This is why I love hip hop.
Nothing, just nothing beats this.
This is why I love hip hop.
This is why I love hip hop.
Nothing, just nothing beats this.
Still struggling now that Samurai Champloo has ended – nonetheless, the beats live on.
It’s finished. The emotional rollercoaster ride of Samurai Champloo is finished.
26 episodes of perfect storytelling, amazing characters and stellar action sequences.
The connection between all 3 of these elements tie into the soundtrack however; the crispy beats from Fat Jon/Tsutchie, the energy from Force Of Nature, and the shimmering melodies from my musical hero, Nujabes.
It’s the soundtrack that reinforces the entire series – the story is grounded in the frequencies of the music, and the character’s backstories told through emotive musical cues, providing the soundtrack to those events in their life. And the fight scenes wouldn’t contain half the amount of vigor without the explosive energy of the hip hop production.
I’m going to highlight my 10 favourite tracks from across the series, which will tie into my favourite scenes as well. (SPOILER ALERT!)
Jeez, it’s going to be hard to listen back to these now that it’s all over.
10. Death Wish – Force Of Nature (from the album ‘Impression’)
The brutal feedback, the thick bass, then that HEAVY beat – this menacing track is used in the last ever episode, but for me, the impact was stronger in Mugen’s betrayal in the ‘Misguided Miscreants‘ episode. Noooooo!
[Fact - the drums are sampled from Skull Snaps 'It's A New Day' - a hip hop staple!)
9. 1st Samurai - Nujabes (from the album 'Departure')
One of those situations in the show when a laid back Nujabes track goes with a badass fight scene – but oddly, it works! It’s composition is rather strange, fluctuating between the strong downbeat opening and it’s glittery jazzy verses. Used in one of my favourite episodes, ‘Lethal Lunacy‘ – an episode that is a turning point in his reckless nature, strongly building Mugen’s character for the audience.
8. Genome – Fat Jon (from the album ‘Departure’)
I listened to this track a lot before it was introduced in the series, where it was used quite effectively in underground sermon scene in ‘Unholy Union‘. The beat is strong, but it’s the cut up vocals and harmonising strings that do it for me.
7. Nightshift – Force Of Nature (from the album ‘Impression’)
Described as what I like to call ‘the Japanese Dirty Harry theme’, it’s strong connections with the funk genre are perfect for the pirate heist scene in the aforementioned ‘Misguided Miscreants‘ episode, but even better for the totally unpredicted fight on the bridge between Jin and Sara in ‘Elegy of Entrapment pt 1′!
6. Haiku (Interlude) – Nujabes (from the album ‘Impression’)
Despite it’s short length, I personally find this one of the strongest pieces of music in the entire series – it’s used during Fuu’s flashbacks as a kid in the sunflower field with the mysterious ‘sunflower samurai’. The marriage of these dream-like sequences and this hazy disjointed beat fuse together flawlessly and really engage the audience, offering snippets of Fuu’s backstory that explain her journey, which will eventually unfold towards the end of the series.
5. Your Purpose – Fat Jon (from his album ‘Afterthought’)
Another crackin’ Fat Jon beat, and used in one of the most emotional scenes of the film – in the penultimate episode ‘Evanescent Encounter pt 2′, Mugen arrives in time to save Fuu’s life, in turn offering her a chance to run away and taking on the enemies himself. The track has a distinct ‘early Bonobo’ feel to it, with another excellent use of elegant strings and hazy vocal samples.
4. Mystline – Nujabes (from the album ‘Departure’)
The ‘emotional piano’ track that is used in many of the poignant scenes in Champloo, however, by no means is it plastered cheaply over the series. This beautifully crafted track from Nujabes is used brilliantly in the unexpected death of Shinsuke in ‘A Risky Racket‘ and even more so in Fuu’s decision to say goodbye to Jin in ‘Elegy of Entrapment pt 1′.
3. Kujaku/Transcendence – Nujabes (from the album ‘Departure’)
I live by this track. It just brightens up my day, every day. It’s shimmering piano keys just take me to another place. Despite it’s utter brilliance, it was only used majorly in one episode – the fight between Jin and in Nishimatsu in ‘Hellhounds for Hire pt 1′.
2. Counting Stars – Nujabes (from the album ‘Hydeout Productions [Second Collection]‘)
This is easily one of, if not my favourite Nujabes beat from his entire discography. Hearing it the episode ’Gamblers and Gallantry‘ - the first episode that Jin ever exposed his emotions when he fell in love with Shino, a call girl – that is when Samurai Champloo became the greatest thing I’d ever seen in my life. When the melody came in during their escape from the brothel, I just died inside. Absolutely beautiful.
