For me, it’s rare that an artist’s entire back catalogue, spanning over a decade, can conjure up the nostalgia and emotions accompanying a certain period in my life so perfectly that it suddenly feels like I’ve traveled back in time, just to live it all over again. When I do find an artist like this, though, I hold on tightly—always keep these treasures close. Nujabes, or, more formally, the late Jun Seba (Nujabes spelled backwards) was the mastermind behind this incredibly emotive, powerful form of art, blessed with the ability to completely whisk you away and settle your nerves, regardless of what you’re feeling, and today, I am offering up his persisting spirit to you.
I was first introduced to Nujabes’ beautifully infectious combination of smooth jazz and hip-hop late one night in my dorm room as a remedy for my ever-increasing stress as finals approached. My good friend popped on “Horizon” off of the album Modal Soul and I was immediately sold. A calmness swept over me as the light, delicate piano lines bubbled and blended with the beat, like liquid. This was music for the night, for those like myself who wouldn’t be sleeping anytime soon, but that was okay with me. There was an ethereal sense of comfort radiating from my computer speakers, characterized by soft melodies and rolling beats, and this continued into the wee hours of the morning—until the black had come and gone and the birds were alive and well once again, singing.
Even in the sunlight, the spirit of Nujabes naturally came to occupy my soul. Amazing, underappreciated emcees were featured all across the three full-length albums, and their thoughts complementing Seba’s instrumentals were always a perfect backdrop to my walks around campus. I could wander for hours listening to Pase Rock ask “Do you not see the signs?” Or I could hear Cise Star float up into the atmosphere, “touching on the face of God.” I cherished these albums, for they always brought peace even in the toughest of times, and I will continue listening to them into the final days of my life.
They say the good die young, unfortunately, and to my great sadness, Nujabes must forever occupy this criminally all-too-often recited maxim. A fateful car crash stole him from us at age 36, just a few months before his third full length, Spiritual State, was set to release, leaving us to never know just how high this man would have soared. Initially a record dropping at the peak of Jun’s career, it now serves as his goodbye to this world—a glimpse into the mind of a true master of his craft, mere days before his passing. After hearing the final cadence of Spiritual State conclude and echo off into the ether, though, I can know for sure that wherever his soul rests and his melody sings, there is peace.