Weird City Hip-Hop Festival: Jean Grae

Call her a femcee and risk ‘Fight Club’

Before her descent into Weird City cyphers Saturday at the Empire Control Room, New York rap idol Jean Grae talks femcees, the possible re-release of her pulled 2008 masterpiece Jeanius, and why she still considers retirement.

Austin Chronicle: Where am I reaching you today?

Jean Grae: I’m at home in New York. I’ve been spending more time in New York. I made the decision to stay in New York, to stay home to get things done you can’t do outside New York. Some other projects. Just kind of honing in and making a transition to doing other things.

I’m a firm believer that you can do what you want to do from all over the world. You don’t have to necessarily be anywhere, but I think in establishing certain things it’s important to be in that place.

AC: Last time you were in Austin was South by Southwest 2012?

JG: Yeah, I haven’t been to South by Southwest for a couple of years. I’ve wanted to go back. I just haven’t been able to do it the way I want to do it. Usually when I go, nobody wants to get drunk and walk around and shuffle into tiny bars and find new people. That’s how I like to do South by Southwest. I don’t like going to the big shows, doing all that.

Of course at times there’ll be a drunk pedi cab happening. It’s been a while, which is interesting because I think Austin’s a fun town. We go together well.

AC: I wanted to ask you about the term “femcee,” because you got a bit touchy with The Huffington Post when the interviewer used it. What does that term say about how the media views women in hip-hop

JG: First off, that was Marc Lamont Hill, and he totally did that on purpose. The fun thing about that interview is that people don’t know we’ve been friends for a long time. Right before he turned the cameras on it was like, “I’m going to kill you. I’m going to kill you.” It was a super sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek thing.

But overall, I just don’t feel you have to come up with another term for something because someone with a different gender is doing the same job. It’s still the same job. A female garbage man? It’s the farbage girl. It doesn’t make any sense to me.

I’ve never shied away from my femininity. I talk about women’s issues and things I’ve experienced in my life. I’m a woman, but I don’t see why you have to put that before my job title. That’s silly.

AC: Listening to your more recent stuff, I feel that you’re experimenting more vocally. Is that a concerted effort or just progression?

JG: There was a certain portion of me, as much as I thought there wasn’t, that was afraid to step out and do other things. I think with age and experience comes the, “Fuck it, I want to do what I want to do.” Not having to answer to a label or anyone else and just being able to work on stuff by myself and record the way I want to record really opened the door for me to say, “Do what you want – make the songs you want to listen to.”

I’m in a weird phase right now. It’s weird to get to a place where it’s like, “Oh no, did I blow my load? Is that it?” I went through this before. You have to just wait for what comes next. I don’t necessarily know what it is. I know it’s going to be vocal-arrangement heavy, but I’m not sure how the music sounds in my head.

AC: There were a lot of issues with piracy surrounding your 2008 release, Jeanius. Have you ever considered re-releasing it?

JG: What we wanted to do, and what 9th [Wonder] and I talked about, was releasing the original version, the one without the replays we had to do. We discussed it; we picked our album cover that we wanted to redo for it. It was released in 2008, but we recorded it in 2004. Maybe we should do that for the 10th anniversary. We definitely want to re-release it.

At that time, it was so early in people’s whole albums getting leaked. Nobody knew how to respond to it. We hadn’t picked up a model technology, like all of the things we have now. Had it been now, I could release it on Bandcamp and we would’ve cleaned up. Releasing it then, we didn’t have a distributor or a label planned or anything.

And I think it was kind of a blessing for us. I think it actually spread further that it would have had we tried to concentrate on that project, which is crazy. It wasn’t just that album. Both my albums leaked pretty much within hours of each other. It was at a time where we didn’t understand the new rules of the next generation of piracy.

AC: There was a brief time in 2008 when you quit the game. You said you weren’t going to be rapping anymore, and then pretty quickly you came back around. What was going on during that time? What made you come back? Have you ever thought about retiring again?

JG: Absolutely. There were a lot of things going on in my life at that point. I was really just kind of done. I did this for 15 years. I felt like that was enough time. I kind of wanted to do something else. People who know me will say, “Jean hates rap. She hates it.” Yeah, pretty much. Rap and I have had a difficult relationship.

It was a time where there were all these things I really wanted to do. So, if I can just stop doing this all together it will be great and I can do the other things. And I stepped away for a second. I hate the fact that everybody’s like, “You can’t stop doing this. You have to.” That’s not fair. Why do I have to do it?

AC: Do you think rap takes more out of you than other types of music? Does that make it harder to be a veteran?

JG: There’s a lot of your soul in there that you have to go in and get out. Talk therapy, getting it out. It is a lot. It depends on the kind of writer you are. For me, it’s always been stuff that’s super honest, and super personal, and super vulnerable. It’s all my life. So, it felt like a lot.

And I really had to get to a place where I found all these things to do and other creative outlets. It was a lot of things, but I think it was me coming to terms and coming to understand my own voice. And understanding what people mean when they say you’re making your own way. It was like that part in Fight Club – the switch over.

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Jean Grae, Marc Lamont Hill, 9th Wonder

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