Monday - November 14, 2005
There is a curse that follows Jean Grae wherever she goes. In January of this year, I did my first interview with the New York MC when she came to Cleveland. Let’s just say that this nervous writer’s first piece was made worse when the tape snapped. Coincidence? Or is it a curse? Jean has been hailed as one the game’s illest rhymesayers, critically acclaimed, and praised for her albums. Yet, she has not garnered mainstream success like Kim, Foxy, and Trina. Again – coincindence? I think not. Even this interview had it’s complications as the computer fried, almost losing the contents of this piece [thank God for autosave]. Yes, believe it or not – Jean Grae is cursed. But with every curse, comes a gift. This gift comes in the form of childhood friends, Talib Kweli and Cory Smyth. Together the duo formed Blacksmith Music and guess who they brought in to be down with the team? Ms. Jean Grae, of course. Another gift… she’s working on new music.
Jean Grae sits down with HHDX.com to talk about her future project, how she almost contemplated putting down the mic, and how she feels that NYC is kind of fakin’ it when it comes down to what’s going on in the real world.
HHDX: What’s new in your world?
Jean Grae: Right now, my music is good. It’s the love life that sucks. I guess it all makes for good music. The album Prom Night is on the way. My prom night was horrible. I went by myself. My friend’s left me. I walked home in the rain. With this album I get to relive it and do it the right way. I’ve been thinking about doing a celebrity bake sale event and how it would tie into the album. I think that I’ll build it around prom and High School.
The promotion of this album would be tied into prom. I’d like to have a celebrity talent show or something like that.
HHDX: I could picture it now – Mos Def singing “Private Eyes” by Hall and Oates [laughs].
Jean Grae: [Laughs].
HHDX: You’re now signed to (Talib) Kweli and Corey Smyth’s – Blacksmith Music Label – how do you feel about that?
Jean Grae: Good. It’s weird. I’m really happy about the fact that I’m down with people that have a mutual respect for one another as artists and as people. We’ve all been supportive of one another for a numerous amount of years. I have true creative freedom here at Blacksmith. I am excited and a bit nervous.
HHDX: Do you have any expectations with this new venture?
Jean Grae: I really think that I have come to a point where I don’t have any expectations about anything. I just try to do my best and take it to another level. I think that we’re talking about hitting the feeling of where you can’t do anything unless there is a machine behind you. Where you can put out an album after album because you’ll have something there backing you. But we don’t have the money for that. I want to focus on the music as opposed to the marketing.
HHDX: What do you think led to you leaving Babygrande for Blacksmith?
Jean Grae: I’ll plead the fifth on that one.
HHDX: You just came back from overseas – where’d you go and how was it?
Jean Grae: Yes. I went overseas. I went to Barcelona and it was absolutely beautiful. The people, the sights, and the food – it was all gorgeous.
HHDX: So… when it’s all said and done – Barcelona is the place that you want to lay your head at?
Jean Grae: Umm… I’m not sure. I visited Australia and a few other places and thought that they were beautiful. My favorite would have to be Japan, right now. They absolutely love the Hip-Hop culture out there. We [Hip-Hop artists] affect the world.
HHDX: What do you think might be holding back the successes of such artist’s like yourself, Kweli, and others?
Jean Grae: I think that different people measure success in different ways. If I was looking at my career and thinking of my successes as purely financial, then I haven’t been necessarily as successful. But I think that I am successful as to the point that I’ve been able to get my music out there and that people do buy into it. A lot of people don’t get to go on tour or go to places such as Barcelona. My mom says that she’s proud of me, so I’m happy with that right now. Not to say that I don’t want the things that come with this game – the money, cars, yachts, fancy cars, and such. I think that I measure success differently than most.
HHDX: You’ve been doing this for quite some time – ever thought about putting down the mic and doing something else?
Jean Grae: I’m thinking of doing something else right now.
HHDX: It doesn’t have anything to do with any contents in a bottle, does it? [laughs]
Jean Grae: [Laughs] Not so much now. I wasn’t trying to be as creative as much as I used to be. There are going to be days when you’re not going to be as gung-ho as you usually are. I would never want to start out from scratch. So, I am enjoying what I have now. I have voice-overs and I still want to continue writing. I have done a few radio spots and commercials – you may think that it’s me and not believe it… but it’s me doing it.
