Jean Grae is one of those people with an impossibly New York life. She grew up in the Chelsea Hotel, went to La Guardia High School (the FAME school), and eventually rose to prominence in the alternative hip-hop scene that ruled the city in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. She released records on Talib Kweli’s Blacksmith Records and Babygrande, and worked with artists like Immortal Technique, Cannibal Ox, and Pharoahe Monch, even making a memorable turn on Wale’s Back to the Feature mixtape.
Recently, her interests have expanded considerably into comedy, podcasts, and a new monthly show at Union Hall called Church of the Infinite You. It’s a beautiful, emotional Sunday afternoon hour that features a choir, storytelling, and a real focus on telling you it’s okay to love yourself. It’s a message that’s important to remember, now more than ever.
Why call it a church? What about it is churchy? What does that mean to you?
The idea of the Church of the Infinite You is that it’s not about me, it’s not about giving your power up to anything or anyone else. It’s coming there to deal with your own shit and start worshiping yourself: “I’m the shit, and unless I can deal with my shit, then I cannot really go into the world and deal with anything else.” You know, so focusing on things like self-care for a service, and saying, “You have to. You got to take care of yourself. You have to make sure that you’re taken care of before you take care of anyone else.” I like the idea of saying, “Church.”
Why do you like that?
It immediately puts in people’s mind a place to gather, and there are a lot of things that I love about organized religion, that I think are really beautiful. The music, the idea of gathering, the idea of putting all of your energy together in one place, is a really wonderful thing, I think. And then all the other things happen, and I’m not so fucking into it anymore.
“You got to take care of yourself. You have to make sure that you’re taken care of before you take care of anyone else.”
What are you hoping to inspire in the audience?
You’ve got to save yourself first. I had a conversation with my girlfriend, who’s starting to date, and I want to have a sermon on love and relationships, and she was like, “You know, I’m being so protective about myself.” I’m like, “Crash position is okay when there’s something impending, but you cannot be in crash position all the fuckin’ time. That doesn’t work.” I think a lot of us are kind of in general just there right now, you’re just always fuckin’ prepared for the worst, and forgetting to open up and go fly, and do your shit.
Could you tell me a little why you think this is important now?
It’s important all the time. But the service directly after the election was rough, and I knew it was going to be rough.
I knew it was going to be a lot of specifically white women wanting to really talk about shit, which it was. I’m like, “We’re doing that to an extent, but I also want you guys to know that it’s my job while I’m here to guide you through it, but whenever you see someone else who looks like me, it is not our job to help you through this because we’ve been here for a very long time, so it’s a different position, it’s not necessarily shock and awe, and, ‘Oh, my God, what is the world?’ It’s at a different place.”
Come here to deal with your shit, and go back out into the world having known that you’re dealing with yourself, because you have to. If you don’t have another time during the week, because a lot of us fuckin’ don’t, take this two hours and go work on yourself.
Portrait by Jane Bruce