Nujabes, [adult swim], and Cowboy Bebop: How anime influenced my music taste as a kid

Have you ever found yourself watching a movie or listening to music and wondering how your tastes got to be what they are today? I enjoy mapping out my own taste-makers in my head: it’s fun to think about how one thing I liked as a kid would kick-start a full investigation into a new genre, a new niche, a new world.

I’ve been listening to a lot more new music lately – well, new to me, anyways. My desk job graciously allows me to listen to music as I work, so I’ve been seeking out more things to fill those eight hours with. I’ve been listening to lots of atmospheric stuff, lots of hip-hop and jazz, and lots of Japanese noise rock and J-pop influenced artists.

One day, I found myself wondering, “what makes me gravitate towards this type of music?” Most of my teenage music taste consisted of emo and scene kid music – stuff that I mostly can’t stand anymore. Where did this blossoming urge to listen to completely different music come from?

And then it hit me. So much of my current music taste has been greatly influenced by the anime I watched as a young kid.

serial experiments lain music yoshitoshi abe
Real picture of me, age 10, discovering the world of anime music. No, it’s not Lain, it’s me

The J-Pop connection is pretty obvious – anime openings and endings would naturally open up a door to Japanese music for me. But developing an interest in hip-hop and jazzier stuff because of anime is a little more surprising, right? It actually feels kind of lame to admit something like, “I realized I liked hip-hop because of anime,” but what other entry point would a ten-year-old white girl conceivably have? Other than, like, hearing “Hot In Herre” or “Love In This Club” at the rec center dances.

My parents were into metal music and alternative – not that there’s anything wrong with that, but a lot of it didn’t quite gel with me. I wanted to find my own music taste and develop my own lane.

Which is funny, because now that I’m older, I can see how much my parents’ tastes continue to influence my own – it’s worth noting that they’re the ones who introduced me to Cowboy Bebop and its soundtrack when I was only about eight or nine. This, of course, fostered a love of jazz-influenced music, as well as a love for music box covers thanks to all the music box reprisals of songs throughout the series.

At that point in time, I was ravenously watching every anime I could get my stubby little kid hands on. If it was on YouTube or Veoh (does that still exist?), I would watch it…which wasn’t great, since I was finding a lot of ecchi shit that was not for my pre-teen eyes. I remember the day I found out about yaoi – I didn’t know that “delete history” was a thing at the time so I got in a lot of trouble with my dad after multiple “Roxas x Axel” searches yielded 18+ results. Maybe I didn’t need to tell you that but oh well

[adult swim] bump image, circa 2005.

Eventually I realized that [adult swim] played anime, and so I gravitated towards that. When everyone was sleeping, I would sneak out and wait patiently for Rurouni Kenshin to come on. When it was Squidbillies or Robot Chicken, I would sneak in a little 3 a.m. nap and wait for it to circle back to Detective Conan.

Though I was essentially only in it for the anime, I distinctly remember being attracted to the [adult swim] bump music that would play in-between commercials and shows. This was, looking back, some of my first exposure to the ambient hip-hop and jazz-hop music I would later come to enjoy so much. I can absolutely see that [adult swim] singles have clearly influenced the music I seek out today – it’s wild that those 30-second music clips in the late night/early morning would lodge themselves deeply in my little kid brain. The [adult swim] bumps probably influenced a lot of other people my age, too. I always suspected that those “lo-fi beats to study to” mixes with anime girls on the front must have been created by other millennials who stayed up until 4 a.m. in the 2000’s.

cover art for “Samurai Champloo Music Record: Playlist” (released Sep 22, 2004 by Victor Entertainment.)

Of course, the most obvious anime influence on my music taste was Samurai Champloo. I had no idea that Shinichiro Watanabe, who also directed Cowboy Bebop, had anything to do with the series. I wasn’t to the point of nerdom where I actually knew who anyone in the anime industry was. All that I knew was that I loved what I was hearing and I needed to hear more.

Funnily enough, I didn’t even watch Samurai Champloo all the way through until years later. I honestly don’t have that many strong feelings for the actual anime itself, either, I just really fucking love the soundtrack. When I was a kid, I remember using some website that made playlists and just kept searching “Nujabes.” I can perfectly visualize the site, too, but I have no clue what it was called, and there’s no way it still exists because it would have surely had a ton of copyright strikes by now.

Anyways, I specifically remember the day I found the song “Latitude” and my soul ascended. This song continues to be one of my favorites of all time. My ten-year-old ears had never heard anything like it. It washed over me and instilled a strange sense of calm in me. The track is so incredibly well-produced, and I remember my little kid mind was BLOWN when the songs pans back and forth for “stretchin’ ’em to the left/then get pulled to the right.”

I played this song CONSTANTLY. My parents were very confused – they were like, “this is a good song but how did YOU find it?” I also distinctly remember them calmly explaining to me that I should not be repeating the phrase, “miggy-figgy-niggies on the mic.” They would eventually have to have a similar conversation when I discovered that I loved “By The Time I Get To Arizona” by Public Enemy (“you can’t say ‘twenty thousand niggies in the corner’, either, Jenny”).

This little journey into my musical past has me feeling all fuzzy inside. It’s hard to describe those late nights spent watching anime, either on TV or hiding in my grandma’s computer room. I could get completely lost in something new for hours, not having to worry about going to work in the morning. Sure, I had school in the morning, but I could just sleep during math – who cares? I wish I could say “who cares” and just fuck off late into the night, discovering new niches and loves…but, well, adulthood and shit is in the way.

Finally, I’ll top this off with a little playlist of songs that I’ve been listening to lately that remind me of all the stuff I mentioned. The butterfly effect of art and media influencing a person is fascinating and beautiful to me – would I be listening to this stuff if I didn’t spend so much time being a nerdy little kid?

Some other honorary mentions when it comes to secretly influencing my adult music taste: the Katamari series’ OST, the Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 OST, Naruto openings, Eureka Seven, FLCL, and Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad. Do you have any similar secret taste-influencers from your childhood?

6 thoughts on “Nujabes, [adult swim], and Cowboy Bebop: How anime influenced my music taste as a kid

  1. Really enjoyed reading this article! I’m not nearly as interesting since I only paid attention to a handful of opening themes in my anime watching… but I’ve appreciated my parents encouraging me playing traditional instruments for forever (French horn in band, trombone in jazz combo). That’s really helped me latch onto instrumental stuff, over just lyrical content.

    Also Nujabes (RIP) is the best! One of my friends introduced me to him ages ago and I still can’t get over him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahhh that reminds me that I totally picked up the saxophone in middle school because I wanted to play the Cowboy Bebop opening…I didn’t stick with it, though >.<

      And yesss, I don't think I'll ever get tired of Nujabes stuff. It's pretty incredible how influential his music ended up being

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lol, no worries I eventually stopped playing too. Although not before I was tricked into playing the trumpet part of the Evangelion theme. (*trolled*)

        Seriously, it’s amazing the staying power of a single musician. Such powerful stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

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