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J Dilla & Nujabes - Legends of Hip-Hop

On the anniversary of Hip-Hop pioneer Nujabes' death, Omar El Sabh pays tribute to him and his American counterpart J Dilla and their contributions to the evolution of Hip-Hop.

In so many aspects, living in today's hyper-inflated world does not give adequate attention to those inspiring people who have done great things for humanity over the course of their lifetime. Some refer to the age-old maxim ‘history is written by the victors,’ illustrating that what’s really missed in history or culture is whitewashed by those who claimed the official narrative at the end of the day, whether that person, force or country, was good or evil.

I don’t like to talk about the mainstream/underground binary a lot because nowadays both intermingle too much (due to the beautiful gift that is the Internet) and that’s not the point I’m trying to communicate anyway. I simply notice that some things make more noise than others (I.e. Kim’s ass or an album by Taylor Swift) and that’s absolutely fine, but for me, those who can talk about whatever genuinely inspires them should, because things that matter get lost so easily.

So today I’m picking a subject in musical history and attempting to give it a little more weight in my own societal microcosm; that of progressive hip-hop, specifically the fallen legends that are Nujabes and J-Dilla. I’ve waited until Nujabes’ date of passing came (February 26th) to write this because the month of February has mystically and symbolically become a month of mourning to those who know the story of these beasts of Hip-Hop.

Who knew that on the 7th of February, the world was being handed a gift that would inspire generations of artists and Hip-Hop lovers for years to come? On that day two people were being born on two sides of the globe, Nujabes (Real name: Seba Jun) in Japan and J-Dilla (Real name: James Dewitt Yancey) in Detroit. Both Dilla and Nujabes had absolutely no connection to each other for as long as they lived and yet created a unified force to be reckoned with when it came to production, sampling and overall Hip-Hop aesthetic. Whilst Hip-Hop was still in it’s infancy in the early 70s and 80s, these two were working on creating a unique style that fused innovation with classical sounding rhythms and sampled elements that quite literally leave you in a state of awe when savouring their works.

Nujabes was best known for the way he created beats, the mix of jazz influences in his tracks form this nostalgic, atmospheric sound- all you anime fans know Samurai Champloo right? Well Nujabes contributed most prolifically to the soundtracks of the fabled series.

I have a hard time explaining Dilla’s music so I’m simply going to mention the tracks he put his signature on and leave you to make your own conclusions: the Pharcyde's Runnin', De La Soul's Stakes is High, and Tribe's Stressed Out - Enough said?  NPR said that Dilla was “one of the music industry’s most influential Hip-Hop artists,” and Dave Chappelle dedicated the movie Dave Chappelle’s bloc party to Dilla, among countless other honourable mentions.

Not only would their works stay bound in a genre like nexus, but their deaths are also linked in this fortuitous Hip-Hop plane. That plane is specifically all about progressive Hip-Hop.

So what is progressive Hip-Hop? Well anything progressive equals progress. It’s about moving forward in musical style and genre, not allowing the genre to constrain the way you produce but rather guiding you along the path to innovation and novelty. In that sense both artists were progressive because they pushed the boundaries of Hip-Hop like no one else at their time (none that we know of at least).

Nujabes died on the 26th of February in a car crash in Japan in 2010, just four years after Dilla had passed away from lupus on the 10th of February 2006.

So to me, February is a month where not only I was first introduced to both artists but also a month that’s etched in the memories of those who truly appreciate these two. 

Rest in beats, guys.


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