Hailed as one of “The worldʼs top DJs” (NY Times) and recruited for remix & production work by Grammy winners Kanye West, Mary J. Blige, John Legend & The Roots, J.Period is one of the music industryʼs most respected DJ/Remixer/Producers and one of its most innovative viral brand-builders.
J.Peiodʼs skills have earned praise from Hip Hopʼs elite, plus widespread critical acclaim from fans and writers around the globe. His viral mixtape campaigns for artists from Q-Tip to KʼNAAN to Spike Lee have earned millions of downloads—and his projects live an eternal life across social media, spreading years after their initial release. J.Periodʼs DJ skills have earned bookings around the world as the Official Tour DJ for Lauryn Hill, Black Thought, Q-Tip, Def Poetry Jam, and as a solo artist. Equal parts tastemaker, sound selector and viral marketing mastermind, J.Period is redefining the role of the DJ/Producer in the digital age and doing it on his own terms: authentic, and true to his Hip Hop roots.
What are your earliest memories of music?
My father played guitar and was a songwriter and I remember he would make up songs all the time when I was a kid—in every situation—about whatever was going on. Those are probably my earliest memories of music.
What first got you into DJing?
I was a hip hop fiend growing up and a natural born crate digger, so I always had the best collection of music—even when it was cassettes or CDs. I also had one of those old Fisher Price record players and I would cut and scratch and destroy my “book & record” sets on 45. Then I made pause tapes for my friends in high school. It wasn’t until college that I started really “DJing”. Before that I just had the best music, and people knew it. I was more of a “selector.”
Who were your musical influences coming up?
My father was a folk singer, so from him I got Paul Simon, Crosby, Still & Nash, Joan Baez. My mother loved rock & roll, so it was Rolling Stones, Beatles, Little Richard, etc. I discovered hip hop at age 6 and was a fiend from then on. My favorites were Nas, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, KRS, Biggie, but I love all kinds of hip hop—still do.
What was your first big break as a DJ?
My first big “break” was interviewing Nas at a Sony listening event, and during that interview I came up with this idea of combining the interview with the music to create something new—the “audio-documentary” style my projects are known for. But truth be told, I’ve had a lot of crazy, aligning-of-the-stars “breaks” thus far in my career!
You are originally from LA but moved to New York why did you make the change?
I always loved New York hip hop, even growing up in L.A., so I was fascinated with the lifestyle and portrayal of New York in the music. I wanted to see what that was all about… then once I got here I just got hooked. I love the challenge and hustle of New York. I still have love for Cali though—that’s my home.
How hard was it making a name for yourself once you settled in New York?
“Making a name” was never really a goal for me in that way. Hip hop was my passion and I wasn’t trying to prove myself to anyone other than myself; I wanted to make the hottest tapes because I wanted to listen to the hottest tapes! In some ways, that made me fearless, which is essential for success in New York. I would talk to anyone, approach anyone, and New York allows you to move in a lot of circles, so you are in the room with a lot of important people. You just have to have the nerve to go talk to them. And your CD better be HOT. I always tell aspiring artists: don’t focus on “making a name”; focus on making your music hot. The rest happens on its own.
What are the main differences between the Los Angeles and New York Hip Hop scenes?
Now? Hard to say, because everything is much more transient. L.A. is cool now, with Odd Future and Kendrick Lamar and Blu & Exile and that style. But things change faster now than they used to, so who knows what will last? These days, New York feels more like a follower than a leader, but certain cats are still pushing boundaries, which is what I respect. Back when I arrived here, NYC felt like a Mecca of hip hop. Nowadays I have to seek that energy elsewhere… like the torch has been passed elsewhere around the world.
You are renowned for taking the catalogue of iconic artists such as Nas, Q-Tip, Big Daddy Kane, The Roots, Mary J Blige, Michael Jackson and many more then condensing their classic tracks, best album cuts and guest spots into a seamless mix. How do you approach making a mixtape like that?
For me, it‘s about telling a story. So it all starts with research: listening to everything that artist has ever done and starting to compile favorites. I also interview the artist about their influences, earliest memories, etc—like you are doing now with this interview. If you ask a musician the right kinds of questions, sparks of inspiration fly and those ideas take on a life of their own. Bottom line it’s about being comprehensive and paying proper respect to these artists that I hold in such high esteem.
