Japan’s Nujabes’ lasting influence on dance club music [video]

In the thriving world of electronic dance music, there’s a sound you hear in the clubs of Miami, Detroit, Los Angeles and the other dance capitals of the U.S. — jazz to a dreamy hip-hop beat with a driving but wistful edge.

That sound is the legacy of the Japanese DJ/producer Nujabes, whose quiet influence is felt deeply in this corner of the music world.

“Nujabes is, in my opinion, one of the most influential and underrated producers of all time,” said Nick Garcia of electronic music label Yoshitoshi Recordings.

Born in the Minato ward of Tokyo in 1974, Jun Seba had a prolific career as Nujabes (a reversal and combination of his first and last names) before his untimely death in an auto accident in 2010.

Garcia describes Nujabes’ sound as “pretty, cerebral beats mostly composed from jazz samples. Often it’s just one thing sampled from a record and some drums, but it always feels very full, really complete. He was a master of ‘less-is-more’.”

Nujabes released two studio albums in his lifetime — Metaphorical Music in 2003, Modal Soul in 2005. Spiritual State was released in 2011, after his death.

His most widely heard music outside the dance and hip-hop scene was created for the anime video series “Samurai Champloo,” which takes place in an alternate version of Japan’s historical Edo era and is set to a hip-hop beat.

Through his record label Hydeout, Nujabes released albums by influential American DJ/producers such as Emancipator from Portland, Oregon. According to Garcia, this “helped to cross-pollinate their audiences and introduce Nujabes to a lot of Americans.”

Nujabes’ most significant collaborator was Shing02, a Japanese-American hip-hop artist in San Francisco. Together they created the six-part “Luv(sic)” tracks.

In March of 2017, Shing02 was among a long slate of artists who gathered in Los Angeles for “A Tribute to Nujabes,” one of many such events in recent years commemorating the late artist’s work.


DJ Culture 101

Over the 70 years since the phrase “disc jockey” was coined, the role of the DJ has expanded from describing a radio personality who announces the names of records to include recording artists who remix and sample existing sounds into something new. Although some DJs create their music from their own laptops, others perform live to audiences at large dance clubs in the U.S. and around the world.

Remix: to take extended parts of a recorded piece of music and recombine them in a way that creates a radically different interpretation of the original.

Sample: to take a short fragment of a piece of music, such as a guitar figure, drum beat or bass line, and incorporate it into a new piece of music.