“Big Boi himself just co-signed this mixtape,” J.PERIOD gasps into the phone. “I’m over the moon right now.”
With a literal rap sheet that includes working with Lauryn Hill, The Roots, Nas, and the like, it’s endearing to hear J.PERIOD still get so giddy. The Brooklyn-based DJ has spent the better part of the past two decades uplifting hip-hop culture with his mixtapes, so much so that he is one of the founding members of the Kennedy Center’s Hip-Hop Culture Council.
In 2016, J., in collaboration with show creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, produced The Hamilton Mixtape, and in 2017, he manufactured the release of OutKast: ReFixed, which sat OutKast at the head of the table at an intergalactic-funk-tea-party. Keeping in theme, his latest tape, #WAKANDAFOREVEREVER, is a blend of the Black Panther score and classic OutKast verses.
“I just got to create an entire world,” J. details. “The world of Black Panther, an imaginary world, and then also the very real repercussions of the movie and the themes that are in the movie… All of that just started to take on extra weight because those themes are in hip-hop. With this tape, it was more about showing the ways that hip-hop explores those themes of social justice, or Afrocentrism, or André talking about royalty.”
As for the physical crafting of the tape, J. looked to his peers and mentors, the likes of DJ Khalil and Young Guru, to help him create a seamless listening experience. Of course, there were also hours spent in Ableton getting the sounds just right. “I tried to treat this mixtape more like how I would treat producing an album because I felt like it required that much detail and care,” he explains.
As J. describes his process and the passion driving this project, the weight placed on the journey and the power of education through music is made clear. He’s a big picture, discover-and-connect-the-dots kind of guy, and he hopes to impart that same spirit to listeners.
“I would like people to end up is in this place where it’s not so crazy to imagine Black Panther and OutKast together, and it’s not so crazy to imagine N’Jobu telling his son the story the of hip-hop in the same way he told him the story of Wakanda,” he concludes.
DJBooth’s full interview with J.Period, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
You’ve been telling stories through your mixes for a hot minute, but what keeps drawing you to remix OutKast?
I started this series called the Icon Series years ago with Nas and Big Daddy Kane, and artists that have inspired me as a kid. OutKast I discovered a little later. I just felt like there’s so much in their music, even though they’re from ATL, there’s so much of that New York hip-hop essence in their music. Last year I was given the opportunity to explore that when I got asked to do this OutKast tribute party, and I just decided to turn that into a mixtape [laughs]. This year, I really dug in deeper. Every time I sit with their lyrics and make something, I just gain a new appreciation for how dope they are as artists.
How did your process differ between OutKast: ReFixed and #WAKANDAFOREVEREVER based on the film's influence?
The original OutKast mixtape was more geared around a party, so it was taking their stuff and putting it over newer beats and recontextualizing it for a younger audience. The baseline is, “Okay, this younger generation doesn’t understand how important OutKast is,” so my first mission is I wanna introduce them to how dope these guys are.
This time, I just got to create an entire world. The world of Black Panther, an imaginary world, and then also the very real repercussions of the movie and the themes that are in the movie… All of that just started to take on extra weight because those themes are in hip-hop. With this tape, it was more about showing the ways that hip-hop explores those themes of social justice, or Afrocentrism, or André talking about royalty.
I interviewed Rakim a few weeks ago when I was doing a live mixtape with him. He was talking about the ways in which, for a lot of the early artists, wearing gold chains was meant to symbolize royalty. They were trying to say that they’re kings; despite their circumstances, they’re royal. There’s a lot of that hip-hop essence in those themes, so I was trying to explore all that.
Black Panther is so important because of the visibility it provides. By pairing the score with OutKast, was it your mission to create an even louder conversation?
The first thing is that, in terms of Black Panther, because it’s such a mass media piece, it really had to be bulletproof. For me, I don’t necessarily change the way I approach something depending on the who the audience is. It’s about being respectful of everybody involved and trying to tell the story the right way and utilize the voices that are already present to tell the story in their own words. That’s how I tried to approach it and the fact that there’s this big receptive audience to the themes and ideas made it really important to me. I felt like this was the perfect moment to put something like this out.
What motifs were you listening for while crafting this mix?
