It’s not easy being somebody’s poster child. SouthAfrica-born, New York-bred rapper Jean Grae is a talented MC whooperates in gray areas and flexes serious gray matter, slinging disses,confessions, boasts, and love songs, swinging her sense of humor like ascythe. But when the hip-hop cognoscenti have anointed you as theanti-Lil’ Kim, an underground successor to Lauryn Hill, and independenthip-hop’s righteous femme savior, being merely good is not enough.Grae’s expected to be a superheroine, a burden no artist should have toshoulder. No wonder she raps about being crazy.
Since thebreakup of her mid-’90s crew Natural Resource, Grae’s spent her solocareer brashly blindsiding haters. She’s picked fights on the mike withrecord labels, critics, hypocrites who “turned they back on spitterswith clits,” anyone foolish enough to look at her sideways, and–lastbut not least–her own demons, from a lust for liquor to naggingself-doubt. (The infamous chorus from “Hater’s Anthem” intoned, simply,”Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you…”)
But on This Week–a loose concept album aboutstruggle, frustration, and personal growth–she finally showcases aflow as strong as her vitriol. Though she asserts, on “Never Know,”that some of her music is “talk therapy / Some of it’s sketch parodies/ With lyrical dexterity,” it’s not exactly Chappelle’s Show upin here. Naked confessionals like “P.S.” and the swooning, sincere loveletter “Break” cut straight to the guts. (An even deeper song, the 9thWonder-produced “Forgive Me,” didn’t make the final cut of the album,but should’ve–it’s a brick-heavy first-person narrative about teenageabortion, miscarriage, suicide attempts, and regret-by-the-truckload,and somebody needs to MP3-blog it right quick.)
But, as ever, the Jeanius is “like Bill’s wife / Packin’ asword.” Maybe it’s all the practice, but she sounds best when she’s inthe bullring, ready to rumble. One gleefully savage offer: “Verballyhang thee with these third-degree burns / Upon your fannies / And yourballs ripped off / Course it’s all talk / I’ll lick off the potshotsand cut your dick off.” It sounds less like a threat than a promise.Watch ya crotch!