a whole, along with parts of South Korea such as Seoul and Ansan where hip-hop and the upbringing of instrumental music was extremely relevant and heavily seen.
Hydeout Productions Collection 2 - 2007 (Mixtape)
Technically, this would be Nujabes' final album he would release before coming to his death in 2010. Coming two years after Modal Soul, Collection 2 was a basket full of hits produced by his independent record label, featuring wonderful remixes and features from C.L. Smooth and Substantial. One of the extremely rare examples of self-remixing a song to make it better, we see Nujabes refine the first Luv(sic) fragment to the story's puzzle from 1998, nearly a decade later, and prove to his audience that his skill was truly limitless. This is often overlooked, but an incredibly difficult feat to attain at such a high level of production. Remember Counting Stars I mentioned earlier? That song is from this album, remastered obviously as the anime took place two years before the release, and would result in [one of the most critically-acclaimed two minutes in anime history](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97Ls7tbmbyk), providing an incredible attachment for the viewer to the storyline's substance and meaning. A turning point in the plot between the main characters, fans of the show also became fans of Nujabes after discovering this beautiful song.
The Luv(sic) Series ft. Shing02
A 13-year collection of Nujabes and Shing02's journey throughout life can be considered one of the greatest accomplishments of either artist, and a very rare example of continued story. Give it a listen and let Nujabes come back to life for half an hour. Let the lyrics sink in and appreciate the masterful beats.
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