Sinnamon Love, host of internet radio program Sex, Love and Hip Hop, hosted a one on one, live audience interview with the inimitable Jean Grae.
The personal conversation, held in Theater C at the newly minted MIST Harlem, was a three-headed story: One, of the progression of a radio host to a live interview setting, one of a veteran emcee who is enjoying a highly anticipated re-emergence and one of the space itself, a toast to two Harlems, old, nostalgic and proud, and new, advanced, multicultural and inviting.
Let’s start with Jean Grae, the star of the show, no doubt. She is a fierce poetical force on the mic, known for articulate, introspective, personal, clever and biting rhythmic commentary. Her Twitter feed is an almost absurdly entertaining amalgamation of cockiness and dry sarcasm.
If Twitter personalities could selectively put up new journalism-style paywalls, Jean Grae’s feed would be worth the subscription.
In person, when asked questions by Ms. Love, who is both comrade in entertainment as well as close personal friend, Jean Grae is all of these things, reflective and smart-assed, her story full of dramatic and unexpected twists and turns that would make even an average mortal seem interesting, much less an X-Woman of Jean Grae’s hip hop stature.
It makes the fact that her notoriety is still confined to a small portion of the hip hop-listening universe even more disappointing. In all painful honesty, there are far too many hip hop fans who have no inkling as to who Jean Grae is, which is, in of itself, a shame. What makes it even more tragic is that her story, again, already a biopic-worthy one, is made even more enthralling if you are already familiar with her.
In other words, there are a lot of exciting artists who have an average story. Tons of average artists with exciting stories. Jean Grae is the best of both of these worlds. As a truly entertaining speaker, if you know OF her, getting to know her fulfills much of why we follow celebrities in the first place: To receive a taste of their personal life that, if only for a brief moment in time, joins us in humanity with someone who is otherwise untouchable.
All of this, for the most part, made Sinnamon Love’s job fairly easy. Ask her a question, and Jean Grae gives an answer which contains some or all of a delightful mix of profound, complete, humorous and tongue-in-cheek responses, all which made for an enjoyable interview for the dozens in attendance.
Jean Grae spoke about her parents, jazz musicians in Capetown, South Africa where she was born, or “Really fucking far,” as she reminded the audience. Her genesis is interesting on its own, made more so by the route she followed afterward. Partially a familiar story of immigrants seeking a better life in the Big Apple, but with several fascinating side-stories: Living in the fabled Hotel Chelsea, or attending Laguardia High School for the Arts, a.k.a. the “Fame” school, among others.
Jean Grae spoke of early encounters with long-time rap compatriots, Mr. Len, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, delivering anecdotes that delighted the hip hop geeks in the house. She spoke on relationships, parental influence, dating other musicians and being the only female on all-male tours “for SEVENTEEN YEARS!”
Because many of her songs are markedly honest and introspective, descriptive even, detailing the results of prior relationships, Jean Grae alluded to a an unfortunate side-effect, a cynical Catch-22. Does a potential suitor really desire Jean for Jean, or, as she put it, “Do you just want a song?”
Rhetorical, but incredibly humanizing.
For her part, Sinnamon Love asked the right questions, and kept her composure as well as anyone could when Jean Grae’s humor, both self-depreciating and bitingly aggressive, more than occasionally commandeered the conversation.
Starting the first incarnation of her admittedly James Lipton-influenced live interview series, Sinnamon Love brought out an opening act of sorts, Playboy TV host and owner of Miss Lola’s House and HedoOnline.com, Lola Bastinado, immediately letting the audience know that the “Sex” in the title of her DTFRadio.com show would be well represented.
The brief opener, interesting as it was, was no stylistic precursor to the main event however, as salaciousness and provocativeness is not Jean Grae’s modis operandi. However, Sinnamon Love was quite capable leading the interview down a path both chronological and intriguing, without having to cross over into controversial.
Sinnamon Love has a rather eclectic background herself. A former adult film star and fetish model, Sinnamon Love now counts freelance writing and hosting her radio show as main gigs these days, though she sprinkles in speaking engagements and activism, including a focus on improving sex education in New York City schools, according to her website www.sinnamonlove.com. She is a parent of three, including an autistic child, and as such, describes herself as “an outspoken Autism/Asperger’s parent advocate.”
Her Sex, Love & Hip Hop radio program, a “relationship and lifestyle roundtable” discussion show, speaks on a variety of topics, inviting celebrities and others associated with hip hop music and culture to speak on a variety of issues of interest to the communities who look up to entertainers in these fields, These topics cover relationship and adult situations, but also important subjects such as responsible money management.
The MIST Harlem venue itself played well to the structure of the event. MIST Harlem (My Image Studios), a multiple-use facility that opened in late 2012, is at its core a theater multiplex consisting of a restaurant, bar and three movie theater spaces. The highly acclaimed movie The We and I, recently profiled in the New York Times, is playing in Theater A, while this event, organized by The High End Agency, was held in the smaller of the three theater spaces, providing a comfortable, but still intimate, in-person experience. The idea is simple, but effective: Utilize space that normally would be used exclusively for movie-watching, for a multitude of uses, including interactive and live events such as this. The lighting was moody and pleasant, the sound and video presentation, despite an early technical delay, was perfect in amplification and quality. Musical interludes by The Beatminerz’ DJ Bazarro helped create the right blend of atmosphere, all expertly orchestrated by the High End Agency’s Mic Sean.
In all, this event lived up to the expectations that those in the know expected, a compelling and intriguing interview with a compelling and intriguing Jean Grae, culminating with an up-close-and-personal performance of her M-Phazes produced, smoothed out gem, “U & Me & Everyone We Know,” a fitting choice, as strangers united in a two-step choreograph not yards from an artist who bared a lot of her soul, almost as if she knew the audience as well as she did the interviewer.
It will be interesting to see if Sinnamon Love will do as well with future events, where the guest is not a close personal friend, or perhaps not as enjoyably extroverted as Jean Grae can be, but all indications point to another stimulating conversation, scheduled for April 16.
Stay tuned to the BirthplaceMag.com event calendar for more information as it becomes available.
FIVE THINGS I LEARNED AT THIS EVENT
- Somewhere in Sinnamon Love’s life they used Lye soap.
- Mos Def, for all his greatness, did have one “horrible” hook.
- Jean Grae is a competent piano player, dancer and Left Eye impersonator.
- Jean Grae got ALL the head lice. (Back then, not now, don’t worry.)
- Jean Grae will curse out a journalist (but the journalist will love it because Jean’s such a treat)