'Still talking to you' Nujabes (Hydeout Productions, First Collection, 2003)

Soul-searching

ˈsəʊlsəːtʃɪŋ/

noun

  1. 1.

    deep and anxious consideration of one's emotions and motives or of the correctness of a course of action.

    "my conclusions required a great deal of soul-searching"

adjective

  1. 1.

    involving or expressing deep and anxious consideration of one's emotions or motives.

    "after a long, soul-searching conversation, they were finally reconciled"

 

(The above definition came up unintentionally, but it’s nice; so let’s keep it here).

When listening to a playlist, rather than an album of Soul Searching on YT one song title soon became another and then another and yet another as I wrote down the names of songs that stopped me. The first on that list though is ‘Still talking to you’.

What Nujabes can teach us, those of us who want to hear it (and there seems to be a veritable army out there) is the value of sound as texture. Here we find the jazz-hip-hop nexus in its purest, most intelligent form. Often I feel like some kind of quixotic figure battling windmills, ie my own points of irritation and it’s true the whole hip-hop sampling jazz bothers me on some level, as even though I’d never profess to be some kind of guru, jazz, it seems to me, can’t just be spliced up because ‘it sounds cool’ the essence of the genre depends on the way the elements work together, interweave, come forward and recede.

Nujabe gets this, of course. Listen to this amazing piece of music and in particular the way he uses the various sounds together – at the same time – encouraging us to make connections because of the sound’s like, unlike texture. The layering effect is so similar to the way jazz musicians feel their different parts within the whole (allowing their points of individualism, their personality to come through without overshadowing the contributions of the others).

And Nujabes throws in another wonderful element to the mix, often in this track it sounds like he’s scratching, but again he plays with this common trope in hip-hop that usually works as just another sample and is seen to be separate from the rest: he scratches across all the elements over an extended period of time, again to add texture, a kind of under-current.

From about 1’57” - precise, hey? - it’s pure magic, especially around 2 mins where there is this jagged, repeated effect (playing with the beat) and then from 2’20 it’s a truly beautiful play between the elements where they build but don’t resolve until about thirty seconds later. I’d love to have this part on loop, just this to be played in my ears as I go about my daily business. There’s nothing better. And then to close the exposed heartbeat of the drums.

Yes, there is a sweet piano sample. It’s pretty. But what is interesting and smart about this music is the way it enacts, it seems to me, the jazz aesthetic rather than simply sampling it; and all in an understated, highly modest way.

A lesser producer would have been tempted to play all of this for effect, to work on deepening the contrast to make it more obvious. Nujabes doesn’t and this is why I respect his work, even though to be honest at the beginning I was a bit sceptical, thinking it was the ‘easy listening’ lounge thing that I find a bit empty, but in fact it's the total opposite. It's full of feeling.