While everybody fawns over Nicki Minaj, and pays mild attention to Lil' Kim in case she ever releases anything worth listening to, I have been following the career of a female rapper about three leagues out of Nicki's or Kim's leagues. Dooming herself to underground success with little hope for a more widespread fan base, she allied herself with lyrical demi-god Talib Kweli and his label Blacksmith Music, and has been releasing top notch albums since her 2002 debut, Attack of the Attacking Things. If you haven't gotten it by now, I'm talking about none other than Jean Grae. On June 23rd she released her latest project, Cookies or Comas, as a free mixtape as a prelude to her upcoming album Cake or Death. (see: Datpiff.com for the download)
Gaining popularity amongst the more informed hip-hop crowd is something Grae has been doing since the 90s, and that trend continues with Cookies or Comas. Her guest list reads: Kweli, Styles P, Pharoahe Monch, Boogie Blind and Royce Da 5'9". Her production list includes Boogie Blind, Ski Beatz, and other predominantly underground names. The closest she gets to anything mainstream, is her remix of Kanye's recent song "Blame Game." However while the mainstream may never get its hands on this tape, it doesn't mean those who listen won't love it.
Jean Grae is easily the most talented active female emcee, and in my opinion could sit as high as fifth on the all time femcee list (topped by Eve in my opinion, but that's a discussion for a later time), and she seems to know it too. Unlike seemingly every other femcee, Grae is opposed to raunchy rap, and lets her natural gifts flow both rhythmically and lyrically. She touches on love, instead of "pussy poppin.'" Socially critique instead of the club scene. And fun rap instead of trying to be the most ghetto, or "hard."
One asset that cannot be overlooked in this tape is Jean Grae's humor. Both in her raps, and in spoken portions of her songs, she has some quotable lines that will make anyone laugh. Often times at the expense of the stereotypical femcee. For instance in "I Rock On," she ends her song with "I rock on, and on, and on and on, and we ain't leaving until six in the morning...well probably five, because six is entirely too late." To end her final song, "You Don't Like It," Grae follows her final line of rap, "gun tucked in the rear pocket, ducking the fuzz" with a mock conversation with a police officer about how she does not actually carry guns, and in fact has not brought knives, or even her fists with her, begging the officer to let her go because she has no weapons at all. Purposefully poking fun at the widely accepted image of a female rapper, or rapper in general, Grae genuinely sounds like she had fun making these songs, and it puts a smug grin on the face of any self declared "knowledgeable" listener. A little hipster, I know, but oh so much fun.
Bottom line: don't sleep on Jean Grae. If you aren't willing to spend any money on her music, at least download the mixtape, it has ample replay value, and is easily in the top three mixtapes of this year, if not #1.