Emcees G. Huff and Lena Jackson have joined forces for a new EP called, “Grace and Alchemy.” From Youngstown, OH and Raleigh, NC respectively, the duo created a brief, but impactful 7-track project that seamlessly weaves in battle rap, vibe out music, relationship songs, and subject matters that affect the black community.
Released by United Grind, Grace and Alchemy is produced by ILL BROWN and Da Bopman with guest appearances by Ida Divine, 3D Na’Tee, and Maestra.
The Real Hip-Hop spoke to G. Huff & Lena Jackson about how they joined forces, what they learned from each other during the creative process, and their new EP, Grace and Alchemy.
TRHH: What’s the meaning behind the title of the new EP, Grace and Alchemy?
G. Huff: For me it was just about with Lena being a woman she has a certain type of presence and grace about her that made good chemistry with my straight-forward and aggressive rap style. That’s pretty much where Grace and Alchemy came from — Lena being a graceful woman and me being a harder edged emcee. We have two completely different styles. If you’ve ever heard her solo material or heard my solo material it’s like night and day. Somehow, we were able to come together and do a project. The first thing that people always say when they hear the project is, “Y’all have great chemistry.” A lot of people think that we’ve been rapping together for our whole lives. This is really our first time working together outside of one isolated song. That’s where Grace and Alchemy came from.
Lena Jackson: The concept is kind of like finding that artistic balance. It’s a balance of creativity, personality, and bringing the different dynamics together to achieve one common thing. We’re bringing two things together that people don’t normally see or experience and we’re making it all make sense. It’s a really dope combination.
TRHH: How did you two get together to decide to do Grace and Alchemy?
G. Huff: Me and Lena just being two emerging indie Hip-Hop artists we kind of connected on the underground independent tip. We took a liking toward each other musically. At one point I was bigging myself up like, “I rhyme and I do this and that” because that’s just what you do when you’re proud of your work. When I was selling my music to her I and no idea that she made music. She revealed that she did poetry and rhymed. She let me check something out. I didn’t expect much, not because she’s a woman, I just want to clarify that part. I don’t expect much from people period when they say they make music. We traded songs and she was dope. From that point on we kind of stayed connected over the years, just shooting songs back and forth to when it came time to do this project it just made sense for us to do it together.
TRHH: I’m interested to know why you don’t expect much from people that make music.
G. Huff: Because it’s over-saturated nowadays. Everybody makes music! It’s from social media, to getting spam in your inbox, to emails, and being on the street and getting CD’s. You come across so much music these days to where I don’t really have any expectations from anyone. If you make music, cool. If it’s dope, that’s great. If not, I wasn’t expecting it to be dope anyway so it’s no harm, no foul.
TRHH: What was the process like recording the EP?
Lena Jackson: The process recording it was fun, it was challenging, and it was a completely different process. I’ll at least speak for my part, this is really my first time collaborating beyond a song. This is a whole project. Being a team player is one of those things that I really had to learn more about and kind of step up in regards to. I’m so used to doing things my own kind of way. You discover when working with someone else that your own kind of way is not always the right way, it’s just a different way. You have to be able to make things work and communicate. It really winds up being like any decent relationship out there.
When you’re trying to have some kind of common thing in mind, even artistically, you have to respect each other’s view, opinion, talk to each other, and things like that. It just winds up being a whole ‘nother world for me on the art level. I personally learned so much. That’s where the challenge comes in because it’s like, it’s not just you. You can’t really come to the table thinking, “I’m dope. I know this, I know that, and this is going to be great because of what I know.” It’s going to be great because we both put our superpowers to it and made it what it was. I’m very grateful for being able to successfully create something, but also being able to learn as well.
G. Huff: I think the biggest thing with collaborating with anyone is first and foremost you have to set the egos aside. A lot of times when you have two people who are dope, creative, and have been doing their thing for so long, the first thing that you instantly do is feel like you know it all. Like she said, “My way is the better way” and that’s really not the case with collaborating. When you look at all of the great groups, whether it be an Outkast or Mobb Deep, let’s use Outkast as an example, Andre 3000 is an incredible emcee and he receives a lot of praise for being the more in the front emcee. But what people don’t realize with that duo is all of the behind the scene and concepts that had to come in play was Big Boi. It was Andre trusting Big Boi’s vision and Big Boi trusting Andre’s vision. They had to set their pride and egos aside and not make it an individual effort of “who is the dopest emcee” but let’s just make dope music. For me that was always the goal – to make dope music. I’m going to do what I do. It was always about the music first and foremost.
TRHH: Did you learn anything from each other that will help you as an artist in the future?
