K'Naan & J. Period: Flash The Message
Recently working with mixtape DJ J. Period they concocted a three part musical compilation. Taking inspiration and music from Fela Kuti, Bob Marley and Bob Dylan, The Bob Dylan part is also exciting for all the closet Rock fans, its three huge names that left an immense impact in music. The project is very different than what is expected from J. Period, but it works. Thinking out of the box and experimenting is what it's about and these two seem to be on to something good if not great.
HipHopDX: Do you get intimidated by the fact that some people consider you to be a representative of Africa? Not just your country alone, the whole continent.
KNaan: It doesnt intimidate me because I didnt set out to be some kind of representative or voice for this continent or these people. I just feel like sometimes I am put in a place where I have to just respond to things. I have go to try and inject my little two cents in how the world feels about us. In the time that I have been doing that, a lot of people have come to acknowledge me as some kind of spokesperson. Im not really that way. I dont think of myself that way. I just feel like I am privileged to come from a people with real history and real struggle. Sometimes Im the only guy that they know who is on television who can speak on those issues.
DX: I read somewhere that you feel American rappers dont have as much credibility in your eyes, want to elaborate? What are some differences in your message as opposed to theirs?
KNaan: I dont think it is that blanketed as American rappers. A lot of people who struggle are legitimate. I spent time in the hoods of the U.S. I lived in South East D.C. when it was called the Capitol of Murder. I know how that world is. When I make statements its never really about posture or being harder then anyone, its just about acknowledging that there are struggles. There are degrees to struggle. We just come from something slightly more difficult.
DX: Lets talk about the reason were all here; the mixtape or mixtapes rather featuring Fela Kuti, Bob Marley and Bob Dylan.
J. Period: Its an idea that KNaan had to work with these three artists. I then took the concept to the next level. I gave him maybe more than he had originally expected to do. I took on more then I originally expected to do as well. This was only supposed to be a promo project in the beginning. I didnt know how long it was going to take. Once I started working with the music, the music itself took over. It made me feel like I owe it to these three people to step my game up. I would send things to KNaan and he would start to record these ridiculous verses back. It made me think that I really have to step my game up because I want to introduce this guy to people who dont know him. I also wanted to introduce all these artists to people that dont know them. It became a way for me to tell the story of [K'Naan's] story and all these other artists. It was also a larger story of the power of music and what it can potentially do.
DX: How did the whole collaboration originate?
KNaan: We met because I had this dream of these three artists, my heroes, and I wanted to figure out who I could work with to make things happen. In the world of mixtape deejays there isnt anyone else that I could think of other than [J. Period] that could make it work. It takes someone who is musically sensitive, whose projects have spoken to many to work with on something like that. I was blessed to get J. Period to say that he was down.
DX: Getting praise from Nas and Damien Marley must be insane, how does that make you feel?
KNaan: Its great. I feel good. Nas album Illmatic was one of the reasons why I wrote to begin with. I heard the song New York State of Mind in this record shop. There was stuff going on in this record shop. I stood in the corner and told my mans and them to chill for a second. There was a robbery about to happen at this record store. Nas was on the shelf and I told my guys to chill because I wanted to listen to it for a second, which was crazy. I played "New York State of Mind" and it changed my world. I thought if he could show pictures of the American ghetto experience that vividly, than I should be able to do it about Africa. That was when I set out to make my music. To hear him speak of me the way he does. When I met him he said that I moved him more than any artist in his peer group ever did. That is pretty intense. To get that back, the full circle. Its a beautiful thing.
DX: There is a song between all three of you correct? Were you guys all in the studio together creating or did each person send in a part separate?
KNaan: Yeah, we do. We were in the studio for weeks chilling out. Damien [Marley] called me saying he was doing an album with Nas, and if I had anything musical to contribute. I played Damien my samples. Thats how I met Nas. He heard the music and that was that.
DX: Who else would you like to collaborate with?
KNaan: Im not really all that desperate for collaborations. I dont set out to collaborate with anyone. Things like that just happen. Im sincere about that. Its not like Im trying to say one thing and do another. With artists that I really like, I feel like they are already great. What do I have to do to contribute? What am I offering? If you think of the world like that, there will be a lot less garbage I believe. For example, when Im out and about on a vacation or something, I never pose with landscape. I take photos of landscape. I wouldnt super impose myself on a tree or something because it is already beautiful.
DX: Would you say your move to Toronto helped in your progression on finding a place in Hip Hop today?
KNaan: I didnt really have a career plan for music. I just had music. I wasnt trying to get out there or anything like that. When I wrote The Dusty Foot Philosopher it was a necessity for me. I was diagnosed with what is called post dramatic stress disorder. Its what happens to people who experience war. I was about 16. I became a recluse and I was depressed for a long time. Sometimes I would be in a room for three months at a time by myself. I began to write the songs with melodies and stuff like that. One of the strongest songs I had written is called Smiles. I would take actual events and scenarios that happened in my life that I otherwise couldnt have conversations about and mold them into songs. I would successfully mold them into songs and not think of them as events that were painful. I did that with the whole album. I had about 30 songs sitting around with no prospect of release. Thats when fortunes happened and people heard them. I surely wasnt trying to get out there. That wasnt my thing.
DX: Where do you think Hip Hop is going?
J. Period: It depends on who has the reigns. I think the reason why I love projects like the one we just did is because we pushed the envelope. When you do things like that people take notice. Not to sound bragadocious but it makes an inferior product sound inferior. Its not to say that I did anything special. This is the music of Bob Marley [click to listen], Fela Kuti [click to listen], Bob Dylan and KNaan spitting well on top of it. Pretty much, its a simple formula. If people hear good music they can instantly put that next to bad music and they know which is which. For me, the more people push the envelope in this way, the more Hip Hop goes back to where it began. It was always about taking the breaks and finding the best bits and pieces everywhere. It didnt matter where it was from. You just put them together in a way that is fresh and new. In essence that is what I try to do with mixtapes. Thats what were doing here but on steroids because we have completely different things that are powerful on their own.
KNaan: both Black Thought and Wyclef [Jean] [click to read] were in the room tonight. Both of them had the same thing to say to me about the project and how theyre really inspired and moved. They wanted to do something. They wanted to go and create. Thats ultimately the job of art. Its to make us feel like we need to do something.
DX: Where do you hope to take your talents?
J. Period: On the road first. I have been someone who has focused on creating a product and letting that spread. Now it is time to go and show up places and do my thing in person. Thats the first step that KNaan and I are doing. To go back to Wyclef and Black Throught being in the room, I really want to take this rule breaking Hip Hop essence of mixtape and making it a legitimate art form. Making it something that can be cleared and released album and for me that would be the next step. Once I do that one time and prove that its successful, I hope to have some kind of impact on changing the landscape of thins.