It should be a criminal offense to host a music streaming service with Nujabes on it, but somehow not include Aruarian Dance. It’s preposterous. Hold up – I’m posting it here, now. Rip this file and add it onto the end or whatever. Come on Spotify: 

Jun Seba died in a tragic car accident 10 years ago, though given his outsized influence on the entire lo-fi study-music movement you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s still alive out there, mashing hip-hop beats, downtempo horns and R&B keys in a dreamy, soothing  production style entirely his own. The perfect Nujabes track takes place on a hot summer night, just at sunset. Heavy with nostalgia, time moves in slow motion, the moment bittersweet but alive with emotion. Close your eyes and you can see the dust particles dance in the sunlight, the sound of cars passing on the street below. There’s an aching sincerity to every bar. The entire lo-fi beat scene exists in Seba’s shadow: no one sounds like this.

‘Aruarian’ Dance’ is a perfect example of his skills. It’s airy, sweet, and bottomless. Fifteen years ago we used to sit and listen to it on repeat, soaking up the nylon-string guitar loop, the way the strings float up into the mix, the simple, insistent beat. Nothing about it is especially complex, but it doesn’t need to be. The combination of hazy nostalgia and difficult-to-place loneliness gave us a language to mourn a childhood we hadn’t even fully left. ‘Aruarian Dance’ had an emotional depth that we sensed but didn’t quite understand, and so it soundtracked whole summers of our lives. It still hits today, it’s magic.

‘Aruarian Dance’ isn’t on Spotify because Spotify is missing most of the Samurai Champloo soundtracks, the 2004 anime where Nujabes did his most influential work. Samurai Champloo – from the director of Ghost in the Shell – had a totally unique sonic and visual palette: it changed the landscape for both the anime and the beat-making scene that came afterward. Nujabes was at the forefront of the genre eventually known as Lo-fi Hip-Hop (or Chillhop), but he wasn’t alone: Fat Jon, Force of Nature, Tsutchie, Shing02, Uyama Hiroto and many more came together to form the sound. When Nujabes passed, they were many of the same artists that salvaged old projects, unfinished tracks and left-over beats from Nujabes’s phone to create Spiritual State, the posthumous Nujabes album that doubles as a farewell from his friends. That community represents an intensity of emotion, purpose and love that emerges in all of Nujabes work, from his Hydeout Productions compilations to, yes, the anime cd’s where he made his name and left his legacy. 

Nujabes clearly tapped into something, coining a sound that has endured far beyond his 36 years. Comparisons to J Dilla aren’t without their merits – but that’s an article for another time. 

Tracking down chillhop-study-beats-to-write-to online is like shooting fish in a barrel, I’ll admit that. There’s great Youtube channels for that. Trace that influence back to its source, though, and you find an emotional dude with real heart, a dedicated circle of collaborators, and an lush, unique sound. It’s so much more than study music. So this week’s Reading Break is for Jun Seba: it’s an exploration of his sound, his many collaborators, and a small selection of the admirers that have sprung up in his wake. There are of course some surprises, too.

Now go watch Samurai Champloo. ❤ 

Coming up next week: Space Camp!