“Nujabes and J Dilla, the best producers of our time.”
First thing to note, that wasn’t my statement. Just decided to quote from this aspiring DJ I used to know. My first exposure to Nujabes was through the anime Samurai Champloo. The song “Aurarian Dance” marked the beginning between me and jazzy/groovy hip hop.
I’ve found that it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to categorize music by using words such as “underground”, “groovy” and “jazzy”. (Not to mention that Jazz itself incorporates so many different kinds of music.) So I am going to talk about specific songs or albums, as examples for different genres of music.
First up, of course the late Nujabes, the most known name within Japanese Hip Hop (well to my knowledge at least). I loved and listened to his 2 albums Modal Soul and Metaphorical Music for years before moving on to dig deeper into what Japanese producers had to offer. Almost immediately you can point out 2 of Nujabes'(and his collaborators) most defining traits, lyrical and poetic, both in the rap lyrics and the instrumentation. The most excellent example would be the Luv sic series (Luv sic, Luv sic(2) and Luv sic(3)), some would call them electro, but I call them hip hop.
There’s a certain lightness to Nujabes tracks that I rarely find in other hip hop tracks. Although you still hear the bass drum and the “boom-bap” throughout his songs, the instruments (especially the piano) somehow lightens the beat. Till now I still can’t decide what’s my favourite version of Luv Sic. And in case you haven’t seen this, check out this amazing rendition of Nujabes’s Luv Sic by Mark Memornek and his friend. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgb_blMA3rE I subscribed instantly, and so should you! Other songs from the two albums I would definitely suggest checking out: Lady Brown, Counting Stars, Flowers and Imaginary Folklore.
Moving on! Just as I thought this mixture of lightness and Hip Hop is Nujabes’ trademark, I discovered his mixtape Ristorante. Don’t be mistaken, there’s still that lightness and Hip Hop. But man! The whole album is incredibly FUNKY! Here is the link to the mixtape on youtube. And I gotta say, check out the side bar, ’cause that’s probably the side of youtube you wanna be on. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROM3F8cfrgU So is there anyone other than Nujabes in Japanese Hip Hop? The answer is yes. But if you think Nujabes is too mellow for you, you should skip the next paragraph or so, because here comes Nomak, Ino Hidefumi, Shinski and Uyama Hiroto.
Nomak’s album “Calm”, feels like an extension of the earlier Nujabes tracks, with that lightness and usage of the piano. In addition, most of the beats are much more spiritual (can I even go as far as ethnic sounding?)than jazz oriented. Regardless, an album worth checking out if you enjoyed melodic hip hop.
Ino Hidefumi is an artist I stumbled across in the album “Mellow beats, friends and lovers” (which is a brilliant compilation album in its own right, so go check it out). If you had enjoyed the groove in the tracks above, you should definitely look into Hidefumi’s music : Satifastion(2006).
Uyama Hiroto, a close collaborator of Nujabes. The song that really established his name in my mind was called Color of Jade from his album A Son of the Sun. Definitely an album worth checking out!
Shinski’s music is definitely a lot more “electro” and “techno” or what I would call “gallexy-like” comparing to those producers mentioned above. But don’t you worry, the jazz and groove is still there. The song that made the first impression for me was Heaven’s Shore from the compilation album Saudade. (Again, an album worth checking out.) Another thing to note would be Shinski’s collaboration with Taiwanese hip hop artist, Soft Lipa in his album 踩腳踏車(Riding a Bicycle). I quite liked the remixed version of 過程(Progress) by Shinski as well.
Lastly I’m going to end with a wild card of Japanese Hip Hop, MIDICRONICA. I absolutely love this group, in my opinion, the most unique, funky and layback sound I have heard in a while. I would recommend every song on their albums #501 and .co.lab For those who are new to them, probably San Francisco from the album #501 is a good place to start. I also loved S501, Blue Velvet and Operator to help you in that album.
Here’s my take on Japanese Hip Hop. Let me know if you have any favourites as well! Always looking for new music to stumble across. 😉