Jean Grae spits fire. Talib Kweli knows it. That’s why he declared her the best rapper out right now “male or female,” signed her to his record label, and dragged her all over the country as a glorified hype-woman.
Jean Grae is also spitting mad. Her frustrations with the recording industry have been well documented. She does not feel that artists get their due respect and this is certainly true in her specific case. But unlike other crabby musicians, Grae is determined to seek out unique methods to promote herself and earn her paycheck, such as last months hilarious Craig’s List advertisement in which she offered her lyrical services to anyone willing to drop a few dollars. She also commented on The Evil Jeanius, her second release of the year, calling it an “unauthorized album.”
Authorized or not, The Evil Jeanius is up there with the best music Jean Grae has made. It is a collaboration album with Blue Sky Black Death who, contrary to their name, are not a whiney emo band. The West Coast production duo has released a full body of material over the last four years, including collaboration albums with Wu-Tang affiliates Hell Razah and Holocaust. They work at a furious pace and plan to release another album on November 11.
Grae’s art has often suffered for lack of dynamic production. There is no doubt she is a talented MC, but it is easy to write some of her work off too quickly for being, well, a little boring. With BSBD she has hooked up with a couple producers who are able to make her songs come alive.
The beauty of this album’s production is found in its diversity. The production crew makes its presence known right off the bat on “Shadows Forever,” flipping the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs” to create an ideal backdrop for Jean’s frantic vanquish-you-with-this-mic flow. From here the show is on as the collaborative crew lays down ten quick tracks that come off as perfect matches for Grae’s delivery. They are soulful on love song “Away With Me.” They are scratch-heavy on the rollicking throwback “Ahead of the Game.” Like call-and-response, Grae and BSBD play off each other to deliver an all-around enjoyable listen.
The Evil Jeanius comes to a close with “Still Not a Love Song.” A sequel to one of Grae’s finest tracks, “Not a Love Song” off her first LP, this song serves as an emotional climax to an excellent album. It is the only track that eclipses the five minute mark and Jean uses every moment of it to deliver stirring storytelling over a fitting beat.
Kweli’s admiration of Grae isn’t all that surprising. She is an extremely talented, and occasionally preachy, lyricist, who too often is bogged down by uninteresting production, market politics, and a general apathy toward her style of rap. In short, Jean Grae is the female equivalent of Talib Kweli. But to be honest, I’m not sure that Kweli has put out an album that works this well as a cohesive unit since Black Star. At her best Grae can be as good a rapper as anyone out there and The Evil Jeanius is proof that, given the right tools, she can put out a damn good album.
Posted by Mike Denslow at Oct 21, 2008 11:30 PM