A Metaphysical Journey: On Nujabes and His Style

I’ve been trying to center myself. I always think about things that could’ve been, if only I had known something sooner. I look back on my childhood and try to reframe it into what it might have been versus what it was. Recently, I’ve been wiping off the glass so that I can see clearly. I’ve been emptying my head of voices that aren’t conductive of good energies or healthy mindsets. Part of my processes of healing has always been music. Lately, when I feel this way, I listen to Nujabes. 

Who Is He?

Nujabes was a Japanese record producer, composer, arranger, DJ, and businessman. He was the inspiration an entire genre of music, known as lo-fi, as it exists today. His style is no joke; he blends hip-hop, sometimes using samples from old school tracks and often collaborating with local artists and American rappers, together with jazz-inspired instrumentals. 

Many knew him by his stage name Nujabes (which is his actual name spelled backward), but his real name was Jun Seba 瀬葉 淳. He was born on February 7, 1974, in the Nishi-Azabu district of Minato in central Tokyo, Japan. He released three solo albums during his lifetime: Metaphorical Music (2003), Modal Soul (2005) and Spiritual State (released posthumously in 2011). Nujabes contributed to the soundtrack of Samurai Champloo, an anime that combined the imagery and setting of feudal Japan with the sounds and elements of hip-hop culture. He’s collaborated with many artists, like Japanese artists Uyama Hiroto and Shing02, as well as various underground rappers and hip hop acts like Apani B, Five Deez, Substantial, and British rapper Funky DL. Besides being a creative, he was also a businessman, founding the independent label Hydeout Productions. 

Unfortunately, like many of the greats in our world, he left us too soon. He died in a car accident in 2010, on February 26, not even two weeks after his birthday. Many of his contemporaries went on to create tribute albums in his honor. 

Nujabes’s Influence

His influence lives on in his contributions to hip-hop, music culture, and the minds and hearts of his listeners. His music is almost like sound therapy; the combination of smooth beats, guitar, base, jazz instrumentals create pieces that are atmospheric, thoughtful, refreshing. The samples Nujabes included and the verses written by the artists that he collaborated with were in the old hip-hop style of lyrical play storytelling. The vocals are always the same volume, or lower, as the music. Listeners are encouraged to give equal attention to both in order to appreciate the depth of the songs. His songs stimulate the conscious and the subscious levels of the mind. 

As a poet, these thoughtful inclusions appeal to my inner storyteller, as well as the large part of me that is colored by my culture.

His Impact on Me

Hip-hop and jazz are some of the most culturally meaningful genres of music to black people. They were made and created by us, and are now enjoyed across the country and the world. It makes me proud to hear people who aren’t black enjoying (good) rap music or other staples of the genres. It makes me even happier to see someone inspired to create their own unique sound and story from it.

Nujabes is both unique and deeply familiar to me because of this. When I listen to him I feel like that’s what music, or even what being a human, is all about: sharing and learning from each other, adding what we’ve discovered or listened to together to create our own sound. It’s about finding ways to relate to each other and respecting where we come from while creating new spaces. Nujabes is very fulfilling for me.

Dynas Johnson

Music Writer

Dynas Johnson is a rising senior at Temple University, majoring in English with a Creative Writing Concentration. She is an editor for SONKU, a writing collective for black poets created at Temple University, and a writer for The Atmosphere Magazine. When she is not writing, she can be found wandering Philadelphia and listening to lofi playlists.

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