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For many people who are hooked on to a certain genre, whether it be Rap-heads, Grunge kids, or Jazz folks, typically their predilection occurred from early on. Fans of Punk Rock became fans of the genre usually through listening to Nirvana during middle school. Listeners who avidly praise Rap music may have listened to Nas’s Illmatic album at a very young age.
With the Jazz Rap and Instrumental Rap trend going on, typically Nujabes or J Dilla would be their introduction to the genre. Fans of Nujabes would know every track on this album in their back of their hands, and it goes to show how impactful this project alone had on Hip-Hop music. With all the music I’ve been listening to since middle school, this is the one that started it all.
Nujabes was a record label owner and disc jockey from Tokyo, Japan (supposedly and eerily born on the same day as J Dilla). His work is infamous for his distinguishable sounds that often use foreign or Harlem Rennaisance-influenced samples, accentuated by his soothing use of the standard Hip-Hop MPC.
Although his music had been ringing locally due to his record labels, he did not hit international buzz until his music was showcased in the underground, classic anime series, Samurai Champloo, which premiered on Adult Swim on Saturday nights. The show itself was more of a collaboration of underground DJ’s and producers from both the Hip-Hop scenes happening in urban Japan and the New-York affiliated clubs of the late 1990’s. The show itself was a zany and stylistic merge between both the Hip-Hop culture Japan embraced and feudal era Japan before the Meiji Restoration era.
I had heard this project during my middle school years when my tastes were bound to expand. Right before school, surfing through my On-Demand channels, I have stumbled upon the show and decided to give one episode a try before the school bus arrived. Hearing the opening track of the show was a mind-bending experience that I still remember to this day. I ended up just replaying the opening track repeatedly until time beckoned me to pause and leave the room. The song, entitled Battlecry, may be one of the most beautiful and effervescent songs I have heard up to this day.
The song itself is a poetic prose about the journey of a Ronin Samurai pontificated by Japanese-American lyrical poet Shing02. Nujabes’s adds to it with a cloudy mix of dreamy samples and this light and airy reverberation that repeats throughout the track. Departure is one of the most tranquil music you could stumble upon, which makes it obscure that this was meant for a short-run television show.
The sounds here are cloudy, nocturnal, hypnagogic, and serene. At times they could be soothing, and at other times, somber. In the compilation, the show’s affiliate behind the music who goes by Fat Jon The Ample Soul Physician brings along his talents with these sounds. A former member of Hip-Hop acts Five Deez and 3582, Fat Jon is responsible for adding more of the “soul touch” to these tracks.
A good example is in the track Ask, where the beat starts with a fluttering, luminescent sample which dilutes to an MPC pattern that adds to shimmering sample and a tranquil overtone in the background. The project itself is seventeen tracks long, starting off with the full version of the infamous song Battlecry. What makes this compilation more special is really understanding where the music played within the show. Without the show’s context, the listener may look at this as sort of “elevator music.”
Taking the song The Space Between Two Worlds, the song eludes such a sedating sensation that a listener who’s not a fan of the show could mistake as just another form of ASMR or sound therapy. As the listener understands where the track plays in the show, he or she may understand the emotional context of the track, and why it works so well.
Understanding the shows’ context with tracks like Chambers and Genome could really enhance the listener’s emotional experience with the music itself. The samples Nujabes and Fat Jon use, along with the chords they add and the MPC pattern they utilize really could be sensationally understood once the listener was introduced to it by emotional relevance. This could also describe the epic sensation when listening to the dramatic themes of Game of Thrones.
Although, I don’t doubt that this project could be enjoyed without the support of the show. Nujabes and Fat Jon’s music have traversed platforms and reached audiences from many spectrums. His music has been played in college dorm rooms, as well as in study sessions, or just in mere solitude. Both their works alone have been praised by fans worldwide as heavily different from the norm. No other album sounds like Nujabes’s Modal Soul, as no other sound comes close to the sounds that Fat Jon crafts with his talents.
These tracks within the album are all instrumentals, with the exception of the starting and ending tracks. They could be classified as Hip-Hop beats, but seems so much more than that. Along with the standard drums and snares you hear, the samples that they use, as well as their use of chords at some points, transcend the Hip-Hop genre labeling. I couldn’t relate this to any other Hip-Hop album or project besides the artists’ own work. These beats should be listened to during certain times, and don’t seem to translate well within bustling or noisy environments.
The tracks here are quiet and can be contemplative. Many of the tracks here, such as 624 Pt. 2 and 1st Samurai are head-nodding sessions that translate well in isolated territories. At other points, tracks like Aurarian Dance and 624 Pt. 1 can be somber and even harmonious when experienced at the right times. Again, this probably could only be fully understood by fans of the show.
Because I’ve been introduced to this project at such a young age, every artist or genre I’ve been exposed to in the recent years had some way or another been the domino effect that this had on me at the age of thirteen. With all the music I’ve been listening to, I can’t appreciate this project even more for that. This will always be one of my most essential listens, which is the case more many people today who grew up with the show and started the new Hip-Hop trends because of it.