To this day, The Backpack Rap Collection is the second most popular compilation ever released on Uggh…Nice Watch. It’s an era that inspires a lot of nostalgia amongst those who came of age in the period between 1995 and 1999. Producer and songwriter Shawn J. Period’s jazzy, futuristic beats were a central part of the burgeoning backpack rap movement, until he disappeared from the game at the peak of his prominence.
Shawn, whose real last name is Jones (hence the J. Period), was a native of Richmond, Virginia who started a rap trio called Down South after moving to NYC in the early ’90s. The group signed to Big Beat/Atlantic in 1993 under the tutelage of A&Rs Rob “Reef” Tewlow and Stretch Armstrong. Their debut, Lost in Brooklyn, was a flop, but Shawn’s talents as a producer did not go unnoticed. Between 1995 and 1997, he was recruited to contribute music to high profile releases by Da Bush Babees, Artifacts, DJ Krush, Mad Skillz, Heltah Skeltah, and his most famous collaborator, Mos Def. Shawn produced both sides of Mos’s debut single, and the two teamed up on Black Star’s album the following year.
At some point in the late ’90s, it seems as if Shawn accepted God into his life, and things started to change. Soon he was feeling conflicted about working with artists who used profanity, and started to rethink the his reliance on using samples in his music. “Even before I accepted [God], I was conflicted,” Shawn told Practice Video Magazine in 2004. “I’d go and sample a loop—it’d be a one bar loop, and I’d put some stuff on top of it. Then it’s like, ‘Ahh, you don’t need to clear that, it’s too obscure.’ But always, my morality came in.”
Around 1998 he stopped using samples altogether, and leaned on two tools that he was less experienced with: synthesizers and live instrumentation. The results were mixed, as he tried to develop a stripped-down MIDI jazz groove, a bit like an underground answer to Swizz Beatz’s Casio loops. He produced a few memorable records during this period, like Mos Def’s “Body Rock,” but his sample-free sound lacked the richness of his pre-1998 work. By 2000, Shawn had effectively dropped out of the industry to focus on family.
He started periodically popping up again around 2005, working on the occasional jazz fusion instrumental or Christian rap album, but Shawn has yet to stage his big comeback in the secular rap game. Regardless, his catalog is an impressive and interesting listen. Revisit 30 of Shawn J. Period’s best compositions by downloading or streaming the Uggh…Nice Watch compilation…