Though he hails from Los Angeles, J. PERIOD is a child of hip-hop.
New York is where the DJ calls home when he’s not jet-setting around for worldwide gigs, but it was Cali where he listened to Nas, Biggie, Rakim and Big Daddy Kane instead of N.W.A, and first watched Beat Street, which sparked his love for hip-hop. A much-lauded DJ, Period is one of the masterminds behind the wildly successful Hamilton mixtape from 2016 and now he’s got something new up his sleeve. As Hamilton changed the culture, so currently is Black Panther. The cultural phenomenon led to Period crafting a mixtape stuffed with African influence intertwined with the classic sounds of Outkast, on DJ Period Presents… #WakandaForeverEver.
CASSIUS caught up with Period to talk about his hip-hop roots, the story behind his new mixtape and much more.
CASSIUS: Breaking into the music industry is tough. When did you first realize you could make money off your love of it?
J. PERIOD: Early on it started with this Best Of Nas mixtape where I took a bunch of interview material I recorded and mixed it into the music. I think it was featured in The Source and a friend of mine called me from a barbershop in Brooklyn to tell me they were playing my tape. It turned out it was a bootleg, and at that time it was the highest praise you can get. It was Q-Unique, and he told me to press up as many as you can and go to Canal and Fulton street to the vendors. So my mixtape career started from there; going to Canal with a backpack of mixtapes. I could sell hundreds within hours, and I saw there was money to be made. It started to grow, and record labels started to take notice, and I was getting hired by the labels to do these for the artists in an official capacity. And that eventually turned into me doing the Hamilton mixtape, and it’s not just a mixtape, it’s an album. I went from hustling mixtapes on Canal street to getting a No.1 Billboard album off it. It’s been a crazy ride.
C: What’s crazy about the Hamilton mixtape is that the musical was for one audience while the mixtape was for another. You included real hip-hop heads like Joell Ortiz on there.
J.P.: Lin Manuel is one of the biggest hip-hop heads I ever met and one of the illest MCs I ever met. I DJ for Black Thought, and even he respects Lin as an MC. So a lot of those choices that’d be on the tape came directly from him. And it was my job to come in, and shape that story and transform it from the Broadway audience to one that the hip-hop audience would respond to.
C.: Fast forward to now, how did the #WAKANDAFOREVEREVER mixtape come about?
J.P.: The whole thing started with April Reign who is essential to the project and is also the voice of the flight attendant at the beginning of the mixtape. She posted something about the “Andre Forever Ever” meme. It was about Black Panther. I just saw it and laughed in my head and just thought, “I’m going to make a mashup mixtape called Wakanda Forever Ever.” I put it online as a joke and people started hitting me up like, “Yo is that a real thing?” I spoke to April after listening to the mixtape, but when she told me to listen to the score, it opened up a whole universe for me, sonically. Things that sounded like they weren’t meant to go together just sounded so good together. The whole thing unfolded from there in this amazingly, organic way.
C.: While listening to the mixtape you can clearly hear the Afro-futuristic sounds of Black Panther but also hear the distinct Outkast, Stankonia sound. How did you do that without sacrificing either culture?
J.P.: If you take hip-hop down to its rawest elements; the lunchroom drums, beatboxing and rhyming over it and then you put big African drums over it, the essence is the same. Sonically it takes it to another place. That was the first thing it unlocked— just how good those rhymes could sound over those drums. And on the score, they’re merging these worlds. Those old, authentic original drums worked well with these futuristic Afro trap sounds. So I just started experimenting and sampling elements of the score, putting my own beats and producing the bridges between those worlds. The movie does an incredible job of producing the visual so you can see these things you never imagined before. Add the music, and all of these things started feeding each other to make things even doper.
C: This is your second mixtape featuring OutKast. How has OutKast played a role in your career?
J.P.: Last year I did a mixtape on the anniversary of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, and I initially played it at an OutKast tribute party I was DJing. And it was all about taking new looks on old things and remixing them over new beats, and it gave me a deeper appreciation of OutKast. I tend to think of OutKast as a whole thing. But when you dig into it you see how skilled they are and their knowledge of the culture. And though they are from the South, you see that they are descendants of New York hip-hop. You can find those same themes in Rakim. And when I started to put those beats over Black Panther beats, they began to take on a whole new meaning. OutKast has always been one of my favorites and Andre has always been one of my favorite MCs and really getting into their projects and the mechanics of their rhyme styles, I really gained an appreciation. There are only a couple of groups in the history of hip-hop that are as creative as Outkast.
C.: How do you approach new projects? Did you approach this Black Panther and Wakanda mash-up any different than usual?
J.P.: Usually, I dive into the music and start crafting beats and figuring out what the textures are, then I go look for verses to fit those. But the way I approached this was different, I was looking at the content of the verses. So for the remixes, I’m taking a Dre verse from one record and a Big Boi verse from another and merging them together. There was something about the feeling of the verse or what they were saying that made it perfect for that beat. I consider myself a musical storyteller, so a lot of things come from the narrative I’m trying to build and the themes around the movie. I’ve had conversations about the movie and why the themes are so important and why they’re hip-hop. I just found these themes of Wakanda in the real world of hip-hop.
C.: You mentioned Black Thought earlier, but who are some of the other artists you love to create with?
J.P.: I love creating with the roots, with Black Thought who is the most skillful MC I’ve ever encountered. When I do the live mixtape performances with him, or we improvise on stage it’s my favorite creative experience. But there are so many different artists that I love to work with, Q-Tip, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, even Lauryn Hill. Nowadays people make music in their own silos, and one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is how important it is to interact with other creative people. That elevates your own creativity. The fact that I’ve gotten to DJ for Q-Tip, Kanye West, Lauryn Hill helps elevate my creativity to a higher level.
C.: Who are some of the DJs that you looked up to early on in your career?
J.P.: DJ Premier. Pete Rock. Prince Paul. Jazzy Jeff, who was and still is the best DJ on the planet. And some of these guys are my peers now which is nuts to me because they were the ones I looked to early on. Guys like Tony Touch and DJ Clue really paved the way. I came in and took bits and pieces from styles, and turn it into my own thing. I don’t know if there are any other DJs that are trying to tell stories in the way that I am.