Jean Deaux Shows Herself Empathy
“No matter who I’m doing a song with, I’m probably going to go harder than I even do on my own shit; because it’s not even my song, I gotta bring the magic,” she told us. “I’m trying to channel more of that type of mindset into my own shit now. If I wouldn’t allow something to be mediocre on another person’s song––now I treat myself with the same respect as an artist.”
And that sentiment shines through on her sophomore EP, where she finesses between trap beats and synth melodies with her signature agile, raspy flow. It’s a freer departure from Krash, which she tells us was all about reaching a place where she could grow from failure––“getting it wrong, to get it right, to get it better."
Deaux’s been writing songs since the age of 10, but didn’t start recording until high school. “I didn’t go into music thinking I would make money off of it,” she told us. “Music found me and I feel like because of that, it’s my duty to do the best I can in return.”
But with things taking off so quickly for her, landing huge opportunities before she even turned 19, she came up against both the drama of starting out in the industry and the struggles of transitioning into adulthood all at the same time––working two jobs, finding an apartment, getting out of a bad relationship, and worrying about getting her debut perfect. All that was the fuel for Krash. “Krash was really so scary,” she explained, “It was my introduction as an artist, a lot of people’s first time hearing me, so much ground I felt like I had to cover.”
So Empathy marks her progress toward release. “[The EP] is about self-acceptance, being confident, loving yourself, making sure the ones around you are loving you how you need and want to be loved. So it’s not a straight line from Krash, but it’s definitely been a journey,” she said.
office sat down with the artist to talk "Goodfellas" trap and learning from failure.
What’s your relationship to music like?
Music is a lot of things right now. I'm learning to compartmentalize because on one hand it’s a career, but on another hand it’s also the way that I heal and how I have self-therapy. Right now I'm just finding the balance between those two, understanding that I am doing a job but I’m also here to have fun and make life better for myself in any way that I can through art.
A lot of creative people experience that, when you’re finally living your dream, making money off what you love. How do you remind yourself that this was your original place of healing and creating versus just seeing it as a job?
I just have to remember how I got started. I didn’t go into music thinking I would make money off of it at all. I didn’t see it as a career or a way to further myself. I always thought college was the only way. Music found me and I feel like because of that, it’s my duty to do the best I can in return. Remembering where I started and how it was before I had access to what I have now.
Who are three people or artists that’ve helped shape you?
Pivot Gang as a collective. Kembe X, who’s one of my best friends, and the person I started recording with when I was 15. Strong and powerful women like Beyonce, Amy Winehouse, Missy Elliott; any strong black women in the industry really helped shape me. Nicki Minaj is one of the most influential rappers I grew up on.
People have been talking shit about Nicki Minaj in recent years but I feel like she’s so revolutionary.
Definitely, I don’t think Nicki gets the credit she deserves. I think it’s one of those things where people aren’t going to really fully love her until she’s gone, as far as not being involved in the music industry anymore. But I like how resilient she is and how she’s not afraid to speak her mind. I just heard that her new manager is the same guy who manages Travis and she went off on him on one episode of her radio show. You have to be a strong-minded man to have somebody chew you out and still be like, ‘Well you right. And actually, let me come be a part of your team.’ I think that just shows how powerful she is. I love that.
You’ve said Krash was all about failure, I wanted to hear what Empathy is about.
I feel like after you’ve failed so many times, it helps you decide what you really want to succeed at, how and why. And I feel like Empathy is about self-acceptance, being confident, loving yourself, making sure the ones around you are loving you how you need and want to be loved.
With Empathy, it was really easy to make as far as just making the music and not thinking too hard about it. Which is why I call it an EP and not an album. It’s not like I’m trying to sell a story, this is just the place I was in when I was making these songs.
What failures were you alluding to?
I feel like I was doing all the right things, and going from not even knowing I could make money off something I like doing to actually making money off of it, and seeing that progress had my mind like, ‘OK this is it, this is my journey, this is where I’m going.’ So many things happened after that, I got my first manager, lost my first manager. And then the deal I was in, it was probably one of the best deals for anybody coming into the industry, but it was not the support that I needed behind it as an artist. So I had to get away from that. And then I started working two jobs and I had to get an apartment, and I was in a terrible relationship that failed, and I came up out of that. I had to go to a hospital at some point because of how depressed I got.
And I just felt like, failure happens to everybody and it’s not something to beat yourself down about. But at some point I wasn’t really trying to succeed. I was failing at even wanting basic happiness. When I got to Krash, it took right before I started making it to come to it with a new perspective. I didn’t really just fail. Basically I was learning what I needed to learn [in order] to succeed when it’s my time. So I got to the place where I could make Krash, make something that I enjoy, and that I like to perform, then I was able to come back with Empathy and learn even more from that. I’m using the places I didn’t succeed, learning why, and applying it the next time around.
That’s really just what we have to do as human beings, really channel both sides of life––getting it wrong, to get it right, to getting it wrong, to get it right, to get it better.
Do you feel like you have perfectionist tendencies?
I did. Someone recently told me that perfectionism is a form of self-hate because you’ll never be perfect. So it’s a false sense of self. Ever since they told me that my brain’s been kind of fucked up thinking about it. I don’t think it’s self-hate, that severe, but it is a self-loathing type of thing.
If you could’ve been born before the internet and social media, would you want that?
I feel like any time before now, being black, I feel like I’m in the best predicament. If segregation is the environment versus Facebook, I’m gonna go with Facebook.
The internet is a tool and you just have to know when to use it. I’m so used to having it in my life that I have to remind myself to be without it. I’d rather know that difference. Lately the internet has become the matrix, man. I’ve been in situations where I didn’t have service or my phone stops working, and I’m like, wow. If something doesn’t go right, if we lose our connections to whatever big ass satellite towers we’re on, it’s all done. It just feels very fickle to me. At any moment someone could press the off button and these connections we have, people who are “following” us go away. I think from a business perspective, damn, how would I still be making money?
If you could see your songs in a movie which one would it be?
I would want my songs in “Goodfellas,” when they all came from that bar and they had on new clothes and new cars and shit and Robert DeNiro was like, “I told y’all not to buy anything, take it back,” and he took the girl’s coat off her whole body. I love that scene. It’s one of my favorite scenes of all time. It’s some real gangsta shit. Low-key they should just do a new soundtrack of all trap music.
That would be sick dude. You should pitch that to someone. What’s your dream venue?
I want to play a big ass theatre. I want to discover the perfect place. But I want to play in a stage play theatre.
What’s your best Chicago advice?
Man, just get to know everybody before you make any major moves. A lot of people don’t seem friendly but a lot of people in Chicago, we always are hustling. So you gotta really get to know the people you’re gonna work with.