Shambletracks: Lay it down, Nujabes

I feel like I’m going to be nothing but a disappointment after yesterday’s barnstormer of a review, courtesy of Shamblepal Zac – if you missed it, check out his beautiful homage to Mark Ronson’s funkathon here.

But, alas, what holds for life also holds for the musical section of shambolic comedy podcasts: the show must go on. Like a beaten-up, one legged tortoise next to a particularly spritely and beautiful hare, who has defied convention to win the race, steal my wife and alienate my kids, I’ll plod towards the audio finish line with my pick for today: one of Japan’s finest hip-hop exports, Nujabes.

If the name’s not immediately familiar to you, I only discovered Mr Jabes – real name Jun Seba – through the cracking anime series Samurai Champloo. It’s the tale of homeless sword-swisher Mugen, Jin, a calm but sarcastic ronin, and Fuu, a young lady slightly hopelessly searching for a florally perfumed Samurai (literally the fulcrum of the plot). Though it’s set in Edo-era Japan – a time of long robes, wooden sandals, cowering peasants, wicked feudal lords and kickass sword-fighting – the soundtrack is all frenetic, jazzed-up hip-hop produced by Nujabes.

The result is that every clash of swords is punctuated by a shuffling beat, every quip by the twang of a syncopated bassline, every beautifully drawn sunset by a soulful lament. It’s gorgeous stuff. Highlights of the two Samurai Champloo soundtrack LPs include Aurarian Dance, an instrumental that borrows an old Spanish guitar song, complete with orchestral backing, and Shiki No Uta, a seedy funk ballad with vocals from Japanese soca singer Minmi.

Nujabes released five stunning albums, alongside a host of EPs, singles and collaborations with rappers and DJs. Devastatingly, however, his last album Spiritual State was released posthumously: on February 26th 2010, Seba was killed in a car accident at the Shuto Expressway in Tokyo.

Even since then, both Spiritual State and its predecessor Modal Soul are considered two of the finest hip-hop albums ever made, and still attract thousands of new young fans and admirers. Nujabes’ undeniable talent was for pairing scattered, heavy hip-hop beats with a myriad instrumental samples, which in his hands and through some weird alchemy were stitched together to create amazing new hybrids.

Feather, the track I’ve picked out today, is one of the few that featured rappers before the numerous re-releases that followed Seba’s death. Florida hip-hop outfit CLYNE and long-time collaborator Cisse Star alternate verses and choruses, their relaxed and slick words taking in nods to John Steinbeck, Flowers for Algernon and Don McLean’s American Pie. It’s all borne from a single piano lick, split up and cut back together, slowly joined by a growing backing of booming horns. It’s stunning stuff, and well worth a listen even if you’re not a huge hip-hop or rap fan. Chekkit.

Paddy returns tomorrow! Till next time, beloved Shambles,

L-Dwag 9000, owner of nubz and slayer of DARGONZ x

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