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Ah…the serenity of hip-hop.
I’m not a classically trained musician. This isn’t a music podcast, and lacks a music blog. But you certainly must know, that I am a lover of music. I am a digital producer, a percussionist and drummer, and a lyricist. I love words, and I love song. Throughout my life, few mediums have been able to cause me to open up my heart and express myself like I never knew I could, or listen with the ears my parents wished I had for their house rules and restrictions. I suppose I never really knew how deep of a joyous ravine music had always been in my life I could dive into when the outside world was constantly trying to bring me down.
I had always grown up with music. Dad and his old school gospel records, and mom with her new-school R&B gospel….we were raised (and still are) Christian so that was really all we had on our tapes! The earliest hip-hop I’d ever heard was from DC Talk back when they were a dedicated rap trio and other Christian acts. My mix of a love for video games and anime introduced me to some pivotal theme songs, often in the Japanese language, and hip-hop on the radio was a new thing for me that I fell deeply in love with. But it wasn’t til Gundam Wing (yeah, the anime) that a song ever made me cry. The orchestral and emotionally overtoned Touched Heartstrings ruined me (in the best way), and to this day challenges what I hear in a song. Like, any song. It’s almost a curse.
That includes hip-hop music. Lyricism always used to mean more to me than the beat, though the melodic integrity of an instrumental alone can easily challenge that, in my mind. When those two forces come together however, it’s a force to be reckoned with for someone who’s heart for hip-hop connects deeper than just a crisp trap-808, closed hi-hat snaps and drill bass. With that said, I discovered producer J Dilla’s Mash in 2006 making a beat in the basement of a classmate’s duplex. That was the same year, Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim anime lineup debuted the cross-culture action anime, Samurai Champloo, which unrealistically but beautifully mixed samurai-era Japan with modern-day hip-hop culture, whose intro theme song was a soft, jazzy rap song that was uncharacteristically…relaxing. This was my introduction to the Japanese producer Nujabes.
These two men inexplicably changed the way I listen to hip-hop, make beats, listen to rap, and view the (counter)culture on a global scale. February 7th 1974 just so happened to be the birthday of both of these two men who have, to my knowledge, never met, and may never have known of the other’s existence. Dilla died at age 32 of the blood disease TTP, and Nujabes died in a traffic accident at age 36. Through the tributes of their contemporaries, these two global-scale geniuses’ influence on underground emcees emphasizing powerful lyricism (such as NAK, Shing02, Substantial, Kero One, etc.), producers of consequential “chill-hop” (Joseph Jacobs, Bakoda, Elyon, Thomas Prime, etc), and more mainstream artists who promote soulful lyricism, production, and longevity in their rap careers (Common, A Tribe Called Quest, Slum Village, Kanye West, etc) is blatant and clear as day.
I understand many artists, bloggers, and self-starters find their plane of focus with the outlet of music on hand; if not you, then certainly I. Inside and outside of study, I have yet to find a more pleasurable, painfully soul-lifting subgenre within hip-hop music. As a committed hip-hop head and general lover of good music, I highly recommend taking the plunge and truly supporting the artistry of these two men with purchases. You’d be hard-pressed to regret it.
Here’s my personal recommendation of what their best material is (I don’t own the rights to any media promoted here):
Nujabes–Luv(Sic) Pt. 3
The Luv(Sic) songs are a hexalogy of emotional, jazzy hip-hop pieces produced by Nujabes and featuring emcee Shing02 on each rapping in his distinct flow. Like the theme song of the anime Samurai Champloo “Battlecry” that introduced me to the duo, as well as the standout track “F.I.L.O” on Nujabes’ debut album Metaphorical Music, the Luv(Sic) series portray just how dynamic of a dyad Nujabes and Shing02 are together, and no song expresses this sentiment more than Pt. 3. A powerful love letter to childhood innocence, senescence, and the undeniable power of music, Shing02 provokes his fresh audience by asking “how far do we have to stretch the truth/to fit the lifestyle borrowed, and overdue?” and “how far do we have the stretch the picture/before pixelating the human texture?” Easily their best work as a team and, in my personal opinion, Nujabes outdid himself production-wise. Wisely taking a different route from the boom-bap glory of Pt. 1 and the horn-infused beach-walk of Pt. 2, this third entry–again, of six–ups the strings and focuses on the straightforward beat driving the melody. Find this track on his Modal Soul album.
J Dilla’s propensity for sampling outshine’s Kanye West’s own mastery of the art by a long-shot. The first tune of his that I was ever exposed to, “Mash” seems to represent Dilla’s signature style of taking the abstract and hearing something nobody else can, and acting accordingly. Sampling Galt MacDermot’s piano on “Golden Apples (part II)”, and opening vocals from Frank Zappa’s “Dance Contest”, Dilla creates a classic hip-hop instrumental that mimics the East-coast boom-bap that is within the very soul of the music of the streets of New York. His Donuts album contains the track.
Happy belated birthday, Nujabes and Dilla. And may you boys rest in beats. What are you listening to when it’s time to hustle?