A lot of time and effort seems to be put into these mixes how long does one of these take to complete and what are the biggest challenges in constructing them?
It depends on the circumstances, and the concept. We worked on “The Messengers” for the better part of a year. “Wake Up! Radio” probably 3 months. Mary J. Blige was 3 CDs so that took nearly a year. The problem is that I’m not only mixing other people’s music, I’m also composing new tracks, re-mixing stems, doing blends, etc. And each of those is like making a new song, which takes time. But some tapes (The Roots, Nneka, Michael Jackson, Nate Dogg) have been finished inside of a month, or even just a few weeks. The biggest challenge is always rangling artists to record, and/or waiting for their schedules to clear. If I could do everything myself I could have it done in much less time!
Do the record labels support you in making these mix CD’s or is it something worked out strictly between you and the artist?
Yes, labels definitely support me. Most of my mixtapes are directly commissioned by majors and indies to promote their artists. (There is usually an internal war within the record label about utilizing mixtapes, but that’s another story!) Other tapes I create evolve from relationships I have with certain artists, like the Q-Tip project. Artists give me props and want to work with me because they like the tapes, and folks give me a tremendous amount of creative freedom to do what I do. On the John Legend CD, the label and the artists actually gave me the original session files from the Wake Up! album, which I’m pretty sure is unprecedented for a mixtape. Labels are primarily interested in the people I can reach with what I create, and there ‘s a value in that for them.
What equipment do you use when making your mixes has it changed from when you first started out?
These days I record from Serato into Ableton Live when creating mixes, and treat the audio in Live to make it sound better, edit segments for flow, etc. I also produce my tracks and remixes in Live now (along with Native Instruments “Maschine” for drums). Back then it was just two turntables and a mini-disc for recording lol. These days it’s about finding new ways to make new things out of fragment of the old, and technology makes some crazy thing possible. For example, with Serato, wherever I roll, I have my entire music collection. That is an insane concept. So that also definitely changes the type of music I’m making, and mixing.
Out of all the mixtapes you have made which is your personal favourite and why?
Very difficult to choose. Probably the Lauryn. I go through cycles. I am most proud of the MJB, Q-Tip, K’NAAN and John Legend CDs. Because I know how much went into them. I also love the tape I did with JS-1—called “In the Trunk”
Which one artist would you like to do a mixtape for?
I would love to do an Andre3000 mixtape. But I would have to interview him first. I have also had an ongoing conversation with Alicia Keys about doing something—which I would love.
What are your 5 favourite mixtapes of all time?
Truth: I don’t listen to a lot of other people’s mixtapes! My 5 favorite of all-time?? Can’t put em in order, but probably: Tony Touch 50 MC’s, Neil Armstrong’s first “Originals”, this one Silva Surfa tape I had in ’96… and I would probably round it off with my Best of Lauryn & Best of MJB CDs. I’m sorry, both a dem is EPIC! And they stand the test of time.
In recent years you have branched out from your mixes and are getting into original production along with doing remixes is this something we will be seeing more of from you?
Yes, definitely. I was always doing production on my tapes—back in ‘06 with The Roots or Isley Brothers—but my tools have definitely gotten more sophisticated, so it’s possible for me to push boundaries in new ways with remixing and production. Ableton Live has really been an essential tool because it allows me to move so fast. We are in the lab now working on the debut proper J.Period album release, featuring artists from the mixtapes, and working on partnerships with labels and brands to create a fully cleared and licensed version of what I do on my tapes.
What’s the best piece of advice ever given to you?
Always have something to give. Don’t be a taker.
What has been your career highlight so far?
Tie between a) DJing for Lauryn Hill at Coca-Cola Dome in Johannesburg , South Africa in front of 30,000 screaming fans and b) DJing for Q-Tip, Kanye West, Busta Rhymes, Black Thought & Monie love at last year’s Brooklyn hip Hop Festival finale
What’s the secret to your success?
Be yourself. Don’t copy. Follow your passion.
What does the future hold for J. Period?
Continuing to push boundaries, make powerful music, and make sure that the spirit of and essence of hip hop stays alive.
What’s your definition of Grindin’?
Grindin is hustling, working hard.