Hip Hop Ladies Night – Artist Review – Jean Grae

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About Jean Grae

Jean Grae began her career as “What? What?” in the mid-1990’s and adopted her X-Men themed rap moniker upon beginning her solo career in the early aughts. She has released several wonderful, under-appreciated albums and EPs filled with sophisticated rhymes and wordplay, artful storytelling, and good old fashioned violence. Her most recent release is the stellar (and free!) mixtape Cookies or Comas, and her long-awaited Cake or Death album is forthcoming

Jean Grae

Background information

Birth name – Tsidi Ibrahim
Born – November 26, 1976 (age 36)[citation needed]
Cape Town, South Africa
Origin – New York City
Genres – Hip hop
Occupations – Rapper, Producer
Years active – 1996–present
Labels –
Third Earth Music (2002–2003)
Babygrande Records (2003–2005)
Blacksmith Records / Warner Bros. Records (2005–Present)
Associated acts – Sathima Bea Benjamin, Abdullah Ibrahim, Talib Kweli, Atmosphere, 9th Wonder, Pharoahe Monch, Styles P, Masta Ace, Immortal Technique, Pumpkinhead

Jean Grae (born Tsidi Ibrahim,[1][2] November 26, 1976), formerly known as What? What?, is an American hip hop artist. She rose to prominence in the underground hip-hop scene in New York City and has since built an international fanbase.

Early life

Grae was born in Cape Town, South Africa on November 26, 1976, the daughter of South African jazz musicians Sathima Bea Benjamin and Abdullah Ibrahim. She was raised in New York City after her parents relocated there after her birth. She studied Vocal Performance at the LaGuardia School before majoring in Music Business at New York University. She later dropped out after 3 weeks of class.[1][3]

Career

Early career (1996–1998)

After working with groups including Ground Zero, she joined a hip hop music group called Natural Resource in the mid-1990s,[2] along with rapper Ocean and DJ James “AGGIE” Barrett. In 1996 they released a pair of 12-inch singles called “Negro League Baseball” [3] b/w “Bum Deal” b/w “They Lied”, and “Bum Deal (remix)” b/w “They Lied (remix)” b/w “I Love This World” on their own label Makin’ Records.[1] She also appeared on singles by fellow Makin’ Records artists Pumpkinhead and Bad Seed, and on the O.B.S. (Original Blunted Soldiers) double 12-inch single alongside crew members Pumpkinhead, Bad Seed, and Meat-pie, and produced much of the material released on the label under the pseudonym Run Run Shaw. period she established strong ties with the Brooklyn Academy crew, with which she would appear throughout her career.

Solo career (1998–2004)
Natural Resource dissolved in 1998, after which Ibrahim changed her stage name from What? What? to Jean Grae, a reference to the X-Men character Jean Grey.[4] Under her new moniker, she released her first LP—Attack of the Attacking Things—in 2002, and followed it in 2004 with This Week.[4] Throughout her career she has also recorded tracks with numerous major hip hop artists, Atmosphere, The Roots, Talib Kweli, The Herbaliser, Da Beatminerz, Phonte, Mr. Len, Masta Ace, Vordul Mega, C-Rayz Walz, Mos Def, Styles P, Pharoahe Monch and Immortal Technique among them.

Grae has recorded an unreleased album with celebrated North Carolina producer 9th Wonder, of Little Brother fame, entitled Jeanius. This unfinished record was leaked on the internet, and subsequently work was stopped on this album.[5] However, at the release party for 9th Wonder’s Dream Merchant Volume 2 album she stated that Jeanius was still going to be released. This album was eventually released first through Zune Live Marketplace two weeks before its disc release on July 8, 2008. Her rapping on the album was described by Robert Christgau as “remarkable for its rapidity, clarity and idiomatic cadence. The writing has a good-humored polysyllabic literacy.”[6] Elsewhere, it’s been reported that her proposed fourth album, provisionally titled Phoenix has gone into production. It has been reported by several camp insiders that 9th Wonder will handle the lion’s share of the production duties with unknown UK producer Passion hifi, English producer DJ SonicBass and NY resident Clinikal providing a beat each.

