We all know I’m a big fan of Nujabes. He wrote very chill, jazz-influenced instrumental hip-hop tracks (occasionally he’d collaborate with other artists to have vocals), with little not to like about them. I consider this type of music to be one of the most accessible forms of hip-hop, and in so much as I’d like people to broaden their horizons in music, I’m going to share some artists that are loosely similar to Nujabes.
It should be noted, for those who were not aware, that Nujabes died in early 2010 in a car crash. It is thus important to understand that there are many artists who came after him that do not really improve upon his sound — they just copy it. I’m going to do my best to provide artists who bring something new to the table. And if you want to hear Nujabes, listen to Nujabes.
tsunenori. Make no mistake. You know and I know that tsunenori is not a complicated artist. He uses flowing piano lines in basically every track, often employs the dreaded “string section,” and in the tracks that do involve vocals, the lyrics are nothing to write home about. The thing is, most instrumental hip-hop is about enhancing a mood (usually a relaxed, contented mood), and I believe tsunenori is very good at doing this. The track that got me into him was Re:Floral Clock. It’s a very relaxing song, and one of those tracks you can listen to repeatedly without it getting old. This is a trait you’ll find often in this genre. The place I think tsunenori really shines is his rapper collaborations. Close Your Eyes feat. Azzie is probably one of his most memorable, and Believe That feat. Pismo is also good. These tracks share an upbeat theme, with an R&B-esque sound. It doesn’t hurt to have some positive music in your library. One last comment from me is that incidentally, all three of these tracks are off the same album. I haven’t heard the whole thing yet, myself, but I’ll bet it’s quite a ride.
Kondor. The thing Kondor does that I often notice is employ very audible basslines. It makes for bouncier tracks. You can hear what I’m talking about on Bridge over the stars. I think it is perhaps the case that other artists either treat the bass as an afterthought, or potentially don’t use it at all. Kondor is from Poland, but I can hear a lot of Japanese influence in his tracks (both from Nujabes and otherwise). In Breath of Spring, his string parts have a very Asian-sounding vibrato to them (I don’t recall the name of the instrument that does this). Again, you can clearly hear the bass, and his drums appear to be at a higher volume than the norm for this genre. Another recommendation I’ll throw in is Talking To Spirit.
Flying Lotus. I’m making a significant divergence from “the Nujabes sound” in order to bring up FlyLo, but it’s silly to have a post about instrumental hip-hop without mentioning one of its most innovative artists. FlyLo is somewhat experimental, and you’ll pick that up as you go through his tracks. One of my longtime favorites is Camel. His percussion and samples are so strange, but the track has got a great groove, and really turns those unusual sounds into an enjoyable experience. I consider it to be quite unique. He’s got another strong track with a kind of middle-eastern feel to it, called GNG BNG. If you don’t enjoy either of those two, Flying Lotus is probably not for you. For those still interested, he has a lot of variety in his tracks. I could go through all of his albums, but I think it’d be better to just suggest Zodiac Shit as a teaser, and mention also that he has founded a record label named Brainfeeder, which signs numerous artists that employ similar techniques and sounds as FlyLo, if you’re hooked.
Onra. Continuing the journey away from Nujabes-esque music, I’m going to talk about a French artist I was recently introduced to, Onra. Like Flying Lotus, Onra has a diverse set of influences in his music, and it would be hard to characterize them all in one paragraph. For one thing (and perhaps I’m contaminated by knowing he is French from the onset), I can hear some sounds in his music that I feel are distinctly French. Songs like Come Closer have a Daft Punk vibe to them that I can’t shake off. I hear some Asian stuff, like The Vallee Of Love. And he’s got songs that are combinations of all kinds of things, like Ms. Ho. Overall, he is a very solid artist.
Damu the Fudgemunk. (I don’t even know, man) Damu makes what I would consider to be “classical” instrumental hip-hop. As seen in tracks such as How It Should Sound, his style is in line with 90’s hip-hop. It’s “American,” to say the least. My point is that if you’re at the stage where you really enjoy Damu’s music, that’s about the point in which you’d probably also enjoy lyrical hip-hop with the same general beats. Another good one is Straight From the Harp. His production has a lo-fi aesthetic to it. The drums seem distorted, and especially on tracks like Brooklyn Flower
There are some artists I left out of this post — namely J Dilla — but I think they warrant more specific attention in other future posts. Perhaps you will encounter them on your own, as you listen to more hip-hop.