1. Same Ol’ Thing – Force Of Nature (from their album ‘Force Of Nature II’)
Ugh…the final ever episode. ‘Evanescent Encounter pt 3′. The moment whenever Jin returns to battle Kariya and explains that he always fought for himself – until now. Did he fight for Fuu, knowing that he could lose his life in the process? It was never explained. But jeez…this track. I just get weak everytime I hear it. Just…sublime.
And of course we can’t forget about intro, Nujabes & Shing02 – Battlecry!
Groovy drums, funk brass, fat basslines, vintage vocal cuts – these are all common sample sources for the production of hip hop. However, an often overlooked element of the hip hop palette is the piano – an organic addition that can sound either incredibly menacing or wonderfully delicate depending on the context of the track. Either way, it can be a great element of hip hop production.
Here is my top 10 favourite uses of a piano in the world of hip hop – they do range in order, but are not strict in that sense.
Also, my good friend Adam has posted his respective top 10 piano samples on his blog, so check them out.
Here we go:
10. Live And Let Live – Souls Of Mischief
The reason this sits at number 10 is only due to it’s limited appearance – although a basic piano sample sits on top of this beat throughout, the second verse brings in this wonderfully soulful jazz piano that really shines through the fantastic production in the track.
Sample: The Loading Zone - Can I Dedicate
9. F.A.L.A. – Gang Starr
In contrast to complex piano patterns, Premo simply uses 2 jazz chords and a fragile sprinkle of high keys to provide the backdrop for this bangin’ hip hop track. As Guru states, “Suckas we wet to the sound of the dope piano…”
8. Survival Of The Fittest – Mobb Deep
A serious beat from the streets with it’s shady piano chords telling the story as much as the lyrics – one of, if not the darkest use of a piano in hip hop.
7. The World Is Yours – Nas
A classic from Nas’ debut, with a glistening piano sample that is cut up beautifully by one of my favourite producers, Pete Rock. Sampling at it’s best.
Sample: Ahmad Jamal - I Love Music
6. Keep It Real – Miilkbone
Another melancholic use of piano that is just too good. It’s been sampled a few times recently (more accurately, ripped-off), but the original piano sample is still a mystery.
5. Return Of The Crooklyn Dodgers – Crooklyn Dodgers
There’s nothing holding this track back. It’s got it all – the all-star ensemble, the dope beats, and those marvellous piano chords. Yet another classic from Premo.
Sample: Young-Holt Unlimited - Strangers in the Night
4. The Truth – Handsome Boy Modelling School
Although the sample is unaltered, the uplifting piano in this track is utterly magnificent, with the only thing improving it is the wonderful vocals provided by Roison Murphy.
Sample: Galt MacDermot - Coffee Cold
3. Up Against The Wall (Getaway Car Mix) – Group Home
Despite Group Home’s debut not having the most…impressive rapping, what definitely made it up was Premier’s ASTOUNDING production. This track reigns as one of the highlights with what I can only describe as a ‘trickle’ of piano keys over an ambient chilled out beat, sampled from another Young-Holt Unlimited number (I’ve posted the instrumental to really bring out the production)
Sample: Young-Holt Unlimited – Red Sails in the Sunset
2. Kujaku/Transcendence – Nujabes
Samurai Champloo has become my new found love this week, mostly down to the sublime soundtrack produced by Nujabes and others such as Fat Jon and Force Of Nature. This track in particular is perhaps my favourite, down it’s jittery tribal beats and most important – that beautiful sparkling piano.
Sample: Ahmad Jamal – Lament
1. Feather – Nujabes
Another Nujabes track, but hey…what can I say? To me, it’s infallible. This is pure joy expressed through a piano. Nujabes – all day, every day <3
Sample: Yusef Lateef - Love Theme From “The Robe”
D Original – Jeru The Damaja
There needed to be an avant-garde use of such a beautiful instrument somewhere, and this track excels at such. This unique form of production from Premo contains a highly dissonant piano which can only sound like someone mashing the keys with their elbows. Real sinister.
C.R.E.A.M. – Wu-Tang Clan
As Adam stated in his blog, you’d be foolish not to think of this track when it comes to piano samples. This track was in my initial Top 15, but unfortunately it didn’t make it to the finals in my eyes. Still, massive respect, big up!
Sample: The Charmels - As Long as I’ve Got You
Mathematics (Freddie Joachim Remix) – Mos Def
Another mad chill beat with some smooooooth jazz piano; a radical re-working of Premo’s original production.
Sample: Leroy Hutson – Cool Out
Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.
- Maurice Sendak
Courtesy of Mark Malazarte.