Blacksmith Music (2005–present)
Previously signed to Babygrande Records, she signed a deal in 2005 with Talib Kweli’s Blacksmith Records. On 28 April 2008, Jean Grae posted a blog entry on her MySpace page saying goodbye to her fans.[7] She later cited disenchantment with the music industry and desire to start a family as the reasons behind the ‘retirement’ and said that she was working on new material and still wanted to continue in music: “You know what? I need that Grammy. I think I might be able to stop after that”.[8] In July 2008, Talib Kweli posted a blog entry explaining Grae’s album, mentioning that she was not retiring. The blog ends encouraging fans to purchase the album, referring to Grae as “one of the last true MCs left.” Grae returned to doing live performances later that year.[9]

On September 18, 2008, Jean Grae posted a Craigslist ad offering her creative services for $800/16 bars.[10][11] On her MySpace blog entry, she states, “I don’t wanna complain anymore, I just wanna change some things about the way artists are treated and the way you guys are allowed to be involved, since it IS the digital age.”[12] On June 23, 2011, after an almost four year hiatus, Grae released a free mixtape titled Cookies or Comas which features guest appearances from Styles P, Talib Kweli and Pharoahe Monch, it also includes the highly praised tracks “Assassins” from Monch’s W.A.R. album and “Uh Oh” From Talib Kweli’s Gutter Rainbows.[13]

On October 22, 2012, Jean Grae performed with MeLa Machinko and DJ Mr. Len in New York City at WNYC’s Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, also recorded as an episode of Judge John Hodgman. During the episode an upcoming records “Gotham Down” and “Cake or Death” were named.[14]

On January 2, 2013, she released a 10 track project called Dust Ruffle. Dust Ruffle features unreleased songs from between 2004 and 2010. Of the album she says “It’s such an interesting retrospective project because I get to actually hear myself evolve from 2004-2010. Snapshots of life.”[15]

Discography

Albums

Attack of the Attacking Things (2002)

The Bootleg of the Bootleg EP (2003)

This Week (2004)

The Orchestral Files (2007)

Jeanius with 9th Wonder (2008)

The Evil Jeanius (with Blue Sky Black Death) (2008)

Dust Ruffle (2013)

Cake or Death (2013)

Mixtapes

Cookies or Comas (2011)

Other song appearances

Immortal Technique- The Illest (ft. Jean Grae and Pumpkinhead)

Immortal Technique – You Never Know (ft. Jean Grae)

Akir – Tropical Fantasy (ft. Jean Grae)

The High & Mighty – Hands On Experience (ft. What?What?, Kool Keith and Bobbito)

Tek 9 – Keep It Hot (Ft. What?What?)

Tek 9 – Bruklon (Ft. What?What?)

Mr. Lif – Post Mortem

Atmosphere – Insomnia 411 (ft.
Roosevelt Franklin and Jean Grae)

The Herbaliser – Blow Your

Headphones – The Blend

The Herbaliser – Blow Your

Headphones – New + Improved

The Herbaliser – Blow Your

Headphones – Bring It

The Herbaliser – Very Mercenary – Mission Improbable

The Herbaliser – Very Mercenary – Let It Go

The Herbaliser – Take London – Nah’ Mean, Nah’m Sayin’

The Herbaliser – Take London – Generals

The Herbaliser – Take London – Close Your Eyes

The Herbaliser – Take London – Twice Around
The Herbaliser – Take London (second edition’s bonus disc) – More Tea, More Beer

The Herbaliser – Take London (second edition’s bonus disc) – How To Keep A Girlfriend

The Herbaliser – Same As It Never Was – Street Karma (A Cautionary Tale)
Masta Ace – Soda and Soap (ft. Jean Grae)

Talib Kweli – New York Shit (ft. Jean Grae)

Talib Kweli – Say Something

Talib Kweli – Where You Gonna Run (ft. Jean Grae)

Cannibal Ox – Swing Blades (ft. Jean Grae)

Soul Daddy – No Drank (ft. Jean Grae)

Ski Beatz – Prowler 2 (ft. Jean Grae, Jay Electronica, Joell Ortiz & Mos Def)

Wale – Goodbye (ft. Jean Grae)

Diverse – Under the hammer (ft. Jean Grae)

Joell Ortiz – So Wrong (ft. Talib Kweli, Brother Ali & Jean Grae)

Lil B – Base 4 Ya Face (ft. Jean Grae & Phonte)

DJ Jazzy Jeff – Supa Jean (ft. Jean Grae)

Sharkey – Sharkey’s Machine – Summer in the City (Lovin’ It)

Red Everything Movement

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