Lena Jackson: [Laughs] Oh yeah. I ain’t even gonna lie, I’m kind of sensitive as an artist and as a person. It’s not just on an artistic level. It’s on a business level and things like that. I feel like I’ve kind of developed tougher skin. What I’ll say about G. Huff is he has a work ethic that I envy at times. Sometimes I’ll look at myself like, “I need to do more!” or “I need to do better!” It lit a fire under me to where it’s like, “What more can I do?” I’m being a lot more relentless, learning to be less sensitive, and being able to accept feedback and criticism. Even anything worse than that from the outside world, knowing how to deal with that and process that.
He has a very good armor when it comes to those things. I just kind of pick up on a lot of those different traits. I want that. I feel like it helps me as an artist. To be honest, as a woman in this industry it’s hard to be sensitive and be successful. I feel like we have to be a little tougher and have our eyes open, be on the lookout for certain things, and be able to handle the other things that men may not experience. Those are some of the things I picked up from him specifically that I’m still trying to cultivate and get better at so I can kind of incorporate it into my future endeavors or our future endeavors.
G. Huff: I’m a Gemini and I believe in astrology, so because of that I’m naturally impatient. I hate to wait, especially when I feel like I’m so much further ahead. I’m not talking about skill-wise. Like she said, she envied my work ethic. I move, that’s just what I do. It’s funny because I’ve always heard interviews where people would talk about 2Pac and Pac would always write and move on. He would lay it down and wouldn’t even listen to it. That’s kind of how I am. I work fast. I come with an idea, put it down, and move on to the next. I’ll record 3-4 songs in a day. If I’m in the studio that’s what I’m doing for the day. Because of that, I just get so much more done faster.
Her process is different from my process. I had to learn to just be patient and respect her process. Her process is what makes her style great. It’s what brings out Lena Jackson. I couldn’t expect her to work like G. Huff. She could have very well done it, but it wouldn’t be to the standard that she put up on this project. I just sit back, be patient, and trust her process. I’m glad I did because she did a hell of a job on this project. That is one thing that I learned, that I don’t necessarily like, and I hate to deal with, but I reached a place where I absolutely understand that patience is necessary.
Lena Jackson: We both believe in the astrology thing. It’s one of our common things. He’s a Gemini, and I’m very familiar with Gemini’s. I’m an Aquarius, and if you know anything about Aquarius’ we’re laid-back in a sense when it comes to existing [laughs]. I’ve been very much an earthy, flower child type. I wouldn’t say it clashes, but those energies do kind of challenge each other. He’s had to learn patience, but I’ve had to learn to pick up my feet and step a little bit faster and harder. It’s taken me out of my comfort zone, but it’s a good thing. It’s not a negative thing at all. If anything, both of those elements I personally feel have added to our growth as artists and as people in general.
TRHH: What inspired the song “Lotta Love”?
G. Huff: That’s a song she came up with. We had a beat for it and when she heard the beat she loved it. I think that’s the last song we made. It wasn’t even supposed to be on the project, but she ended up hearing the beat and she loved it.
Lena Jackson: As soon as I heard the beat I started writing in my head to it. I want to say I heard it in the car, and usually that’s the best time to get started on something creatively. If you listen to the project overall, it’s one of those things where you have that balance of man and woman, but overall the concepts are pretty gender neutral. It’s less so on “Lotta Love.” It’s the man’s perspective and the female’s perspective. I’ve really had that opportunity to share that softer, sensitive, vulnerable, feminine side. That’s what I felt when I heard it. I wrote my heart out [laughs].
A lot of times when it comes to something that’s heartfelt in that regard, something in a romantic nature, I take a combination of my own experiences and feelings and infuse it. I know there are a lot of women out there that would identify with what I’m going through. I just wrote my little heart out when it came to that one. When G. Huff added his verse, I felt like it was perfect. It was like two characters in a movie showing their own points of view over music. I ain’t gonna lie, that’s one of my babies on the project. I have a very strong connection to that song. It’s meant for men and women to kind of look at and reflect on.
G. Huff: The thing about that song too is it had the soul sample in it. The sample played during the chorus. For me listening to the sample it was self-explanatory what the song was supposed to be about. I wrote my verse before I had even sat down with her or heard her verse. I kind of felt the same way she felt. When I heard the beat, it spoke to me in a certain kind of way. I knew how I wanted to approach it. I wrote my verse and made it up in my mind that if by chance my verse didn’t go with what she created I would tailor-make it around to fit the song better.
Once I heard her verse I knew my joint was perfect! Like everything else throughout the project, it was a complete contrast of one another’s perspective. Like I said, that was the last song that we did, so by the time I got to that song I kind of already knew how I should approach it based on everything else that we created at that point. It was about having a single man’s perspective, most of all. I think we’ve all been there at one point in time in life. That’s what I wanted to add to the song.
