Hyde-Out Productions, 2005
Seba Jun (AKA Nujabes) had a knack for creating compositions coated in mystical melody. His unique approach to hip-hop conveyed a sense of inner-self, life, happiness and love wrapped in airy tones of strings, bouncing piano progressions and heavenly cuts that resembled the clearest sense of hope. By swirling jazz cuts into nostalgic swells, Nujabes poured his heart into his projects and let us view life through his music–remembrance, long lost memories and the past grappled his work. So when he tragically passed away in 2010, it made his music that much more emotionally latching.
His follow-up album to his fantastic debut Metaphorical Music is called Modal Soul, and in 2005 it presented some of hip-hop’s core values to a razor thin point: love, compassion, collaboration and understanding. What’s immediately stunning about Modal Soul is that it combines atmospheric feeling of echoing synths and gliding orchestra movements with jazz-like percussion cuts. Almost as if he planned it, Modal Soul is a tribute to hip-hop’s history; Nujabes blends the technical and musical innovation of the 00s and interweaves it with the one love collaboration of the 80s and 90s.
“The Sign” paces itself with birds chirping and small tapping on the concrete, as if guest MC Pase Rock is making his entrance. Light shakers add to the sunny mood, and then cymbal rides and stumbling bass riffs bring everything full-circle. Over this, Pase Rock preaches to us, the listener, the hip-hop world. He makes us think internally, and together with Nujabes’ bouncing production, we are forced to think: “Time is not a nice person. I know because the sign said it. Time can be generous but ultimately time is indifferent. Time does not give two damns or a fuck. So what will you do? What will we do?”
On the record’s opening track “Feather,” Nujabes twiddles with high-reaching piano chords and a rhythmic beat that keeps up musically but ultimately redirects us to Cise Starr and Akin’s verses. On Cise Starr’s first verse, he acknowledges media deception and how to stay positive while showcasing the sheer power of smart hip-hop by dropping Of Mice and Men and Flowers for Algernon references: “Seeing the headlines lined with discord/ It’s either genocide or the planet in uproar/ Never good, but rules of paradise are never nice/ The best laid plans of Mice and Men are never right/ I’m just a Vagabond with Flowers for Algernon/ The Average Joe who knows what the fuck is going on”
Modal Soul is successful in that it ties up the efficient understanding of hope. The musical range is expansive, but at the same time you know that what you’re getting are rays of sun and everlasting love from the heart. “Reflection Eternal” might best exemplify this, as it drifts in and out of consciousness, with a melody that slowly reaches the surface and reveals itself in clear blue water in front of an island paradise. “Flowers” dances to the best of its abilities like a Dilla beat, and its chaotic nature is foreboding at first, but it soon transitions into an uplifting anthem that keeps your head up. “Light on the Land” echoes and pulsates like a track that would close out a nightclub, with a feel that personally sets the sun and ushers in the cool and calm of the night. “Luv (Sic) Part 3” features Japanese MC Shing02, and while rapping in English, he reinforces Nujabes’ uplifting production with a line to remember: “It’s funny how the music put times in perspective/ Add a soundtrack to your life and perfect it/ Whenever you are feeling blue keep walking and we can get far/ Wherever you are”
Nujabes may not be physically with us anymore, but through his music, his legacy and lust for life lives on. Modal Soul is just one example of the inner-workings of his mind and heart, but in any case it’s a chance for fans to reconnect with Nujabes on a spiritual level. We all need a push sometimes, and if anything, Modal Soul is a surefire way to get started.
The music of the late producer Nujabes is something to hold onto and never let go. His second record, Modal Soul, begins with the middle-paced drum beat and piano riff of “Feather” that has the feel of a smooth summer morning. These are summer mornings when the birds are out, singing their songs, celebrating the beauty of the day. Warm sunlight creeps through the blinds as a cool breeze floats in from the window that is half open. This is the type of day that makes one reflect on the highs and lows of life and this record does the same. In short, Modal Soul is beautiful.
Much of this album is an instrumental treasure that shows us the mind of Nujabes. The brilliance of this record is that it quickly transitions from one mood to the next, encompassing a wide range of musical styles and colors. There are songs with an upbeat soul feel such as “Ordinary Joe.” There are also moments that are infused with bop influenced sounds. This can be heard on “Music Is Mine” and “The Sign.” There are moments of pure bangin’ hip-hop on “Thank You” complete with the cutting flow of Apani B. While attempting to put each song into a category based on sound, this becomes difficult as Nujabes has created his own style of music that draws from many different places and influences. With Modal Soul, Nujabes has been able to create something that is all his own.
On Modal Soul it’s as if you can hear Nujabes speaking to the audience through his music. He was feeling a certain way when he made each track and that comes crashing through in each song. There are moments of pure bliss and also times where it feels that tears are necessary. Nujabes has created something that is hard to categorize due to the range of emotion, musicality and purpose that clearly went into each individual track. The beauty in this record is that Nujabes was speaking from the heart.