The best show you had no idea was going on this week is almost upon us. Tonight, Heroes Sports Lounge weekly Paid In Full Fridays emcee battles will feature a very special guest. A legend in the game, and arguably the most talented female emcee to ever pick up a mic- Brooklyn's own Jean Grae will grace the stage in honor of Dallas resident and WAR Media colleague, Satori Ananda's birthday. Longtime friend and collaborator of Talib Kweli, super producer 9th Wonder, and "Simon Sez" rapper Pharoah Monch- Jean Grae is notorious for her abstract, jazz influenced flow along with complex and often humorous wordplay. Before she arrived into town- Jean and I had a conversation about her return to music, her new comedic undertakings, and the long-term impact of her masterpiece with 9th Wonder, Jeanius, almost 10 years after it leaked onto the internet.
In 2008, Talib Kweli called Jean Grae "one of the last true emcees left". At the time, the veteran of New York's scene was in her early 30s, and had all but retired from the rap game after a long career & often overlooked career. The hip hop blogosphere quickly jumped to reporting that feelings of disenfranchisement, a common plight of the female emcee, was the root cause of her sudden departure from music. For Jean however, it was simply time for something new.
"At that point, you know, it was- I've done this for half of my life. That's a long time." she says "I wanted to do something else. Immediately the response was like 'Oh whatever, she's just whining. She's just mad at the industry.' It was like, no- if I wanted to be mad at the industry, there's plenty of reasons I could have done that for a number of years... I wanted to do something else. And I didn't want to necessarily multitask. I was just kinda done. I felt done, like I had given what I wanted to give and I felt good."
As a career musician and the daughter of South African jazz musicians, Jean Grae eventually found that she couldn't stay away too long.
"Returning back and doing more music had to be a feeling in me, where I was like, I feel like I still want to do something. There's still songs I want to make, there's still people I want to work with, and I don't have to put all of my eggs in one basket with rap. It doesn't just have to be this. I know that there's other things I want to do in life, and finding outlets for that will sort of bring back the joy in [rapping]. And make me remember why I enjoy doing what I do, sometimes, just like any other job."
With a new distribution deal between WAR Media and her new multimedia company, Kids Are Gonna Die, the former-pre teen prodigy is proving now more than ever that's she's not afraid to try new things. She announced late last year that she will soon launch a comedic biweekly web series titled "Life with Jeanie". With her foray into comedy writing, Jean is finally pursuing a long-time aspiration.
"It's kind of been my first dream, and my first love. My mom was real cool when we were younger and definitely raised us on a lot of stand up, and let us watch a lot of comedy. I've always wanted to do it... I've been on stage since I was little whether it was dance recitals or whatever. Not having stage fright is one thing, cause I'm like, okay I'm good with an audience. But with comedy, it's so much harder. There's not music behind you. I think that the fear of doing that... it's taken me 30 years to do what I want to do... I don't want to be afraid of anything anymore"
"I think with the comedy writing... I feel like it's the same thing as rap. I consider myself a writer before anything. I'm a huge huge sitcom and comedy romp [fan]. I'm a nut for dialogue and editing. I've been watching stuff since I was super, super little. I've know every episode of every show." She says, laughing.
On the subject, I explained to Jean that I was also raised by very musical parents who loved comedy, and don't understand why people don't make the connection between the two mediums more often in hip hop. She matter of factly replied that she had just recently had a long conversation about that connection with Detroit rapper Danny Brown. When I told her that I would be interviewing Brown just hours later, she roared with laughter.
"Tell him that I'm really mad that he left the George Carlin book that I brought him... I always bring everyone a book... so I brought him a George Carlin book. And then I heard he left it in the dressing room and I was pissed off about it... Damn it, Danny Brown!" she giggled, explaining further, "We actually had a long conversation about this. I told him, I think it's interesting that people talk to him about his punchlines and stuff...I feel like his correlation goes straight to stand-up, straight to comedy. And we were talking about phrasing and delivery, and I know that's where I draw a lot of mine. But thats the [comedians] that I studied. It was music as well, but I think that a lot of the delivery and timing, especially in rap, is really important."
Fans worried that Jean may focus too much on comedy, and less on hip hop this year, will rest assured knowing that she's gearing up to release a plethora of music. Along with plans to revisit old favorites, her long anticipated new album- Cake or Death, will finally see the light of day by Summer's end.
"Cake Or Death kind of changed hands a few times. Last time it was on Blacksmith, and Blacksmith is as a label dissolved. So I think it was kind of the choice we made, like okay, we're sitting here on this album and we could definitely just put it out on the internet and just go. But I think we decided its a better idea to do it the way it's supposed to be done and have some backing behind it, and get it out and do the project the way it should be seen, with some money for a video, and to get it places that we couldn't."
As she approaches the 10 year anniversary of her magnum opus & most influential work, Jeanius, it looks like a re-release may be on the horizon as well.
"I think we were kind of ahead of our time with that album. Even the way that [9th Wonder & myself] met once, we did one song, and we were like 'Lets just work together'. And I think we were far ahead of our time as far as how downloaded we got on the internet. That was really kind of in the beginning when people were like, 'What the hell is going on? People aren't buying records anymore? Nooo!" she said, on the rampant bootlegging that caused almost a four year delay in the project's official release.
"The official release, we had to do with no samples on it. 9th and I have been talking about going back and finding the original album and just kind of giving it away. You know, because we can't sell it. We all think it would be really cool if fans would be able to have it. This is the product we made, the way we made it, the way it was intended to sound. I think there's even an extra song that we didn't use... When 9th gets it together and finds all of the files, we're going to re-release that. Or I guess, just release, because it never really came out... I see no reason not to go back and do some videos for it, because it's like a brand new album."
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With quite a year ahead of her, fans are truly lucky that such a unquestionable asset to hip hop would find the time to visit Dallas.
"I expect while I'm in Dallas to be getting a severe education, like A Clockwork Orange... Hold my eyes open, show me everything about Dallas. I think I'm probably going to bring my camera down. So who knows? We might shoot a video and I'm going to try and do some of the [Dallas boogie scene] dances like an old woman." she laughs "I think I can pull it off!"
As she forges ahead on a new chapter of her career, I think it's safe to say there's nothing Jean Grae can't pull off- including the D-town Boogie.