Jean Grae Talks Jeanius Re-Release Plans, Prepares to D-Town Boogie
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.