J.Period x K’NAAN Present: The Messengers

Everything I know and love about music, I got from my dad. I remember as a little girl waking up on Saturday mornings to my dad playing music from an old vinyl record or 8-Track Cassette he had dusted off the shelf. He would then proceed to give me a music history lesson on the likes of Sam Cook, Gill Scott Heron, or Curtis Mayfield regardless if I wanted one or not. Now that I’m older, I appreciate those lessons. The first time I heard Water Get No Enemy by Fela Kuti, I began a search for everything Fela. I was mad that I hadn’t been schooled on Fela as a little girl. I called my dad and shared what I was learning about this amazing Nigerian musician and pioneer of Afrobeat. My dad explained to me “where we lived [Oklahoma City, Oklahoma], certain music couldn’t be found. That is what makes the Internet so great. It’s made a lot of music accessible in areas of the world that it might not have reached before.”

So what do you get when you take Fela Kuti, Bob Marley, and Bob Dylan and mix them with one of the most amazing up and coming lyricists K’NAAN, you get The Messangers. Produced by J. Period, immediately with the first track you are taken on a music history journey where your tour guide is K’NAAN. The first stop is Africa and we meet Fela Kuti. His music comes a live with the added mix of commentary from Fela himself, as well as K’NAAN. Through heavy drum beats of Fela and lyrics by K’NAAN you learn about two men from two different generations, but with a common bond, sharing their African struggle through music. Next stop, Jamaica. We meet one of the most iconic artists in reggae, Bob Marley. J.Period and K’NAAN flawlessly pay homage to a man who has influenced generations in music as well as in politics. Crossing the waters to America, we meet Bob Dylan, whose blend of folk and blues with lyrics of social unrest, made many of his songs anthems for the civil rights and anti-war movements. K’NAAN perfectly mixes with Bob Dylan making his social views relevant to present day.

Attending the listening party for The Messengers at King Chung Studio. This was another music history lesson to add to my book, but this time it was from the music makes themselves. I had an opportunity to sit down with J. Period and K’NAAN to discuss their collaboration.

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(l to r) Wyclef, J. Period, Black Thought, and K'NAAN

JSD: How did this project come about?

J. Period: Basically, I was approached by someone affiliated with K’NAAN‘s label about doing a mixtape. When I went meet with him, it turned out that he already had a concept in mind. He had been sort of playing with the music of Fela, Bob Marley, and Bob Dylan. When K’NAAN and I talked that first time, my mind just kind of exploded with the possibilities of it. I went off and did my thing and it became this collaboration and turned into what you can hear now.

JSD: J. Period, with this project and other mixtapes, do you see yourself as preserving Hip Hop?

J.Period: I see myself as promoting real hip hop, if that is preserving it, then great. I think that I’m just trying to follow what I loved when I was a kid growing up. If that means that it reminds people of how they felt when they heard that stuff, then fantastic because that is what inspired me to do this. I also think if I’m part musician or DJ, then I’m also part documentarian kind of, and I think that that side of me defiantly sees myself as trying to create something, some historical piece that you can look back on 100 years and it will tell you the story of whatever that thing is.

JSD: K’NAAN, what was it like blending your style with Fela, Bob and Bob?

K’NAAN: Natural. They are the three artists that I relate to the most. Weather it be what they were about , what their messages were, or just their struggles and the things that they have come through. I relate to them, so for me it was like coming home.

JSD: Do you see yourself as a messenger?

K’NAAN: We had that conversation a good period over the creation of this project. It is difficult for me to say that I am because I really feel that, if I were to take that sort of a title, I feel as though it would take away from what it actually means, the sanctity of being such. The uttering of it itself , the claiming of that position itself, I think kind of makes it vanish from me. I think the messengers I’m talking about and J. Period is talking about in this mixtape, is them. It’s really Bob Marley, it’s really Bob Dylan, and it’s really Fela Kuti.

J.Period: And I would like to add, I think you can be a messenger by relaying the messages of others who move you. That was kind of the goal with this project. There is a line that K’NAAN has on one of the tracks where he says “I’m a vessel, I can’t take no credit”. Sometimes I felt just like that just making this project. I’m relaying the messages of these four incredible, amazing people. Obviously you can’t put K’NAAN in the category of people like that because he is just getting started in some ways, but the fact that he has a really compelling story and a really compelling view on that story, and you add that with a real musical knowledge and love. Suddenly it starts to be what music should be. Then when ever that clicks all together, there’s a message that relays automatically.

