Music & Misery: Falling in Love with Life to Nujabes

On a dark, snowy night in Tokyo six years ago on February 26th, a drunk driver on the Shuto Expressway killed one of the music community’s greatest visionaries mere weeks after celebrating his 36th birthday. He created a world of hip hop focused on love, equality, and kindness by fusing lush samples of jazz against trip hop brimming with an acute nostalgia that hadn’t previously existed.

Jun Seba, better known to us as Nujabes, was a creator who could touch every soul in a room and send us on a collective transcendental journey each and every time his music drifted through speakers.

His genius began with the day he was born, the exact same day as one of hip hop’s greatest producers, J. Dilla. Every year on February 7th I celebrate Nujabes’ life and lasting contribution to, not only underground Japanese hip hop, but his influence on up-and-coming producers who take cues from his enigmatic style. He’s best known for being the most prolific contributor for the critically acclaimed anime series, Samurai Champloo, which reached international audiences. At some point in most people’s lives, Nujabes entered speakers and introduced his rich, diverse art to fans willing to listen.

Nujabes is actually my all-time favorite producer which is, in itself, an egregious understatement. His music is spiritual and soul encompassing, and together with his music in tow, I’ve experienced love, loss, tragedy, hope, and happiness, and used it as a guiding force for navigating my depression.

I turn to music to celebrate every aspect of my life, oftentimes that celebration relates to my moderate-to-severe depression, depending on the day. I’ve lived with it for most of my life and I’ve finally come to terms with after years of refusing to accept it. I know I’ll never truly be able to get rid of it, but I fight everyday to grow and learn from it so that I can be the most holistic Rupa possible.

And my eternal comrade in this life-long battle is music.

My formative years in coupling music and depression featured artists like Elliott Smith, My Bloody Valentine, Nick Drake, Silverchair, and other similarly tragic-ladden musicians. In time, my tastes shifted and morphed into darker, more experimental electronic sounds and the slippery slope of miasmic depressive music took on a fervent toll.

I could barely gasp for air but it was intoxicating finding more aggressive, crushing music to consume. I was never satiated and the fever became so overwhelming I nearly cracked.

But then, on a late night in 2009 I stumbled onto Nujabes’ music, and my life was forever changed.

At first, the overwhelming positivity in his contributors’ lyricism grated against my angry, angst-filled void. How could I possibly continue listening to music which went against my core being?

I didn’t give up, though. With my well-trained ear for sounds and samples, I could hear and see the intricate layers to his warm, lush sampling, sounding as though no computer or human hand could’ve made those songs. Enraptured by his first album, Metaphorical Music, I dug more deeply and downloaded his entire discography, something I typically detest doing.  After playing through his discography nearly a thousand times I’m still taken aback by how fresh it continues to sound. Even now, I can re-listen to a song by him and still find a new layer or beat that I missed before.

His music kept eliciting tears from my cold, hardened disposition and I found myself becoming outwardly emotional and began gaining the courage to truly examine and understand my depression, and ultimately myself. Through him and his music I grew as a person, leveling out, and feeling calmer with the world. I found someone I fell in love with and we shared a mutual bonding experience over our deep, intense love for Nujabes while we were in Tokyo together; I fell out of that love and healed to his music; and, most importantly, I introduced Nujabes to my closest friend and confidant which strengthened our bond further and gave us another outlet to better understand this seemingly cruel world we live in.

My ardent love for Nujabes culminated into one of the few spiritual moments of my life on my 21st birthday – that day, his final posthumous album Spiritual State was released. At that moment I felt lighter than air yet immediately came crashing down into crippling devastation because I finally knew new music from him would never grace my world again. I remember leaving the apartment I was at and sat on a curb sobbing more than my heart out – I was crying for all the art which would never exist and for all the lost souls who were desperately trying to find their way.

I’d finally fallen in love with life – with its tribulations and desperation for beauty and adoration in everything surrounding us. His music reached down, took me by the hand, and drew me out of the labyrinth of darkness and misery I’d lived in for far too long.

His passing is still mourned by the music community, from his closest friends and collaborators down to us mere fans scattered across the globe. Every year they host tributes and shows for him in Tokyo and LA, and he continues to inspire artists with many, like Ta-Ku, celebrating his life by creating beats in his honor.

Jun Seba was a man who wholly supported underground producers with his label, Hydeout Productions, and always encouraged and elevated artists to be the very best they could be. He was a man of soul and love who still gently guides us all into leading beautiful lives of friendship, hope, and global camaraderie.

Rest in beats, you wonderful man. Your beats continue to lament the world and they will for the rest of time.

Maybe Nujabes touched you in the same way he grabbed me, but no matter which artist shaped your life feel free to talk about what they mean to you. Find me on Twitter and we’ll discuss away: @r_jogani