In the race to bring New York back, who is to say that a woman cant do it? For three independent albums, Jean Grae has won over fans with candor, creativity, and a work ethic that rivals the last days of Tupac Shakur. This year shes planning at least three releases, and dont even ask her about lost tapes.
Signed to Talib Kwelis Blacksmith imprint, Jean Grae has Warner Brothers backing, and no corporate pressures to change. As a woman, she has constantly been compared to competition within her gender. However, with gripping reality in her raps, personal verses, and A-list production, is anything really separating Jean from the so-called top artists?
As a part of Womens Month, AllHipHop.com looks at one of the strongest MCs touching a mic today, who just happens to be a woman. This Cinderella story hasnt even reached its ball yet, which just might be Prom Night, one of the albums Jean will deliver this year. In the meantime, she isnt exactly washing her step-sisters dishes, but Jean just may cook you up some lasagna.
Jean Grae: Jake Paine. Is that your real name?
AllHipHop.com: Indeed it is.
Jean Grae: You should be a p### star with a name like that. Do you do p###?
AllHipHop.com: No, sadly, I dont; maybe one day though. Its a cool name till people meet me and see I dont live up to it. [Both laugh] So what is the best part about being a woman in Hip-Hop?
Jean Grae: [Sighs] Gosh, I dont know if Ive ever thought about that. Right now, I guess its a lot easier to I dont really have that much competition. The bad part is that they took the Grammy category out; the good part is that they took the Grammy category out.
AllHipHop.com: Why do you say that?
Jean Grae: I dont know, I think it would kind of make it mean more. I wouldnt just be winning in The Best Female category. Ive never really thought about that, cause everybody asks the opposite Whats the worst part of being a woman? I really dont know; I couldnt tell you. Also, theres so many topics that just havent been thought about or approached. Being able to see something from another point of view is interesting, and I just dont think that theres a voice for that. I dont understand why everybody only thinks youve got five topics to rap about.
AllHipHop.com: As youve gone from the debut in underground to the national scale on a major label, do you think the expectations of you, based on gender, have changed at all?
Jean Grae: Um no. I think I got stuck for the first time with this album, kinda worrying, especially being with Warner [Brothers] right now, and worrying about peoples expectations of me. I kinda got stuck recording for a while, and I didnt know what direction to go in, I didnt know what to do. Im hard on myself enough, so Ive kind of tried to block out everybody elses expectations of me cause Im dealing with my own expectations of myself. I really dont think about it at all, and I probably wouldnt get up and do anything if I had to worry about that all day.
Depending on what I wear on stage or how I wear my hair, the reactions change. Im like, Thats funny, cause I dont rap any differently, so why the hell should you care? After a show a while ago, this girl came up to me [and said], Oh, youre wearing your hair long now. I said, Excuse me? Did you like the show? She said, Yeah, it was great, and I said, Then why the f**k would you say that? Who cares? I think expectations as far as my style have changed. I was 17-18 years old [when my last style was formed], I would hope so. Theres some days where I feel like a tom-boy still, but Im a grown-ass woman, what is the problem?
AllHipHop.com: Listening to your music, whether Love Song or P.S., you get very personal. When youre writing or recording, are there moments where you decide some things are just too personal to let out?
Jean Grae: It has [happened] especially a song [Forgive Me] on the Jeanius album, dealing with abortion. I had tried to write the song at least five or six times over the years. A couple of times Id finish the second verse or even the whole song and say, Im not ready to do this yet, and I think it was just a time where I was comfortable enough with myself to do it. 9th [Wonder] definitely put me in a place where I felt comfortable doing it. Yeah, especially with stuff thats really, really personal and its true like P.S. happened because I was at a place in my life where I was very used to holding grudges against people. It kind of came at a time where I needed to let some things go. It was one of the quickest songs Ive ever written. Yeah, it was a way to get everything out. A lot of times its talk-therapy for me. I always know when its time to say something and when its not.
AllHipHop.com: Going back to P.S., when you reached out to these people from your past on the song, did you hear back from any of them?
Jean Grae: I actually did. My ex from the first one actually wrote me back. The girl that I was talking about actually wrote me back. I hung out with them after that. It was really interesting, and I actually dont think it was something that I couldve said in person first. It was a lot easier to talk about it after the fact. Yeah, it actually did work.
AllHipHop.com: It was rumored that Attack of the Attacking Things cost 18 dollars to make. Is that really true?
Jean Grae: That is true. Attack of the Attacking Things actually cost about 18 dollars included Chinese food, cigarettes, cause it was pretty much just me, in my bedroom, with Pro Tools.
AllHipHop.com: So even with Evil Dee, whos got his own studio, those things were still recorded in your bedroom?
Jean Grae: No, wait! That was that included in it my trip to Evil Dees house, train-fare there and back. [Love Song] was the only second song that I did not record at home; that was four dollars [of the 18 dollar budget]. It was fun. I had a really good time making that album.
AllHipHop.com: Its out of print now, and getting serious money on eBay. How do you look back on that time in your life?
Jean Grae: Every album is interesting for me because its so personal. Its kind of like snapshots. I can definitely tell exactly how I was feeling at that time cause Im f**kin sayin it. I had just broken up with that person that I was living with. It was my first time being back on my own. It was very interesting. I think it was New Years, and everybody was like, Come on, come out, and I said, Nah, Im not coming out. Im gonna stay home and record for New Years. I mostly just stayed in the house and made beats and kept recording. Id just gotten Pro Tools; I was figuring that out. I was doing engineering sessions in the house. It was a real liberating time. I think at that point, I felt like I was learning so much. It was overwhelming. It was nice to be recognized. When I listen to it now, I sound really young.
AllHipHop.com: I dont know if you own the masters, but seeing as its out of print, would you ever re-release it?