JSD: J. Period, you have worked with many artists and a lot of my favorites, what makes K’NAAN so special?

J. Period: I think if you had asked me that in the beginning of this project I would have just said, that the stars aligned to make it possible for me to work with him. In any project I have done that is really worth it’s salt, is always this sort of aligning of the stars, weather it’s Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige, or K’NAAN. This project came to me at the moment of time when I was open to it and once it had my attention, I started paying closer attention and realizing how talented he was. Then part of the job became showcasing it. This is a guy who has Kirk Hammett and Adam Levine on his album. People aren’t looking at him like “Oh yeah, K’NAAN is an ill MC”, and I’m like “Don’t sleep, K’NAAN is an ill MC, so let me show you.” That became part of it. The idea that here is this sort of diamond in the rough, if you will, it’s a bad analogy but it’s just this person who (K’NAAN: Conflict Diamond in the rough) {laughter} yeah, conflict diamond in the rough. Here is this person who is getting notoriety, but not even for his musical talent necessarily, but for his story. I heard about his story first, then looking closer I discovered something that moved me. To even put him in the same sentence with the people we are talking about is a statement that I’m making about how I feel of his musicality and skills. (K’NAAN: Thank you, sir)

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JSD: How did you go about deciding what songs you want to use from each artist to tell this story you wanted to tell.

J. Period: I don’t think you can really dictate, or you can really choose what moves you. For me, I just listen to everything, over and over, and over again. If I find myself waking up in the middle of the night with a song in my head, that’s the song that has to go on the mixtape. Then I would send the songs to him and he would filter the songs even more. By the time it comes back to me, we have three songs that have moved us. Then I take that and say, ok what other pieces can I use to amplify these songs? At a certain point it’s, here’s what we have, here what we’ve made, and what other pieces are missing to tell this story? There are many steps to the process.

K’NAAN: The process was over six months. We were really putting in our hearts and souls into this project. There are a lot of great songs that they all have that we didn’t touch. So it’s just about that moment that you find in a song that it moves you not only to listen, but it moves you to do something. So those are all the songs that made use actually act, rather than just respond in a subdued manner where you feel like you appreciate something, but actually act on something. So our act has become creating this project.

J. Period: I think once I get a repertoire of songs I’m thinking bout, then it becomes which songs could apply to K’NAAN as well as to them. Those songs are the songs that I pick. It’s really like I’m telling a story. There are tracks that we did that didn’t make the mixtape. They’re good, but these fit together in a way to make it all work.

JSD: What is your personal favorite track on the mixtape?

J. Period: My favorite probably is Ololufe Mi. (listen below)

K’NAAN: I really like that one too. I think Relationships Lay

J.Period: I think the ones that are my personal favorites are the ones that gave me the biggest challenge to make, which were probably all the Dylan ones. The Fela, I kind of wait for the breaks and put them together, the Marley ones, it’s kind of editing and rearranging, the Dylan ones are like making songs. I have a pride in being able to take something untouchable and actually go close to it and touch it, then manipulate it, and make something new and different. (K’NAAN: You get closer to it in that process) Yes, for sure.

JSD: From a production standpoint, with technology ever changing, how has technology changed the idea of the mixtape?

J. Period: I think it depends on how you listen to music. Some people listen to it as background, some people really focus in on it. I’m one of those people who really focuses in on it. For me. it is about creating an experience and you can’t mimic that experience by putting a bunch of songs together. It is really like an energy to an assembly of songs. That experience is what makes it so exciting. Just playing song, song, song, well that’s great. But taking the songs and taking the best parts of the songs and putting them together, it just makes it so much better.

JSD: When does this project come out and how can hip hop fans get a hold of this gem?

J. Period: It’s very easy. It was decided very early on, what K’NAAN’s calls it, is an offering. What that means is that we are giving it away. You really just have to go on to jperiod.com/knaan. Every week of this month, there will be a new piece of the puzzle starting today with Fela, then next week the Marley, and a week later the Dylan. Then a week after that the full project plus additional bonus tracks will be available.

Be sure to download your copy of The Messangers as well at tour and event information from jperiod.com/knaan.

-Interview conducted by Music Editor, Dana Bingham

Images: Photos courtesy of Postive Light Promotions

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