Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jean Grae

  • Attack of the Attacking Things [Third Earth Music, 2002] *
  • The Bootleg of the Bootleg EP [Babygrande EP, 2003] A-
  • This Week [Babygrande, 2004] B+
  • Jeanius [Blacksmith, 2008] A-
  • The Orchestral Files (Deluxe Edition) [Mammoth/Hollywood, 2008] ***

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Attack of the Attacking Things [Third Earth Music, 2002]
Props for both the Stylistics and *NSync--I like that in an undie rapper ("God's Gift," "Live-4-U"). *

The Bootleg of the Bootleg EP [Babygrande EP, 2003]
As with so many progressives, her ambition is more profound than her compassion. But this is a worse paradox in politicos than in musicians. Abdullah Ibrahim's American daughter knows she can outrhyme and outrap the competition, and she's mad as hell it hasn't made her famous yet. "Liquid content may cause your faggots' frames to burst," she begins, unable to resist the proper use of "faggot" (Webster's: "a bundle of sticks") to ignite the incendiary metaphors that set off "Hater's Anthem." Throughout the six official songs she's all rage, bile, and despair, 150 degrees from the bootstraps autobiography and positive shout-outs of her debut; throughout, her dense, explosive literacy gurgles from the beats like an underground brook. Whereupon, her commercial obligations behind her, she delivers a ghost "cut," some half-dozen songs plus guest contributions that go on for 40 minutes of noblesse oblige--looser in theme and execution, and also better than the debut. She's right. She should be famous. A-

This Week [Babygrande, 2004]
"Oh, who's that? Oh, oh that's your girl, you're with her? She looks like everyone else in heah." The dis caps a spoken-not-rapped intro mini-skit, and the intonation is perfect: Jay-Z in cute braggart mode. Grae can rhyme, and if she had a male larynx and a production budget (plus a little luck and additional applications of promotional muscle), her hype men, chipmunk soul, minor-key piano hooks, and "I wanna rock a fella so bad" might stand underground on its head. But she doesn't have those things; she's an "insecure failure/Can barely maintain I wanna scream like Mahalia." Thus her triumph remains strictly aesthetic, and pretty strange, which in the long run can only increase her insecurity. She needs a message bad. B+

Jeanius [Blacksmith, 2008]
Her intelligent rhymes, immaculate flow, and adequate beats make her the great gorgeous mind queen rap has never had. But she's now 32, rumored to have quit the business even as Talib Kweli's label prepped this long-rumored album and Babygrande assembled a preemptive outtakes double, and more than ever failure is her great theme. Good thing she's infinitely smarter about her "insecurities" and "moodiness" than her shoegazer counterparts. And before articulating those laments, she backs up her Jay-Z impression with rhymes so jam-packed she doesn't even care, at that moment, that her music "don't make appropriate wealth." Like for instance: "Please don't be mad at me, I'd rather be liked/Because your opinion automatically matters to me. Psych." A-

The Orchestral Files (Deluxe Edition) [Mammoth/Hollywood, 2008]
Skills trump indirection on one disc of outtakes and another of collabs ("Nah'mean Nah'm Sayin," "My Angel Is You," "Power, Money & Influence"). ***

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