The biggest thing is if you strip hip-hop to its essence, like lunchroom table drums, and you remove those sounds and replace them with these big African drums, it just unlocks this whole other level of what hip-hop is supposed to be about. You wanna talk about storytelling and oral tradition and the way that the idea of using rhythm to convey stories? That’s as old as time. Cultures have built stories around songs. The ability to use this music to tell these stories, to me, is the most important theme of all.
On the tape, there are all of these great, almost interactive, moments where Big or Dre's flow will pick up in time with the drums. It’s cinematic, but not kitschy. How did you achieve that balance?
I was definitely conscious of the fact that this is a score and I wanted it to feel cinematic. Certain things just get unlocked by the way things sound together when you mix them together, and that’s where I really get to do my thing in finding all of those balances. Also, it’s just a feeling. A certain verse makes you feel a certain way and it’s about trying to marry those feelings together. So I might take a verse from one song of André and a verse of Big Boi of another song and put them together because the beat and the feeling of the vocals makes it feel like it belongs together.
On the technical side, the mix is seamless. What was your process for getting everything stitched together?
Well, to be honest, I gotta give a shout out to a couple people. I’ve been working on my full proper debut album over the course of the past couple years. I’ve had the opportunity to be in the studio with some amazing producers and engineers: Young Guru, Mixed By Blue, who did the Hamilton stuff, DJ Khalil. Guys like Teeko, I used a tool he gave me for building drums on this project that I relied on heavily. Ableton is my main tool, and I feel like the possibilities are endless there as far as what I could do to sound. I tried to treat this mixtape more like how I would treat producing an album because I felt like it required that much detail and care.
Since the sonics work so well together, I took the mix as a larger commentary on how hip-hop and music as a whole exist on a non-linear timeline.
I think that the movie does such an incredibly good job of merging the traditional with this Afrofuturism. Ludwig Göransson, who composed the score, he sort of married together the traditionalism of African drums with the certain Afrofuturism of those trap-infused beats that he had in there. I gotta give props to him because the spark for me creatively was listening to the score, then I went and sampled it and made beats out of it.
I also did a similar thing on The Hamilton Mixtape, where the story and narrative of Hamilton unfolds one way, but when I put it in my mixtape world, it unfolded differently. With this mixtape, it was like taking bits and pieces of the traditional and the futuristic and then bending it all around OutKast and the possibilities of this world that I’m creating.
Given that the tape is being framed by this idea of a journey, where do you hope listeners end up after their first listen?
So there’s a little secret… When we start off, I’m taking you to this foreign land, and after experiencing all the connections there, by the end, it feels like you’re part of that world. So the secret is that one of my oldest friends is a guy by the name of Sterling K Brown, and Sterling is the voice of N’Jobu in Black Panther. He’s the one who recited the origin story of Wakanda. Sterling went back in and redid that monologue, but with the story of hip-hop.
I want people to end up is in a place where they understand and appreciate all these connections, and then also understand the importance of this art form. Everything I do is about uplifting and supporting hip-hop culture. Where I would like people to end up is in this place where it’s not so crazy to imagine Black Panther and OutKast together, and it’s not so crazy to imagine N’Jobu telling his son the story the of hip-hop in the same way he told him the story of Wakanda.
If you had to pick one talking point on the tape that listeners should be most aware of, which one would you choose?
Probably the one that goes at the top of “Seasons Change,” where Ryan Coogler’s talking about the movie taught him to be proud of his heritage, and that we should all be proud of our heritage. There’s messages in the movie that are specific to people of African descent, and then I think there are universal themes in that about upholding tradition. I think for me, as someone who is not of African descent—I’m Jewish—a lot of these themes of liberation, equality, and justice, are all themes I grew up with. One of the things that I’m trying to do is create bridges and find bridges to make it both specific and personal, but also universal.
What is the next cultural conversation you want to foster?
On the heels of this project, I’ve got a project that I’ve been working on for a year called the Rise Up Project, and it’s basically about exploring all different sides of social justice issues through music. For that project, which we’re gonna be putting out next month, I’ve got everyone from Black Thought to Aloe Blacc, Andra Day, Dead Prez. I feel like right now is a moment where we see so much injustice at such high levels, it really sparks people to respond. So for me, I’m not really done talking about all that.
You can download #WAKANDAFOREVEREVER now on J.PERIOD's website.