I made “To Nujabes,” during a time when I was preparing what would have been my first official album. One day I received some messages through the Musical Schizophrenia forum and the next thing I knew, I had an e-mail in my inbox from an A&R asking me to prepare a 10-track album for Japan. The plan was that it would be released online and in stores as my debut album. Finally! This was an exciting time for me, but there were a few realities I would learn about soon.
Immediately, I knew that I wanted to do something with piano samples like I did with Autumn Colors, but I also wanted to include a few tracks that I considered my own trademark sound. Tracks such as “Listen To Me”, “When I”, or “Not Now”. The label let me know that they liked my beats, but they were looking for tracks that were catering towards a newer Japanese hip hop sound that Nujabes had popularized over the last few years.
My goal from day one was always to make records in Japan so I knew Nujabes like the back of my hand. I literally listened to Nujabes everyday around 2004-05. Years later when I was teaching myself how to make beats, sometimes I would hope about being signed to Hydeout. It was a long shot but that was one of my personal motivations. I even sent Nujabes a message in full Japanese that I doubt he could understand, talking about my goals of working on hip hop in Japan and asking if I could send him a beat tape. His style is one of the trademark styles in hip hop that has influenced me and helped me to improve as a beat maker.
The label told me they were looking for tracks similar to the ones I made for Autumn Colors because they felt that it would do well with a Japanese audience – but they also firmly said no to anything with a soulful sound. This bothered me. Although the A&R I was communicating with liked soul beats and said I could do something with soul samples in USA, he simply said it would never happen in Japan. I was basically told in so many words to “make an album that sounds like Nujabes.” The label was small, didn’t want to take any risks, and they wouldn’t listen to or consider anything else.
I honestly don’t mind being compared to Nujabes because what am I supposed to say? That is a compliment to me. On the other hand, I believe in trying to be creative. Thinking about it, I could see where the A&R was coming from. The label wasn’t looking for anything other than that popular Nujabes sound because everything else was a risk; the market was already too small and people were looking for that kind of sound. I was then faced with the decision of putting out an album independently that could be everything I imagined or being flexible and releasing an official album with an already established label. There were a lot of pros and cons. Everyone around me told me to just release the album according to what the label wanted and take the opportunity. What I learned is that when dealing with labels you do not have 100% freedom in your decisions – everyone knows that. I was just naive and thought that maybe I could convince them to take a risk with me using a different sound.
Anyways, after a little bit of back and forth I decided that I would just produce a similar sound in style and character (mellow, calming, smooth, etc.) so that it would fit with what the label wanted, but I would use my own production techniques to differentiate myself as a beat maker so I could at least sleep at night. The last thing I wanted was for someone to hear my first album and say that I was biting Nujabes – a producer I looked up to for years and learned a lot from.
The title of the album was 俺の人生は（MY LIFE IS）. Everything was almost done and I was going through samples for the last tracks. I wanted to sample something with real feeling and emotion, so for this particular track I looked to video game piano samples. A friend I met at work who I will call “G” for his privacy owns every RPG known to man since the beginning of time and I told him that I needed some piano samples. RPG’s always have the best piano music themes so he said he’d help me out. That same week he dropped off about 5 CDs of nothing but RPG piano samples. I asked the right person! I went through every single track looking for just the right sample and the funny thing is, I ended up picking something that wasn’t even part of those CD’s. It was from Final Fantasy 13, a new RPG that had just been released in Japan at that time.
During the production for 俺の人生は（MY LIFE IS）, I had a thought to myself “What if I make this album and it becomes popular and somehow Nujabes actually hears it?” The label did tell me the album would be released in every major Tower Records store in Tokyo, so it wasn’t impossible that he might hear it one day. I played with the idea of literally naming it “ja ne (to nujabes)” with his name attached to the title instead of its original name, “ja ne.” I was hoping that somehow Nujabes would hear the track and realize that it was paying homage to him because of the title, using his style and mine together, but after a little bit of thinking I realized that naming the track that way was probably not a good idea for legal reasons. I ended up just naming the track “ja ne.” Now that I think about it, I realize that my choice for a title at that time is a scary coincidence.
If you listen to the style on the track, I did a few things on purpose. Listen to any of my Autumn Colors beats or anything I made during those days and you can count on one hand the number of times I have ever used a break. I have always used individual drum hits (even when it sounded like a break) because I was going for a certain sound. Yet, for this track I purposely used a break because I know that is a part of what defined Nujabes’ sound. I also made an effort to progress the track and focus a little more on arrangement and harmonies than I normally do. Yet, you can still hear elements of my own techniques as well. I knew that people would say that this beat “sounds like Nujabes,” but I didn’t care because that was the point. It was my way of showing him respect, paying homage by showing what I learned from him over the years, but merging it with my own style and techniques as well.
As for the production, I actually made 4 or 5 different variations before I settled on the final version. I remember being really tired, sitting at the computer for a long time and questioning my ability as a beat maker, wondering if I was just somehow getting by and all kinds of random thoughts. One of the rules I have made about making beats is to never force a track but for this one I did. I didn’t stop until something came out of it that I could genuinely appreciate. I could have stopped at the first beat, the second, the third, but I kept on going saying to myself “This is not enough.” To let the readers at The Word Is Bond hear for themselves the transformation the sample took, I will actually reveal what I sampled:
And here is my version:
The album 俺の人生は（MY LIFE IS）never materialized, so I basically had this track that was important to me that nobody ever knew about except for a few close friends. Then the day came when I heard the news about what happened to Nujabes. After hearing the news, I was up all night full of grief and sadness. It kept hitting me in waves because I would reflect back on the years I would look up to Nujabes, practicing and learning by listening to his beats early on, trying to reach his level. It was then that I decided to release this track. It doesn’t make sense to some people, but at those times you want to feel like you can actually do something.
Some people ask me how my tribute came out so fast. The reason is as I have written. I had already made a track weeks before paying homage in my own way to Nujabes for what would have been my first official album in Japan. I wanted to show my respect to him in that way. I am not the type of person to wait to show my appreciation for someone until it is too late, so I never intended to release a tribute in the first place. I wanted to release a homage, and even then, only a really careful listener would have noticed what I was doing. In a way, releasing the track as a tribute was my own form of therapy and I had hoped that it would help others as well, even if it was not released as I would have liked it to be.
R.I.P. Jun Seba
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