No matter how much music has changed over the years, one particularly sombre thread that has persisted throughout is that of those who left us much too soon. It’s something that is endemic to the industry as a whole but seems, perhaps, particularly prominent in hip hop music. One such casualty of this unpleasant trend is a DJ and record producer about whom I have been meaning to write for some time now.
Jun Seba was born in Minato, Tokyo on February 7th 1974, rising to prominence under the anagrammatic stage name of Nujabes. A prolific producer whose body of work most quintessentially exemplifies the ‘chill hop’ genre, Nujabes was quick to garner praise and recognition and during his career worked alongside a number of MCs both from Japan’s underground scene and from further afield. His growing popularity led to the founding of an independent label (Hydeout Productions), as well as two record stores in the city where he was born, lived, and in 2010 – at just 36 years old – died in a traffic accident.
His extensive catalogue includes three studio albums, the third of which – the utterly blissful Spiritual State – was released posthumously in 2011. There were also a number of compilation albums, whilst his sizeable contributions to the soundtrack of the anime series Samurai Champloo definitely played a part in introducing people to his music. That he was an underground artist based in Japan means that, biographically speaking, there is little widely-available information to draw on. What is for certain, however, is that although Jun Seba may have left us, his creative energy survives through his music.
There’s a certain kind of sadness associated with discovering the work of an artist that you truly engage with only to find that there will never be any more of it, and having listened extensively to the three studio albums this melancholy feeling is compounded. The first time I heard his music it was a revelatory experience, the answer to a question I wasn’t even aware I had been asking. I had seen his name in passing on several occasions but, as is so often the case, never bothered to listen. Naturally, when I finally did, I was furious with myself for waiting so long.
The fury, however, quickly subsided. Listening to his music conjures many emotions but anger is certainly not one of them. No, the overwhelming feeling that stems from listening to much of Nujabes’ discography is one of almost ethereal calmness. It’s music for the day’s dying moments, for sitting in contemplative silence as a vast and expansive soundscape – every piece deliberately placed – unfolds around you, a current of smooth jazz samples and lilting woodwinds carrying you downstream to mellower shores.
And it is, for me at least, difficult to listen to some of these tracks (particularly the one above) without reflecting on the early passing of the person who brought them to fruition. It’s an almost eerie sense of poignancy, testament to the creative genius of a man whose spirit lives on through the music he left behind. You are at once saddened that he is no more, yet so intensely grateful that he was. It’s a sentiment I’m sure is echoed by many, both in the incredibly active fan community over on Reddit and by the authors of myriad blog posts scattered around the web, expressing a similar enthusiasm for Nujabes and his work.
Seba Jun: February 7th 1974 – February 26th 2010