New York’s J.Period has kept hip hop fans laced and loaded with his ‘anthology’ style mixtapes since 2002. An avid music buff from the get-go, his mixes incorporate never-heard-before beats from your favourite artists, as well as interviews and insights that round out this truly original concept. His recent mix, Q-Tip ‘The [Abstract] Best’ hit over 300,000 downloads in its first week without any major promotion or distribution, crashing his server big time! For an artform that saw many DJs arrested for copyright infringement back in 2005/06, J.Period proves that the mixtape is back... and legit! We caught up with J.Period as he gets ready to annihilate the wheels of steel as support act for De La Soul’s local tour.
Hey J, where are you coming to us from today?
Transmitting live from Brooklyn, New York.
What was that one moment that got you burning to melt wax on the ones and twos?
Probably the movie Beat Street. I was about six or seven and that introduced me to hip hop and I was hooked from there. The joints that really inspired me to DJ were tracks like EPMD ‘Rampage’ - where DJ Scratch just murders it at the end, Tribe ‘We Can get Down’ - where Ali Shaheed cuts up Rakim saying ‘Why waste time on the mic’ and Gangstarr ‘Comin for Datazz’ where Primo cuts it up at the end. But there wasn’t really a moment I knew I wanted to become a DJ. It just grew out of my love for the music.
Most DJ’s are inspired by their parent’s collections growing up and in turn fuse a musicality born out of their childhood environment – did that ring true for you?
Well, my father was a folk musician so probably, yeah, that is true for me. I remember very clearly that he always used to make songs up about everything when I was a kid. My parents exposed me to folk music, rock, jazz and soul. My sister, who is older, turned me on to bands like Fishbone, The Police and Led Zeppelin when I was a kid. Maybe hip hop appealed to me because it contained the best pieces of all different kinds of music. I think that’s one of the things I still love about making these mixtapes – pulling together so many different influences and sounds.
For sure! You’re best known for your retrospective mixtapes, honouring artists and breathing new life into their music. How did you decide this was how you would approach your own musicality and mixtape process?
Hip hop has always been about taking the best bits and pieces from what came before and combining them in a fresh new way. That’s how ‘break-beats’ and sampling were born. Hip hop has also always been about storytelling, and paying respect to history. To me, exploring and re-imagining a great artist’s catalogue embodies all those essential hip hop elements, so it is just more interesting than doing a regular mixtape. Plus an artist like Q-Tip, Lauryn Hill or Mary J. Blige just has a better catalogue of music and in turn makes them a better candidate to explore. When I sit down with these artists to interview them, it’s amazing to hear how their influences and ideas and untold stories spill out, creating this new window into who they are. The concept of mixing that with their music, remixes and unreleased tracks, like an audio-biography or something, is an idea I first had in 2003 while interviewing Nas. I just thought how ill it would be to combine all those elements. No one had ever done that. It doesn’t have to be for an older artist… they just generally have higher quality music, and more of it. I have applied that same method to new artists too, like Game Rebellion or K’Naan. It’s all about creating something that is enjoyable and interesting to listen to.
Who have been the highlights for you?
Touring with Lauryn Hill was definitely a highlight because it took me across the world, but my real highlights have been in making fans out of some of my favourite artists. When I met Posdnuos from De La, I gave him my Big Daddy Kane mixtape and he told me he already had it and it was one of his favourites. When I met Alicia Keys, all she wanted to talk about was how much she loves my Classic Soul mixtape. Questlove - onstage telling the crowd I am his favourite mixtape DJ. Those are definitely the highlights for me, because it shows that the real experts respect what I do.
Can you give us some insight into working alongside Lauryn Hill as her tour DJ – no doubt there was a lot to soak up just from being around her genius!
I had been introduced to her in 2004 through Rohan Marley, and she agreed to co-sign my Best of Lauryn Hill mixtape on the strength of a few conversations we had. After that, her brother told me she had been listening to the mixtape heavily and was a fan. The next time I saw her I was supposed to open up for her at Central Park Summerstage, and instead we ended up doing an impromptu live remix of ‘Lost Ones,’ which sent the crowd into a complete frenzy. Not long after, I was invited to go on tour with her, which lasted through the end of 2005. I always enjoyed being around her; she is definitely a fascinating individual. But I also got to see how difficult it must be to be her, and why she is so misunderstood.
