Jean Grae will smack the average rapper with a lyrical two-piece and a biscuit (that’s slang for a smack down for all you squares reading this). The femme fatale has the rhyme chops to hang with the big boys like Jay and Nas. Word. Her debut full length, Attack of the Attacking Things was heralded by pencil pushing, keyboard tapping music critics and underground rap fans. Her new effort, The Bootleg of the Bootleg EP, (what is it with these double word titles?) is more of the same thought provoking and technically precise lyricism with even stronger beats. Thank you Jean.
Before Jean was out of her teens she was a member of the heralded but now defunct underground group Natural Resource. No disrespect to the other members, Meat Pie and Ocean, but Jean, then known as What? What?, was the star of the trifecta. The same way Lauryn Hill initially stood out from her Fugees partners, Jean was the lyricist heads were checking for. On top of her skills with words, her production credits (as producer alias Run Run Shaw) were top shelf beat spirits as well.
The album is kicked off by its lead single, the incendiary “Haters Anthem” where she spits one liners like, “I’m more necessary than violence on the Amistad,” over an intense four-note key loop that has it’s tension released by the chorus’ refrain, “You f**k, you f**k, you f**k!” On “Chapter One: Destiny” she molds her lyrical clay is into a vivid Bonnie minus the Clyde tale that would make Ghostface. Meanwhile, relationships and friendships are expounded on over airy vocal snippets and sharp snares on “My Crew.” Nice collaborative assists are accepted from Cannibal Ox on “Swing Blade” and from Block McCloud and Pumpkinhead on “Code Red.”
The problem with this disc is that being an EP, and only six songs deep at that, you can’t help but asking, “That’s it, that’s all?” Grae tries to make amends by tagging a “megamix” of freestyles and older material at the end of the album. Beginning the bonus cuts with a blistering freestyle over Jay-Z’s own hidden gem “Breathe Easy” is a nice touch. She hold her own over a few Jigga instrumentals including the “You Don’t Know Remix” where she sums up the reason for her relative obscurity: “Not a thug, not a drug seller, not a gun shooter, not a stripper sex symbol…or anything your used ta/Marketing nightmare, I don’t fit into categories/I just rap, make beats and shit and sleep a;; these stories/All I want is the voice, all the people need is a choice, if there’s no competition, then what is the f**king point?!” Two tracks from her neophyte emcee days with Natural Resource, “Negro League Baseball” and “Bum Deal,” will make rap historians grin.
Maybe it’s the general public’s snail pace in checking for her that has frustrated Grae; and perhaps that frustration is why her lyrics are so venomous. It’s just a theory but if it makes her keep making superior hip-hop music (no need to addendum her being a chick, please refer to KRS, “A dope emcee is a emcee.”), then let’s hope she can keep finding shit to piss her off. Though, more overdue recognition will be welcomed and is sure to come.