She may be the best kept secret of the underground. Whether she’s spitting raw self-righteous lyrics or dealing with her personal demons, Jean Grae has mastered the art of emceeing. She is unlike mainstream female rappers who exploit their sexuality. Her quick tongue flow, extensive vocabulary and delivery place her in the ranks of hip-hop elite.
According to Jean Grae’s autobiography on www.jean-grae.com she was born in South Africa and moved to New York as a young girl. Her father, a jazz pianist and mother, a jazz singer and school teacher, fostered in Grae an appreciation for the arts. Grae was the youngest dancer ever in the Alvin Ailey dance company. She was admitted to New York University at the age of 16 after obtaining her GED, but dropped out after only two months. However, it was on the streets of West Village that she received an education no college could afford. Amongst the likes of Mos Def, Talib Kweli and other emcees and poets Grae began honing her writing and rhyming skills.
Grae’s work on the underground dates back to 1996. Her numerous guest appearances garnered her the title, “Cameo Queen.” It was with the release of her debut album Attack of the Attacking Things that Grae proved herself as an emcee. Attack also helped to increase her street buzz as she demonstrated the ability to hold her own.
Grae’s follow-up album, This Week, illuminates her personal and artistic growth. The album takes you on a journey to a heartfelt love dilemma complimented by a melodic 1970’s background. Grae further recounts her bout with alcoholism on The Wall: “irrational thoughts often, could find me squeezing the quark often, competing with wino heathens to squeeze in a coffin, the alcoholic in me is almost slaughtered like the traveling door-to-doors man…”
She evokes the cockiness of a young Muhammad Ali delivering a verbal assault to all challengers. Grae combines poetic imagery and an ill delivery with lines like: “I was born in a zephyr … west wind terrorist arch angel left wing clipped off by the … seraphims, right wing sickened when the lighten struck it …”
Grae’s traverse content, and lyrical dexterity accented with a touch of wit makes her a rarity: She’s a dynamic multi-dimensional emcee.
She is a throwback to Queen Latifah and MC Lyte exuding a brash and bold confidence. Her uncompromising artistry gives hope to hip-hop heads bored with trite mainstream rappers.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Jean Grae.
Renita Burns can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.