Six years ago today, the hip-hop underground lost a valuable rising voice in Seba “Nujabes” Jun, a Japanese producer known for his warm and orchestral sounds. Nujabes made a name for himself in the late 1990s in his native Shibuya before becoming a cult figure in the West when he became one of a handful of producers featured on the soundtrack of the anime Samurai Champloo. Most notably, Nujabes created the theme song:
His style is everlasting proof of the appeal of soul sampling in rap music; full of the warm textures, crisp drum loops, and a composer’s ear that earns him comparisons to J Dilla and even the 90s greats who inspired him to dig in the first place (Pete Rock, Q-Tip). Much like Dilla, his music has spread through rap circles even faster since his untimely death in a car accident on February 26, 2010, and because of his reclusive nature, his music has done a lot of the talking over the years.
In honor of the jazz-influenced beat maker supreme, we dug through a few crates of our own to unearth some little known facts about Nujabes.
1. He owned two record stores.
In the midst of Shibuya’s bustling record store scene of the 90s, Nujabes owned two popular record shops, Guinness and Tribe Records, where he’d sell the latest independent joints for cheap. He supposedly stocked as few copies of Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” as possible because he just didn’t like the song.
2. He’s only ever done one official interview (Sound And Recording Magazine).
Nujabes valued his privacy over few things, even hiding the fact that he had a wife and child for years. As such, the only interview with him on record is from a 2003 issue of “Sound and Recording Magazine,” where he recalls making his first beat: “I started making tracks because I wanted to hear music that sampled the old soul and jazz I liked…I wasn’t thinking about making a song at first. It was more a case of, ‘If I loop a sample from this record, then put another sample on top, what will it sound like?’ . . . When I made my first loop, it was all I listened to for an entire day.” A copy of the magazine was found, but has yet to be fully translated into English.
3. He made a song with CL Smooth.
Nujabes counted Pete Rock, DJ Premier, and others among his inspirations, so it’s only natural that he’d find a way to collaborate with CL Smooth. The song “Sky Is Falling” found its way onto Nujabes’ independent record company’s second compilation album, and it’s a highlight on a project full of them.
4. Like Tupac and Dilla, he has an extensive archive of unreleased music.
Artists Nujabes has worked with in the past spoke of his work ethic, and because of that, there’s still scores of beats that haven’t been heard yet. Rapper Shing02, who worked on the Luv[Sic] trilogy with Nujabes, just released a new song called “Perfect Circle” last October with previously unheard production:
5. He played the flute on many of his songs.
Many producers are multi instrumentalists in their own right, and Nujabes was no exception. His flute work can be heard all over his third album (the first released after his death) Spiritual State, and on other songs like “Psychological Counterpart,” “Ordinary Joe,” and “Beyond.”
6. He once bet on horse races to raise money to buy an air conditioner.
During a Reddit AMA, British MC Funky DL, who Nujabes flew out to Shibuya for a month to lay down some tracks, was asked about one of his favorite moments. DL remembered a story that Nujabes told him about betting on a horse race to win money for an air conditioner because his family couldn’t afford one. After walking away with $1,500, they definitely got one.