Remembering Nujabes: 10 Tokyo-based Beatmakers You Should Be Listening to Right Now
On February 26th, it will have been six years since the tragic passing of Japanese beatmaking sensation Nujabes. Born, Jun Seba, Nujabes jazzy brand of hip-hop music captured the attention of huge number of listeners. Most fans were first exposed to his music through mega popular Japanese anime Samurai Champloo in the early-2000s. Over a decade after the anime first aired on Cartoon Network's “Adult Swim” line-up, Nujabes remains one of the most beloved beatmakers in history of hip-hop. He exposed many a hip-hop fan to their first taste of Japanese flavored beat production.
I found out about Nujabes thanks to legendary Japanese rapper, Shing02, and quickly took an interest in his music. In addition to liking Nujabes, I was also a fan of other legendary Japanese producers, like DJ Honda and DJ Krush. So naturally, when I moved to Tokyo, I wanted to find more japanese beatmakers.
It took a while, but what I encountered amongst Tokyo’s near 40 million person populace, were some of the most talented producers making beats today. On almost any given week, you can find a show featuring 4 or 5 of Japan’s most prolific figures. The Tokyo beat scene is a rapidly growing, rich, and vibrant community of diverse sounds and styles. It's an immensely talented but somewhat unheralded scene. One that deserves a larger degree of notoriety and presence in the overall global hip-hop consciousness.
It would be tremendously difficult to list all the talented hip-hop producers in Tokyo and any list would undoubtedly leave many prominent artists out.
However, in celebration of Nujabes’ life and music (and in no particular order) here are 10 of the dopest beatmakers performing in Tokyo.
In the tradition of the beat making giants Pete Rock, Large Professor and DJ Premier; Bugseed makes boom-bap for hip-hop heads. He was most recently seen contributing two dope remixes on Toyko/Honolulu based emcee, Meiso’s, newest album “Rokuro”. There is no shortage of quality releases from Bugseed. He even made a previously uncredited appearance on Wiz Khalifa's song “Nameless.” By that I mean, someone appears to have straight lifted a Bugseed beat for the mixtape. I haven't checked so it may have been cleared up now, but really it serves as a reminder that Bugseed is dropping high quality jams. You can find him skateboarding around tokyo, rocking multiple shows every month and at https://bugseed.bandcamp.com/
Bugseed - Kalalou
Tokyo beat scene mainstay, you’ll find that Lidly has made music with almost every artist on this list. Constantly pushing the growth of the beat scene, you can find Lidly not only doing shows in Japan but also working with artists around the globe. Last October he was featured alongside several other Japanese beatmakers on a special 10’ vinyl release through Sichtexot. In December he released a collaboration project with GoYama called Blue Magic Tapes. Lidly has a very diverse catalog of music and all of it is, for lack of a better term, SUPER FUCKIN DOPE. Catch his jams at https://soundcloud.com/lidly
Lidly - Chair
Green Assassin Dollar
The first time I heard about Green Dollar Assassin aka DozeGAD was from someone visiting Tokyo. They said they absolutely had to see him perform. At that point I hadn't heard GAD yet but was absolutely impressed once he played. Hes performed with several notable artists including with the Black Milk tour of Japan and with Onra. Green Assassin Dollar recently accompanied Lidly, IllSugi, and Tajima Hal on a new Sichtexot 10’’. Hes also worked with several artists on this list. DozeGADs most recent album, Beats Loops and Life, is over 30 tracks of indelibly dope music. Find his work here: https://soundcloud.com/greenassassindollar
GAD - Ahead
Born and raised in Shinjuku, Budamunk has been well known by hiphop heads worldwide for over a decade. He's a prolific figure in the Japanese Hip-hop community with over 20 releases, tons of collaborations and two albums released on the prestigious Delicious Vinyl label. Recently heard on the track “Shibuya” from Canada-based beatmaker Elaquent’s new album “Worst Case Scenario”, Budamunk is constantly collaborating with the freshest artists in hip-hop. Hes currently performing with Fitz Ambro$e under the collaborative title BudaBro$e. Check out more of Budamunks expertly crafted music on his Bandcamp or SoundCloud.