Jean Grae: I do own it. And originally, the idea was to have that, cause its called The Dirty Mixes I would finally have it mixed, well. Sadly, the computer that had all the Pro Tools sessions crashed, and all the sessions are gone. If we actually have to digitally remaster everything, it would only be two tracks. I kinda still want to do it. I cant tell you everything. It will be coming back out.
AllHipHop.com: I heard this record of yours called You Told Me, a collaboration with 9th Wonder. Its so warm and happy. When looking back at records like Dont Rush Me or Keep Living, do you think youre a happier person now than you were in the past?
Jean Grae: Im just like everybody else. Some days are dark, and some days I feel really good about things. You Told Me is actually on The Phoenix album. It was just at a really good place. Its written backwards, but forwards. I think it was a way for me to get out of the darkness by writing from the future. Trust me, I still like the dark stuff. I always need that s**t in my life, its great. Sometimes I listen to my s**t, and Im like, F**k, Im depressing myself. [Laughs] Im not the most happy-go-lucky motherf**ker all the time, so its never gonna really be a happy, upbeat record the whole way through. Im extremely moody. A lot of that is me saying, G####### it, Im depressing myself. Im complaining a lot, and the complaining s**t isnt helping, so Im gonna do something about it.
AllHipHop.com: Was your move with Blacksmith something that had been building on the low for some time?
Jean Grae: It wasnt. I had no idea what the f**k I was gonna do after [Babygrande Records]. Corey [Smyth], who owns Blacksmith with [Talib] Kweli weve all been friends for so long. He was always like, Jean, we need to work together; I need to manage you. I was always [responded], Yeah I dont think so uh. We were always cool. With Kweli, I appreciate the fact that out of so many people that you know and someone who is actually successful at doing what theyre doing can look back and be like, Yo, I totally didnt forget about you. The fact that they let me be crazy, work on my own time schedule, and let me have complete creative freedom is ridiculous, and I dont know what kind of situation I would have been in, after Babygrande, had Blacksmith not been there. Im really, really lucky.
AllHipHop.com: What does 2007 have in store for you on the music side?
Jean Grae: Jeanius is coming out first. We just decided on artwork. 9th and I both love to think of s**t like that, and we both could not come up with anything for like the past year. We decided on what were gonna do its hilarious and also wrong. Enjoy that. The album after that is called Prom Night. I was going in so many different directions. The response from [a Warner Brothers] showcase let me know that whatever I want to do is great, fantastic, just give [them] the album. I was feeling stuck, I had writers block for like a year, and I think I just needed to have other experiences. I dont think I was ready to write it. The best advice that I got was from [?uestlove] who said, Just see everything before its done. Visualize the track listing, the sequencing, the videos, everything. That really, really helped. I decided to go with everybody that I always wanted to work with. Nottz, Ski Beats, and Buckwild are producing. Like Nottz, this kid has a zillion beats on his computer. He was like, Do you want me to just play 18, 20 of em? I said, No, cause Im afraid Im gonna f**kin miss something. I sat there and listened to 300 beats. He said, Yo, you are the only person besides Busta [Rhymes] who comes in and listens to everything. We did like four joints. It was like that with Ski. Now, its ended up that Ive picked so many beats that I have more than I need. So yeah. There will probably be more than two albums this year. [Laughs] I told 9th that everything that didnt make Jeanius should go on a follow-up called Idiot. This Week had a follow-up which was supposed to be Next Week Theres so many tracks that never made it, and I want to put them out. Phoenix is still coming this year. [Sighs] Its gonna be a long year.
AllHipHop.com: You never worry about over-saturation?
Jean Grae: No. I get into periods where I either get writers block or I just record a ridiculous amount of s**t. So theres so much back-catalog stuff to put out. I thinks theres between six and eight ADAT [tapes] between Natural Resource and Attack of the Attacking Things. When its there, I like to make sure I record a whole bunch, just in case.
AllHipHop.com: Whats good on the acting front?
Jean Grae: I dont know, Ill see how it goes this year. Im more interested in developing my own programs and going from there than going out trying to look for work. We get 9,000 ideas a day. There was a Jean Grae dating show, just me going on dates. Nobody else gets to date on the show, just me, and of course it never works out. There was a cooking show, which I definitely still want to do. I think theres a huge market for it, but I dont think theres something thats catered to a younger crowd. I dont wanna f**kin watch [Food Network personality] Rachael Ray all day; I dont want to eat food like that.
AllHipHop.com: She had like 30 Dollars a Day, in Hip-Hop, it could be more like 30 Dollars a Week
Jean Grae: [Laughs] Exactly! Something thats a little more realistic. I like to cook a lot. I have a lot dinner parties and friends over, because I kind of think weve lost that. Sitting down and watching TV is great, but nobody sits down and f**kin talks anymore. Community-wise, I really love doing s**t like that, whether its game night or just actin a damn fool. I love, I love cooking for people.
AllHipHop.com: Whats youre A-dish?
Jean Grae: Everything.
AllHipHop.com: Lets say your mother is on her way over for dinner tonight, what are you gonna make?
Jean Grae: Hmmm she wanted my vegetarian lasagna again, she enjoys it. And I havent made that in a long time.
AllHipHop.com: Im so sick and tired of people talking about bringing New York back, and whos gonna do it. I was thinking that weve got an election coming up with our potential first president of color, or our first woman president. Ill go on record saying I believe you have the ability to take New York over, biased or not. With three albums in the works, how does a woman bringing New York back sound to you?
Jean Grae: It feels good, it feels really good. Ive never done that whole Im the Queen of New York s**t. Im like, Hey, feel free to say it though. Im not mad. [Laughs] Yeah, f**k it, I can do it! Its on! Its on like Tron! [Laughs]