Music

I Have to Do It Right: An Interview With Jean Grae

Our new life coach on her music, her web show, and the importance of discovering things yourself.

Were you totally boss as a teen, too?

I think there was a basic guideline of “don’t be a fucking asshole to people” that stuck with me from a very young age. I definitely made some interesting teen choices, though, because adolescence. If Jean now could meet Jean then, I would definitely give myself more information to make better, more informed choices. I don’t regret anything, because I wouldn’t be me now [otherwise], but I would have been more careful.

Did you have any hard and fast rules about how you wanted people to treat you?

Generally, my only rule is the golden rule. I think I only really understood what that meant later on, though. Especially in terms of things I would allow done to me. It’s like getting your Adult Award when you can finally be like, “Nah. This is not how things are going to go. This is how things are going to go. For the greater good of everyone involved.”

A lot of our readers have a ton of strife about how to become that person—like, you’re hiding this tiny boss inside, how do you let her out?

Get rid of fear. It’s not real. I think that’s the most clear-cut I can be about it. I don’t think there’s one way for everyone. It can’t work like that. Because we’ve all had different experiences to lead us to this place of being afraid to be truly great. It’s scary to let go of everything. I’m not there yet. I think, workwise, I’m there. Heartwise, I’m shook right now. We just have to try every day to do better.

What kind of fear did you carry in the past?

The fear of showing people the art I really wanted to do, so I never really gave it my all until very recently. Like, the song “76%” is called that because it’s how much effort I used to put into writing—exactly 76%.

With rap, specifically, it’s more of a “why” question: Why the fuck should I give 100% if you won’t respect me 100%? Why would I tire myself out like that? That’s stupid. It’s an abusive relationship.

Like, “You do not deserve all of me, you haven’t earned it yet.”

Right. They won’t, ever, and that’s OK. I understand it, but it’s a broken heart for me—rap will never love me back the way I love it. Kind of sad.

But you still make music! How do you make music with a broken heart?

A lot of the time I do it for the challenge. I still want it to be beautiful. I’m at my best when I’m being reflective, because I really mean it. Not just the song topics, the whole damn thing. I really enjoy the science of it. I like being very technical about things. The science of drawing emotion from myself and from listeners is a very cool thing for me. I went into this album going on what I call “heartstring chords.” I understand how to make those beats, what chord progressions to use, what words to include.

Our music editor wanted me to ask you if you felt like you had a lot of false starts in the biz before you came into your own, and if that’s what made you go full-throttle into so many projects over the past few years. A lot of people just wither when things don’t work out, but you rose like a damn phoenix.

I think so. I also like learning how to do things, and I really enjoy doing shit by myself. A lot of people worked too slowly for me. I’m glad that technology caught up to what I wanted to do, at the speed at which I can wanted to create it and put it out. It makes me a little less brokenhearted about the whole “not loving me back” thing. It feels nice to be in control of the speed of things.

I bought a computer and the Final Cut keyboard; the first time I used it was on the “Kill Screen” video. I didn’t even know what that camera did! I just got the stuff and did it. Watch a YouTube video, there you go.


I love that your attitude about stuff is “make a new model.” Have you had to break out of things, metaphorically or literally, to be who you are now? And do you make a new model by destroying what you know, or building on it?

Building. I’m never one to destroy things. Not people, not things, not ideas. So I don’t think about breaking out of anything, no. It’s all about the build. 


When I was a kid, I never knew how to be a champion for myself. Like, you are so dope and say stuff like “I’m my favorite producer,” and talk favorably about your work so much. Is that part of the process of building—being your own support system?

Fuck yes. That’s always the idea. I say, “OK, well, let’s try it!” about everything, always. Maybe it will suck balls—we don’t know. Maybe we’ll rule the world with it! But we at least have to try. And if that doesn’t work, we look at what we did, ask what went wrong, and try different things.

I think a lot of girls are taught to not ask questions—how did you learn that it was OK to do that?

My mom taught me how to read very early, at age three. Which, of course, made me ask all the questions. And she never said, “Don’t ask.” She was a great mom, but she would also tell me to go find out for myself. I’m sure she gave me long books like Little Women because she wanted me to shut the fuck up, but it backfired—I would speed-read! WAMP, Mom.

“Before the Summer Broke” is such a good song, by the way.

Thank you. I haven’t gotten up all the nerve to write what I want to write for her yet. I need some time.

I think that it can be a process. It doesn’t have to negatively impact you to want to think about someone forever, you know? There’s no such thing as getting over, and it changes you, so let it change you in all the ways you can and can’t see yet.

Exactly. It transforms. But I think so much beauty comes out of everything. You just have to be willing to let shit be what it is and not fight it.

We are awesome at depressing interview material. If this interview were on TV, we would basically be lying on the floor by now, just sort of shrugging.

We would! I’m really, actually laughing.

If we can end on a NOT DEPRESSING NOTE, what do you think is awesome about being a teenage girl

First off, the stuff your body is doing is INSANE. You’re basically a universe becoming self-aware. HOW COOL IS THAT? Very cool, that’s how. Your body is realizing that it can create life inside itself. WHAT? WHO DOES THAT? That’s crazy. Your energy is at an all-time high, your capacity to learn is intense—what’s not to be amazed at yourself about? You are becoming the creator: Of life. Of ideas. Of everything. We tend to forget that. It’s really simple, but it is what it is. ♦

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9 Comments

  • spudzine February 13th, 2014 5:02 PM

    OMG she’s so cool…honestly, Rookie has legit introduced me to some really rad female R&B and rap artists in the past, and this girl is….so cool… I’m really happy that Jean is everything I’ve ever wanted from a role model: a WOC who isn’t afraid of being herself. (!!!!)

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
    http://emotwins.tumblr.com/
    http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

    • spudzine February 13th, 2014 5:11 PM

      I also wanted to add that it’s so inspiring how she makes things seem cooler-or as cool-as they already are. Like how my teenage body is not gross, but MAGNIFICENT. I wish more people had her attitude!

      (I LOVE YOU JEAN)

  • mangointhesky February 13th, 2014 5:25 PM

    I love her twitter thing about how people should use their brains. She’s amazing!

    http://theconfettireport.blogspot.com

  • jenaimarley February 14th, 2014 4:03 AM

    “You’re basically a universe becoming self-aware. HOW COOL IS THAT?”

    So rad <3

  • joanofart February 14th, 2014 11:11 AM

    Why is it that the only times black women are mentioned in Rookie, it’s because they their singers/rappers/entertainers???

    • Anaheed February 14th, 2014 11:17 AM

      That’s not actually the case, but since we talk about a lot of singers/rappers/entertainers of all races and genders, I can see why it might seem that way.

  • Kaetlebugg February 14th, 2014 11:58 AM

    I LOVE JEAN GRAE. Her song “Hater’s Anthem” is exactly what I need right now. I really hate some of the lyrics, but. The chorus, people, the chorus. “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, hold up.”

  • Nomali February 14th, 2014 1:11 PM

    She rose like a phoenix because Jean Grae. “You’re becoming the creator.” <3 Jean is incredible.

    http://nomali-from-soweto.blogspot.com

  • Paola February 16th, 2014 7:45 PM

    JUST WATCHED THE SITCOM THANK YOU FOR THIS ROOKIE JEAN GRAE IS AMAZING