Modern life proves to be complex and tumultuous. The multitude of invented constructs governing the way humans behave and think seem to lack real significance; in turn, our experience often feels invented, as if we were cast from an early age into a perpetual dream of doubt and confusion. This sense of depersonalization conjures an intense feeling that we are merely a spectator to the spectacle of human affairs.
At the crux of it all lays technology: transporting us rapidly, extending us access to a plethora of information, and increasing our life span. But at the same time, technology has made systems more intricate, increased what’s expected of us twentyfold, and, for the most part, weakened ties amongst us.
And while modern life perpetually becomes surreal, we desperately search for clarity in art, especially music. However, many contemporary songs offer little to no answers; they often don’t relate to our experiences and merely add to our understanding that the predominant culture in our society is one of frivolity.
The genre of hip hop is no exception.
At its best, hip hop gives a voice to the voiceless, is a showcase of ingenuity through fluidity, and elucidates our emotions from our daily motions. But at its worst, hip hop is “prosecution evidence, the out of court settlement, ad space for liquor … violently competitive, a school unaccredited, sold beneath the crack spot, Olympic sponsor of the black glock, gold medalist in the back shot” [Mos Def, Hip Hop].
In the face of this lurid dichotomy, hip hop artists face a serious choice. Do they choose a dialogue that promotes misogyny, alcohol consumption, and drug use, or do they decide to revive the positive elements of hip hop culture fostered by its originators?
I believe that much can be learned from Japanese hip hop producer and DJ Jun Seba, also known by his stage name Nujabes. Exhibiting a consummate understanding of the modern spirit, Nujabes’ music conjures deep emotional responses from his listeners through songs that create an atmosphere of nostalgia and repose.
As a master of anachronism, Nujabes eloquently sampled elements of music from previous generations, but updated them in a way that enhances our understanding of modern life. Sampling mainly Jazz, Nujabes created an atmosphere of distant familiarity by drawing upon a vague memory of similar tunes; this atmosphere evokes a sensation of tranquility. Listeners will most likely find themselves engulfed in the beauty of the memories they conjure, and may displace from reality for a moment. However, the subtly quick tempo serves as a reminder that time is an unending current.
Nevertheless, rappers featured in Nujabes’ songs employ a dialogue that illustrates their life experiences and the various emotions that those experiences have garnered. These ideas in conjunction with the surreal atmosphere established by Nujabes’ beats evoke vivid memories which displace listeners from their current reality. This experience offers us the ability to see our world for what it truly is, invented.
Furthermore, rappers featured in Nujabes’ works often rap in a cypher. This method of expression instills in listeners a sense of urgency about the understanding and acceptance of their ideas; while the origin of this feeling may be attributed to a variety of factors, the rappers featured in Nujabes’ works do exhibit a deep understanding that both their art form and the predominant social culture of American society face serious moral decay.
In essence, Nujabes offers us a clear perspective. He evokes the notion that much of our experience is merely a creation of our minds. His music calls into question the edifices upon which so many of us steadfastly adhere to, but puts it into context; most of our experience may very well be made up, but beauty still exists everywhere and always. Just appreciate it when you see it.
It is my deepest sorrow to tell you that Jun Seba died February 26, 2010 from a car accident. Although I can’t even come close to describing his musical talents, I hope that this article is an adequate tribute to Jun Seba and puts into context the world in which he was producing music.
For those interested, I would recommend listening to his albums “Metaphorical Music” and “Modal Soul.” They embody everything discussed in this article and more.
May Nujabes rest in peace.
By: Jeremy Lash
(Photo by koma (indo) under a Creative Commons License)