Budamunk - mellowed out cruising (hazy mix)
Don't know much about Linn Mori but every time I've seen him perform he’s worn a traditional Japanese Yukata. Tremendously talented and equally friendly, Linn makes a unique and personal brand of soulful beat music. His 2014 LP, Sail to the Moon, was inspired by Hans Christian Anderson and released on Cascade Records. I'm always looking forward to new work from him. Check out Linn Mori’s SoundCloud page.
Linn Mori - ocean bed
There's not much information about Matatabi available online for English speakers. From listening to his projects, we know he has excellent taste in underground hip-hop and has worked with almost everyone in the Tokyo beat scene. Matatabi has at least 19 albums available online and is affiliated with the Hardjazz7 music crew. He's participated in several En Tokyo improv beat construction events and is usually playing an event somewhere soon. Like most of the artists on this list, the dude stays busy. Buy his whole catalog of music for super cheap at Bandcamp.
Matatabi - Walking in the Moonlight
Tajima Hal is another rising beat producer performing often in Tokyo. He too participates in the improv beat making event En Tokyo. Spending time in Europe, he was also heavily featured on the Paris based radio show Le Mellotron. Tajima began making beats in 2011 and by 2016 had already released 7 albums. Recently Tajima Hal paired with another talented Tokyo based beat maker in ΔKTR (pronounced: Actor) as the Hermit City Dwellers. Together they released a new 22-track cassette that sold out before your boy could cop one. He also just dropped a collaboration with the Cocharocheesz called Loophole in the Game. Check out Tajima Hal’s bandcamp.
Tajima Hal - detour
Aru-2 is one of my favorite dudes. One of the youngest artists on this list, he has quickly made a name for himself in the densely talented Tokyo beat scene. At 23 years old Aru already released several albums, including one with rising japanese rap talent, Kid Fresino. Last year Aru-2 released at least 3 solo projects. His newest project, “Middle F” is in collaboration with the gifted Tokyo beatsmith Cram.
Check them both out here: https://m.soundcloud.com/turbo-tape-recordings/cramxaru2-middlef
Find Aru-2 here: https://m.soundcloud.com/aru-2-1
ARU-2 - backwards decision with Kid Fresino
Pigeondust! One word. Pigeondust is absolutely brilliant when it comes to sampling. Another Tokyo beatmaker, D Dahlinger, once described Pigeondust to me as “some kind of sampling savant.” This was due to Pigeondust’s ability to recall what specific sound he wanted to add to a song, then immediately remember what record he needed to sample. With a wide variety of sound that touches electronica, hip-hop and whatever musical genre he pleases, Pigeondust is one of Tokyo's brightest talents. His album Moon, Wisdom & Slackness was released through west coast tastemaker label Cold Busted. You won't find a personal Pigeondust page on SoundCloud or Bandcamp (I haven't) but he's got several jams on YouTube and features with other artists.
Pigeondust - Stars.falling
AKA Ill Sug AKA Nasty ILL Brother Sugi AKA Nasty Brother S.U.G.I.! Definitely not to be confused with super dope Tokyo rapper Issugi. ILL SUGI beats are dusty lo-fi bangers but that demand head nods. He too has worked with several artists on this list and has a massive catalog of music. There aren't many songs on his SoundCloud but he's got a lot work on YouTube as well as features on other artists Soundcloud pages. You can also find his 2016 album with BudaMunk and his 2015 album with SF rapper Dregs on Google Play.
ILLSUGI - Osmanthus
Written By Mega of the Mega Late Show a hip-hop podcast based in Tokyo.
Check out their latest episode: Mega Late Show
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