Nujabes: The Best Sampler Producer You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of
So as always, Refined Hype’s question of the week—this weeks is Who’s the Best Sample Producer in Hip-Hop History?— we have some really great answers; y’all are some real hip-hop heads. My favorite answer far and away was Nujabes, mentioned by AirMagicMamba and Tino. No joke, since I started writing here I have been waiting for a chance to write about Nujabes and I guess now is as good a time as ever. While he might not be a chart-topper or on the level of Dilla, Blaze, or West, Nujabes is definitely a legend among the underground community, but I think he isn’t as popular in America because he is a Japanese producer. If any of you are into anime and have seen Samurai Champloo, Nujabes is responsible for much of the music in the series. His unique style, blending hip-hop with a heavy jazz influence, is truly unlike anyone else, and it is really what makes him a legend. Sadly, he died in a car crash in 2010, so we haven’t had anything new, but he left behind a dense, wonderful catalog for us to enjoy.
The thing that makes Nujabes so unique, and beloved by those that are familiar with him is the way he perfectly blends hip-hop and jazz to create an emotional, atmospheric sound; I think Tino said it best in the comments, “What Dilla was to soul sample Nujabes was to Jazz samples.” What always blows me away is how layered and intricate Nujabes’ beats are. He draws from so many different elements and laces them together effortlessly. You can listen to the same song over and over and hear something different that you didn’t notice before. Still, while the beats are delicate and complex, it sounds so easy and simple. Take “Peaceland” for example, there are so many little wrinkles that it really takes a few listens to grab ‘em all and while the smooth horn section might be the base, there are so many more layers that make the song so effective.
While “Peaceland” is dope, it doesn’t exactly scream sample, so let me show you two examples of Nujabes’ chopping chops. First, "Counting Stars" (one of his most renown cuts), is heavily based on Jose Feliciano’s “Affirmation”. Nujabes takes the cut and gives it a hip-hop makeover, placing the riff atop a shrouded snare and giving it that distinct ambient sound with some winding synths. He even includes another sample— I can’t put my finger on it—that really gives the song that extra layer. Perhaps one of his most sample heavy cuts is “World's End Rhapsody”, where the sample, “Betcha If You Check It Out” from The Quadraphonics, is jumping off point. While the stretched sample drives the song, the dope instrumental sections are what make it special; specifically the piano section in the middle. This song is truly a jazz number in the sense that there are several instrumental “solos” all placed over one constant, unchanging basis; in this case the Quadraphonics sample.
In addition to giving us a incredible library of jazz cuts, I will always be grateful for Nujabes for something else. If it weren’t for him, I would have never heard of the hip-hop group CYNE, specifically Cise Starr, who is in my top 10 emcees of all time. Nujabes worked with the likes of CL Smooth and Substantial, but the songs he did with Cise Starr are a notch above the rest. I’ll leave you with “Feather” (there is so much emotion in this song), but I beg you, do some digging on Nujabes, the dude was truly one of a kind and while he might be gone, he already made a lifetime of powerful, wonderful music.