Monday 15 June 2020

Beats To Blog By

There's been more than a few times where for years I've not checked out an artist no matter how often they appear in my recommends. It's a bit of a quirk of mine, one that sometimes pays off because I can visit them if I'm ever in need of something new to listen to. This post centres on one such occasion like that; it's about Japanese hip-hop producer Nujabes.

Exploring the work of Nujabes is a bit of a minefield, he has a cult like following that means that you get weird relics of misinformation that I thought we'd left behind in the Limewire eras (more on that later). His style is distinct and often imitated (sometimes poorly), it's not very difficult to see why he's gained such a following, between featuring on some soundtracks to the recent explosion of LoFi YouTube it was almost a perfect storm. For a crash course in the overall style to expect, look no further than the closing track from Modal Soul, Horizon. It's a little long at 7 minutes but it has all the elements that you can come to expect.

As much as I dig it, the style is very much formulaic, usually centred around an (admittedly well chosen) sample. Not that that is by any means a knock of his skills, Nujabes is primarily a producer after all so it only makes sense. Do note that I'm probably artificially amplifying that a bit by choosing tracks that I like, which just so happen to have that structure. What I'm trying to work towards here is that while these solo instrumental pieces are nice, Nujabes especially shines when fully embracing that producer role. More on that after this 'un. (Ed note: the version on Spotify is a good few seconds shorter than the actual release, so it ends kind of abruptly)

Jumping back to the first paragraph for a second to talk about one of my major gripes around the fandom: often times you will find the full soundtrack to Samurai Champloo credited to Nujabes when it actually included a bunch of other artists such as Fat Jon and Force Of Nature. Likewise with some other tracks out there that are produced by Nujabes sure, but they're not released under his name. Super nitpicky I know but it just reminds me of all the fake 'Daft Punk' and 'Aphex Twin' tracks floating around the 'net, and I believe the artists deserve proper credit. Anyway, here's a standout example, Nujabes' production really shines when twinned with a vocal accompaniment, doubly so with those additional scratches courtesy of DJ Top Bill.

Rounding out with a track not by Nujabes at all, production or otherwise. It appears on a release that is potentially the cause of all this confusion in the first place, titled Modal Soul Classics By Nujabes. Between that and the album already listed here just called Modal Soul, it's not too hard to see how some wires could get crossed, in reality he compiled the album, but it's made up of artists who inspired him. And there's some real treats on there, my favourite being Takero Ogata's Omnipresence from 1999, you can feel the influence had on Nujabes' own productions from the jump, and I personally adore that MIDI as hell pan flute that sounds like it was ripped from a Nintendo 64 soundfont (though I will admit it does sound a little out of place).

I do love the idea of that kind of compilation album too, it makes me wish that some other artists did similar, as not only do you get to experience their influences, you also get a laundry list of other artists to check out and broaden your horizons. Which brings me back around to my opening point, if you can narrow down what it is you like about a specific artist's style you can get more apt recommendations. Here's hoping I've done that for some of you here today! As always, stay safe and enjoy the music.


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