J.PERIOD: Master of the Mixtape


J.PERIOD has mastered the mixtape.
With more than 24 years of experience, the producer/DJ has pumped out dozens, including 2003’s J.PERIOD & Nas: The Best of Nas. Hosted by the Illmatic mastermind himself, the tape loosely marked the beginning of J.PERIOD’s storytelling through music. 

“The great storytellers are what inspired me—whether it was Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane, or KRS-One,” J.PERIOD explains. “I always imagined making something like what inspired me. The first version of that was the mixtapes where it was really about these artists’ stories. I’m digging into their catalog and re-imagining things and maybe remixing history in some ways.” 

J.PERIOD’s speciality became weaving interviews into the music, what he calls “audio-biographies.” Whether it was Q-Tip or John Legend, every project he did became glimpses into their worlds, each ensuing mixtape effortlessly capturing a snapshot of what was happening with East Coast hip-hop at the time. 

J.PERIOD and Jarobi White attend the Phife Dawg Street Naming Ceremony on November 19, 2016 in Queens, NY. (Credit: Johnny Nunez/Getty Images)

Based on the strength of the Nas effort, he was able to land Big Daddy Kane for a project in 2004, Lauryn Hill in 2005, and The Roots in 2006. Every year, he released multiple tapes and singles and J.PERIOD became synonymous with mixtape wizardry. “People gravitated to the stories. That’s what separated what I did from the other mixtapes,” he says. 

A few years ago, it became J.PERIOD’s turn to tell his story. In 2021, he released Story To Tell (Chapter One), his first official solo album. Tapping into his vast array of collaborators, PERIOD recruited Dave Chappelle, The Roots’ Black Thought, New York City radio legend Bobbito Garcia and Lin-Manuel Miranda, among others. The result was a soulful and at times comedic ride through his life but viewed through a hip-hop lens. 

Story to Tell is my story but told through the story of hip-hop,” he explains. “Creating a musical storybook was a way of pulling people into my world. And you know, that world obviously is different. I’m not a rapper, so my world is comprised of a lot of different stories.” 

J.PERIOD has so many stories, in fact, that his newest installment, Story To Tell (Chapter Two), is essentially an extension of the original. 

Bboy Crunk and the Dynamic Rockers breakdancing crew perform onstage during the “J.PERIOD Live Mixtape: Gods & Kings Edition” at Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center, on August 9, 2023 in New York City. (Credit: Richard Bord/Getty Images)

As he’s gotten older, his storytelling has evolved. “I’ve gotten more and more intricate as I’ve gone along and as my skill set has expanded. But I think the stories I’ve been telling, in some ways, are all connected. I definitely think there’s a through line. It’s stories that reveal a deeper truth about what inspired a thing or what a thing means to an artist or to the people who receive the art. 

“When I started telling stories it was like, ‘OK, let’s uncover secrets behind the stories we know,’ like Q-tip talking about Jade’s ‘Don’t Walk Away’ inspiring ‘Award Tour,’ which no one knew until we put it on the mixtape. Or Rakim talking about how he was so inspired by John Coltrane never repeating a melody that he decided he would never repeat a cadence in his raps. Things like that are really revealing about where things come from. It’s sort of like, know your past to know your present. I think hip-hop is kind of built on that.” 

Since moving from his hometown of Los Angeles to Brooklyn in 1999, J.PERIOD has created a life for himself he couldn’t have envisioned. Through each track on Story to Tell (Chapter Two), featuring another impressive list of guests including Chappelle, Wyclef Jean, Estelle, Aloe Blacc, Andra Day, and Joss Stone, he illustrates the years of blood, sweat and tears he put into his career. Even he can’t believe it sometimes.

“In some ways, my story is impossible,” he says, with a sense of wonderment. “I don’t even know how to wrap my head around some of that. I just know that I really gave myself over to the idea that I wanted to be a part of this and pursuing that has unlocked a lot of crazy things—and that’s real.” 

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Some of the collaborations on the album are somewhat unexpected, but he’s used to coloring outside the lines. When he released the single “Hot Sauce” in 2023 featuring Andra Day and Aloe Blacc, he got pushback from people telling him it “wasn’t hip-hop.” But he begs to differ. 

“Under the umbrella of hip-hop, everything exists,” he says. “It’s all how you freak it and the connections that exist in hip-hop that I wanted to be in the album. Every track is an attempt to bridge worlds a little bit, so I just started following the breadcrumbs. Like, what felt best, what sounded best and then based off of that, I pieced together a story. Chapter One was much more literal. It was like characters walk out of one record into the next record; I wanted there to be a connective tissue that goes through, like a storybook. 

Chapter Two is very different. I decided we’re gonna take a step back and look at the whole of it and what it means to follow your passion as I have done, the cost of that, the beauty and the price you pay. That’s kind of the theme of Chapter Two. The vibe of that feeling is more R&B flavored, but it’s still hip-hop to its core.”

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