HHDX: There seems to be a change of the Hip-Hop climate in the air – what are your thoughts of the Roots signing to Def Jam [Left]…?
Jean Grae: Yay!!! Let me say that again – YAY!!! I’m proud of The Roots. I don’t think that they’ll change their styles. They change with every album. I respect them for stepping out and being visionaries for their own work – collectively. They don’t do anything formulaic. They’re incredibly respectable in the game and abroad.
HHDX: Think that Nas will sign also? If so, what does that mean for the Hip-Hop world?
Jean Grae: There are a lot of things that I have heard in the past week or so that will be very interesting. Since I’ve been letting go of grudges, I’ve realized that this is a business. Moves definitely can be made once you let go of personal grudges. I don’t know if Nas will sign. If he did, though, it’d be nice to see that people can look at this as a business and leave the pettiness behind. I’m not saying that everyone needs to hold hands and sing kumbaya – but if there’s money out there, then let’s all get it.
HHDX: “The Jam” – that can be found here on HHDX.com – is just that... the jam. How did the collabo with you and Khrysis come about?
Jean Grae: This was before the Phoenix album. Me and Khrysis had met when 9th (Wonder) and I were doing the Jeanius album. He did a few beats for that album. When I began working on Phoenix – it was no question to get him on the album. He’s very unconventional. He has a wide range of selections for beats. It was before I had even begun listening to 9th. We went from 100 Khyrsis tracks to about 17 before I started listening to 9th. “The Jam” beat was still in his mix. I couldn’t believe that no one had picked this beat up. I think that was when we had the thunderbird in the studio. He makes incredible shit. He’s funny and crazy. I’m always going to work with him. He’s young and he loves what he does. He’s dope.
HHDX: Are you going to shoot a video for it?
Jean Grae: Yes! At my house. We were having a pajama jammy jam and we shot a video for the song. It just kind of came about. It’s not going to be on Prom Night – but it’ll be there to pre-empt the coming for the album.
HHDX: The press has died down about this subject dramatically, but – what are your thoughts about Bill Bennett’s comment about aborting black babies to lower the crime rate?
Jean Grae: America is racist and people know it. I find it interesting when people are more blunt about it instead of sweeping it under the rug. A lot of people are fucked up and wrong. Sometimes the things that they think about will come out of their mouths. I was just talking to my mom the other day about how racism is prevalent and sometimes you feel it real hard. Especially in NY, we’re like “it’s cool,” but everything is not fuckin’ cool. We’re more of a “sweep it under the rug” type of city – but when you go down south, you know that it’s out there. We’re kind of fakin’ it here. You still can’t catch a cab here. I think that sometimes we’re surprised by a lot of shit that we shouldn’t be surprised by.
HHDX: Do you think that comments from folks like Bennett and even Barabara Bush will ignite a change in Hip-Hop?
Jean Grae: You would hope that it would, but truthfully and honestly – except for a few select others… no. No change in Hip-Hop from the mainstream.
HHDX: Why do you think that?
Jean Grae: Because people are more concerned with putting food on the table for their kids and making a buck as opposed to spreading the truth to the masses.
HHDX: Do you think that with your label situation changed that labels will be more willing to give you a chance to shine like getting on the big mixtapes or something like that?
Jean Grae: Pretty much that was the whole idea or else I wouldn’t do the deal in the first place. I’ve known Kweli since I was 14 and Cory since I was 17. They’re going to give me the freedom to make the type of records that I want to make. It’s been what I have been looking for for a long time. I have that machine finally behind me without me having to be a machine.
HHDX: Do you think that you’ll be forced to change your style in order to eat?
Jean Grae: No, I think that I’ve learned a lot of things that made me be able to look at this as a better businessperson. But I pretty much change up my style ever two-three songs, anyway. I appreciate the fact that they [Blacksmith] are 100% in support of me.
HHDX: That’s good to know that they are holding you down. But my last question for you is – is there anything that you’d like to say to the readers and fans out there?
Jean Grae: For all those out there still listening, it’s going to be a great year. Please come out to see the shows. I’m happy that I didn’t quit and I do plan on being here for a while.