Mixtape DJ’s saw a massive backlash only a couple of years ago with many cats being locked up due to copyright infringement cases, but you’ve remained at the helm of the scene without being affected as such. How did that period of time reflect in the product that we are seeing dropping on the streets today?
For me, it just sparked a stronger drive to find new ways to push this artform through the system, like with what we are doing with the Grindin Vol. 2 mixtape (a legal mixtape), or the ways we marketed the Q-Tip mixtape. The RIAA came knocking on my door as well last year – about my Mary J. Blige project – and shut it down completely, which was frustrating and ridiculous. The irony was that Geffen / Universal had hired me to create it. But that only inspired me to work harder to figure out how to crack the code of releasing these things on a mass scale and demonstrate the value of this art form. I can’t really speak on how it has affected the quality of other people’s tapes because I don’t pay much attention to what other cats are dropping, I never have. I’m just trying to make the hottest tapes imaginable and show that this art form is important and viable.
Is it still risky business or are we seeing a comeback to the format of the early 2000s?
That day will definitely never return but new technology brings new possibilities. Record labels are scrambling to make money and it starts looking more and more stupid for them to threaten and chase after DJs when we are having the impact they wish they could have right now. The Q-Tip mixtape received over 300,000 downloads in its first month online, and that does more to demonstrate the value and importance of what I do than could ever be achieved the way we used to get these tapes to the people. (Hit the image below to download the mixtape!)
Even though the mixtape business is going wild for you at the moment, you’ve also found time to score music for films and from what we hear, you’ve become the first DJ to score an entire video game for Tony Hawk’s Nintendo DS game – congrats! How did you hook up these amazing gigs?
Thanks. Yeah, most of those opportunities have come from people hearing my mixtapes, but hopefully soon it will be from people hearing my beats and what I have done for some of these projects. Developing relationships at the labels while pursuing clearance avenues has also led me in the right direction. But bottom line is that everything you put out should be your finest work, because you never know who’s gonna hear one thing and have you in mind for something else!
How challenging has it been working with these major corporations and are you hoping to steer your career in more of this path?
Working with labels is very frustrating because it’s like being a speedboat and having to pull along an oil tanker. They have an outdated understanding and refuse to adapt or take chances. Unfortunately, if you want to pursue anything on a mass scale, you need to develop those relationships and understand the system. On the other hand, corporate sponsors can be extremely helpful in realizing your vision if you can explain it to them properly, so I cant be mad at all corporations. At the end of the day, if you want to turn your art into business, you need to know how to play the game, the good and the bad.
You’re about to head down here to support De La Soul, which must be a massive honour. What is it about their music that has remained so current and inspiring twenty years down the track?
To me, the answer to that is simple: it’s great music, and it’s incredibly creative. Any great music that stands the test of time holds up to that standard. During the making of the Q-Tip mixtape, I actually interviewed De La Soul and Q-Tip and asked that very same question. The answer that everyone gave was the same: the music has lasted so long because of the fun they had making it, and how much they loved doing it. Both of those things feed good music, I think. I also think it can’t go without saying that the Tribe and De La heavily utilized sampling. If you create your music out of the best pieces of what came before, you can’t go wrong. That is what gave birth to hip hop and will always be at the heart of the best hip hop. Hopefully that same principle will have people still listening to my stuff 20 years down the road.
Will you be throwing down a De La retrospective at their gigs next month?
Definitely not! You never play an artist’s song right before they get on stage, it ruins the anticipation. I might play some Tribe or Black Sheep or Brand Nubian and test the audience’s hip hop IQ though. I love doing that more than anything, as long as heads stay nodding the whole time.
You already have a connection down here with your Truelements radio station that is affiliated with Triple J down under. How did that all come about and how can peeps tune in?
Right now, heads can tune in at 10pm on the last Monday of every month for an exclusive 30-minute segment of my Truelements Radio show, usually featuring segments of my mixtapes plus other exclusive remixes, unreleased joints and interviews with some of the artists I work with. The hardest part for me has been finding the time to do it every month, but thankfully both Maya Jupiter, who first brought me on, and Hau Latukefu, who runs the Hip Hop Show now, have been very patient with me! Sam Dutch, who orchestrated the Grindin Vol. 2 mixtape and is promoting the tour this month, first linked the whole thing up, so big up again to Sam! Fans can also tune into the full-length show in iTunes Radio (iTunes Radio > Urban/Hip Hop > Truelements Radio) or on my website: www.jperiod.com