The Trials of Jean Grae

Why an NYC rap star threatened retirement, and why she hasn't stopped threatening yet

So where do we stand with this now?

You know, I don't know. As far as I know, it was being shot. So I'm gonna assume it's done already. And I was like, "Do I say something about it before they decide to release it—will that stop it from coming out? Or do I let them go ahead and let them do it and then we'll deal with it?" I guess I just made my choice.

Does being on Talib Kweli's label help? Wouldn't he have a better grasp of what you want and what you need?

No, she's not trying to scare you.
Biz 3 Publicity
No, she's not trying to scare you.

I think the whole experience over the past year has definitely given me a better idea of how much more vocal—and vocal with tact—I have to be in certain situations. There's tons of things you could say. It's hard to not speak about anything passionately. And if you speak about it passionately, then you're being too emotional and whiny. Can't do that. And if I don't say anything about it, am I shirking my responsibility and leaving it open for everyone else to step in? How angry can I really be if I'm not doing anything?

The interesting duality comes from being female and immediately being written off saying anything—it's: "Oh, she's complaining again. See? And that's why bitches shouldn't rap." It's an interesting place to stand. It's sort of a "damned if you do, damned if you don't." I do wanna very much take a position on this song and this record and this video, because it would be insane of me not to.

With that MySpace bulletin, were you trying to scare people a little bit?

No. Definitely not.

I think from your fans' perspective, people were starting to take you for granted, and the thought of you being gone really kind of woke people up.

No, I mean, I haven't had music out in a while, and I can't expect the buzz to stay up if you're not putting anything out. I thought it was very interesting, and 9th and I discussed it: It was a real emotional time, and not just because I'm a girl—it was a huge thing to be like, "Hey, I'm not gonna be doing this anymore." And 9th and I spoke—he was like, "It's like you're dead." And I'm like, "It is like I'm dead!" It was amazing. I've never gotten so many hits on my page. I was like, "You know what? Not that it was a publicity stunt, but shit—maybe I've should've thought of it before as a publicity stunt."

Are you working on new material?

Uh-huh.

Is there a timeline there, or are you waiting to see how this goes?

I was. I was. After Jeanius, it's hard to go back and do something else. We actually went back and started Phoenix. Got about halfway through it. Really interesting album. Kind of modeling it after classic albums that we loved. We were like, "This one, this is Supreme Clientele." And I don't think I was in the right place to completely finish it at that moment. Really went through a period of not knowing the right way to go, what direction to be in. I was like, "Jeanius took four or five days. It shouldn't take long." It's been four years. And the songs are amazing and wonderful, but I don't exactly know if that fits into where I have to go for the next project. Which is great, because I love just recording and having things, have a catalog behind me. But. Yeah.

So when you threatened to retire, you talked about the things you'd do instead. What are those things?

Anything! Anything. Anything. I'm a writer. This is why I started doing this. So that'll fall into play. I don't know. When it's really time, and it's absolutely and completely right, and I don't feel like there's anything I really need to finish, then it'll be done.

Do you think you're gonna be doing this a year from now? Is this gonna turn out well? Or do you think you're walking away?

You know what? I need that Grammy. I think I might be able to stop after that.

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