When word spread yesterday that beloved Japanese DJ/producer Nujabes was killed in a car accident in late February, fans were stunned. Followers of hip-hop and DJ culture mourned the loss of an artist who had a knack for twisting together one sophisticated track after the next and the founder of acclaimed label Hydeout Productions. Meanwhile, anime viewers across the globe will remember him for his work with Samurai Champloo.
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Originally released in 2004 in Japan, Samurai Champloo was director Shinichiro Watanabe's follow-up to the wildly successful series Cowboy Bebop. As with his landmark anime, Watanabe would continue his cross-genre mash-up, fusing animation and storytelling with an unexpected style of music. But where Cowboy Bebop was a jazz-infused space western, the director took a different direction for his follow-up. Samurai Champloo was set in Edo period Japan and told the story of three wanderers, one of whom was a ronin, but used hip-hop as the basis for its score. More than just a simple backdrop for the series, hip-hop became a defining element of Samurai Champloo. In some ways, it set the stage for the release of Afro Samurai roughly three years later.
Nujabes was one of several hip-hop artists to collaborate on the series' music and his work was heavily featured throughout Samurai Champloo's twenty-six episode run. Amongst his contributions was the show's opening theme "Battlecry," featuring rapper Shing02, and the major closing theme "Song of Four Seasons," with Japanese singer Minmi on vocals, as well as much of the score. Along with Fat John, he produced much of the album, Samurai Champloo Music Record: Departure.