There’s no specific reason to celebrate Nujabes today — no anniversaries or commemorative dates — but that won’t stop us from doing it anyway.
The Japanese producer, whose style delved into hip hop, jazz, and breakbeat, among other genres, created music that was unprecedented in its beautifully nostalgic sound. Upon his death at the age of 36 in 2010, caused by a traffic collision, he had become one of Japan’s most influential in the genre. Nujabes had created the soundtrack for critically-acclaimed anime Samurai Champloo, among other notable accomplishments.
His legacy now manifests on YouTube, with a post of his second record, “Modal Soul,” having accumulated over 15 million views. Today, we’d like to offer you a list of ten Nujabes tracks to help you learn a bit about the legend– and to add to your playlists.
1. Lady Brown (feat. Cise Starr)
This track, a Samurai Champloo soundtrack cut featuring Cise Starr of Florida group CYNE, features a bossa nova guitar sample from Luiz Bonfá’s “The Shade of the Mango Tree” that could give J Dilla’s “Runnin” a run for its money.
2. Spiritual State (feat. Uyama Hiroto)
The opening track to Nujabes’ identically titled posthumous LP, this six minute cut features long-time collaborator Uyama Hiroto. The track is a departure from the neck-breaking hip hop drum loops that casual listeners often know Nujabes for, opting instead for a delicate overture with elegant solos and soft, shaking percussion.
3. Luv(sic) Parts 1-6 (feat. Shing02)
The six-part “Luv(sic)” series gets one entrance here; a dynamic mix of Nujabes’ signature hip hop production matched with intellectually stimulating lyrics from the revered Japanese emcee Shing02 lead this series to be a calling card of Nuja’s discography. The release of this complete hexology came with a small notebook with notes written by Shing02 about each song, the text of which you can read in this Reddit post.
4. Who’s Theme (feat. MINMI)
Featured on the fourth and final soundtrack for “Samurai Champloo,” “Who’s Theme” features a slower, more somber hip hop sound from Nuja, including haunting choral vocals and low-pass filters. Japanese singer MINMI offers her soulful, drifting vocals on top of the wistful tune. Engineer Jeffrey Sun offers an excellent analysis into the tune’s composition which you can read here.
5. Ordinary Joe (feat. Terry Callier)
One of Nujabes’ most jazzy and peppy tunes, the second track off of “Modal Soul” features the late Terry Callier performing a cover of his 70s track “Ordinary Joe.” The crooner’s voice has hardly aged, and his sunny disposition makes this track moving in an inspirational way; especially considering both of the artists are no longer with us.
6. Aruarian Dance
One of Nuja’s most famed contributions to the Samurai Champloo soundtrack, “Aruarian Dance” features multiple samples of Laurindo Almeida’s “The Lamp is Low.” The result is an instrumental tune that conjures emotions of longing through softly warbling electric guitars, orchestral strings and a steady, unimposing drum track. You can read a Redditor’s in-depth analysis of this tune here, showcasing its origins in French composition and late 60s America.
7. Reflection Eternal
This video of “Reflection Eternal” has reached over 6.5 million views on YouTube. The track, placed third on the “Modal Soul” album, features compositional samples from “I Miss You” by Noriko Rose and a haunting vocal sample of Kenny Rankin’s “Marie,” almost dissonantly calling out to the listener: “Your hair piled up high/You’re a flower/You’re a river/You’re a rainbow.”
8. Shiki no Uta (feat. MINMI)
This track, also featuring MINMI, is incomparable for a plethora of reasons; as the signature ending theme to “Samurai Champloo,” it is by far one of the most beautiful tunes ever featured in an anime credits scene (you’ll always end up waiting the extra minutes to listen to it at the end of every episode.) It features a flowing breakbeat and twangy guitars to compliment MINMI’s vocals, which shift from hypnotic, smooth verses to explosive, exciting choruses in a fashion that will leave you crying on a treadmill.
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