TRHH: On the song “Black Babies & Blue Steel” you talk about being parents in a world where black men are targets. As parents, how do you explain these types of situations to your children?
G. Huff: My son will be 12 in December. I’ve already had these talks with my son. My son is completely aware of a lot of these things. I think the first time that he ever asked me about racism and why white people are so hateful and dislike black people, it was one of the most shocking and disheartening things that I ever had to face. I knew the day would come, I just wasn’t prepared when he asked. I felt like he was too young for that conversation. I thought about the world that we live in and, nah, he’s not too young. You’re never too young to have these conversations.
Being a parent, you just have to be honest with your children and you can’t sugarcoat it. You have to tell them the truth. You can tell them the truth in a way that the child can absorb it and understand it, but you can’t water down the reality of that situation. Me and his mother drill it into his head that “You’re a black kid and unfortunately you can’t do some of the same things. You’re not going to have the benefit of the doubt in certain situations.” It’s a hard thing to explain to your child, but the sooner they know it, the better off they’ll be. I’m always a straight-forward type of dude with everything that I do, and it’s really no different with my parenting.
Lena Jackson: My son is 2. He hasn’t had that type of conversation. Even with my verse, it’s on that side of fear, because I haven’t had that conversation yet. He’s still a baby to me so I’m still holding him and giving him all the love, and his father does the same. It’s just like with my verse, “Locks tight, windows tinted, paranoia sinking in.” I’m that paranoid parent because I know that conversation has to be bad. I hate that the conversation has to be had. I dread having that conversation, but I know that it’s necessary.
Right now, seeing him be so innocent and so loving and happy, I have this constant worry when I see things in the news with police brutality, racial attacks, racial injustice, or a black man getting murdered and everyone handling the murderer with kid gloves. Those are the things that worry me and get under my skin every day, because I feel like I have to talk to my son about this at some point, I just don’t want to. I wish we lived in a world where we didn’t have to. It’s just one of those things where I have that underlying worry about the future, at the same time, I’m preparing myself and getting ready for when that time comes because it’s necessary and it’s coming.
TRHH: Will we hear a sequel to Grace and Alchemy?
G. Huff: Right now, I would have to say so. Anything could happen. For me it’s a plan to do so. It’s also one of those things where it’s so early in the game that if it does happen it would have to make sense and be under different circumstances. I’m out for the gold. I’m trying to get it all and I want the same for her. I wouldn’t want her to feel like she has to commit to sticking with me if her heart is with doing a solo project or working with someone else. Where we’re at, the sky is the limit and there are so many opportunities that can come.
I feel like we have multiple doors to pursue because there are going to be people that are interested in me, there are going to be people that interested in her, and there are going to be people that are interested in both of us. I feel like whichever avenue is the one that gets us on will be the one that I take. I’m all about what makes sense. I don’t have any issues with working with her in the future. It’s been pretty fun and easy, but at the same time, if there is a greater opportunity that presents itself I would expect her to take it and vice versa.
Lena Jackson: I feel about the same. Us being two solo artists we know how to go about our business and continue doing our own thing if we wanted to. The option of doing a sequel is something that we talked about before. It’s definitely something that’s on the table if it makes sense. Just to piggyback off of what he said, a lot of the feedback that I’ve seen, they are loving G. Huff. I’ve seen feedback where they are loving Lena Jackson. Sometimes that’s because we are two different artists, and sometimes it’s because I’m a woman and he’s a man.
We’ve been able to kind of peep game and see the different dynamics that people tend to favor, whether it’s based on art, gender, something genuine, or bias. We just kind of peep game and see how we’re being received. Based on what we think might feel right, it’s definitely a possibility. We never wanted anything to feel forced, and that’s been the dope thing about this process. As long as it’s authentic and organic it’s definitely up for consideration.
G. Huff: If Dr. Dre make that phone call or Jay-Z say he wants G. Huff and Lena Jackson we not going to tell Dre no or tell Jay no. I feel like the response on the industry level has been more so the thing that I’ve been most shocked about. The fans matter and I appreciate their response as well, but on an industry level the DJ’s, our peers, A&R’s and people like that hear it absolutely get it, off rip. Lena posted a screen shot of Lady of Rage pumping her fist on the post. That was dope. Statik Selektah loved it off rip. He heard it and instantly starting playing it. There’s been countless other people as well on an industry level who see the vision, understand it, and have gravitated toward it. I feel like there’s some chances and opportunities that might present itself when it comes to that, but it’s kind of early to determine.