Artist: Jean Grae
Album: The Bootleg Of The Bootleg EP
Rating: 8 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
One of the most slept on emcees PERIOD – never mind the fact that she’s female – which as we all know makes her task of getting recognised that much harder since she ain’t making her clothes fall off at every opportunity, Jean Grae dropped the imaginatively titled “Bootleg Of The Bootleg” EP late 2003, to follow up the even more imaginatively titled and critically acclaimed “Attack Of The Attacking Things” full length.
Newly signed to Babygrande Records, Grae’s intent to announce her arrival on the scene, and shake off the “best-kept secret of NY’s indie Hiphop scene” tag that Rolling Stone gave her last year, is obvious from the opening bars of ‘Hater’s Anthem’, the first cut. Here she aims an acidic sideswipe at those who have tried to bring her down throughout her career. Don’t be fooled by the “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you” chorus – the simple-so-you-won’t-forget-it hook only serves to break up some superbly crafted verses, where Grae lands knockout blow after knockout blow.
“Even deaf kids are rocking ear plugs
I’ll rip you then stick you with sticks I dipped in arsenic-filled jugs
I ignite in certain circumstances
Flip back and have your ass kicked by backup dancers”
‘Take Me’ slows things down with a clever soul sample, some effective horn stabs, and a mellow string loop. Grae however doesn’t let up on the lyrics, as she vividly describes her struggle with religion – what’s real, what isn’t, and where she needs to put her faith. Two for two so far.
And then a shocker – Cannibal Ox on a track that I don’t instantly detest. Those who know me (and even those who don’t) will probably be aware of how much this group gets on my wick. But somehow on ‘Swing Blades’ the presence of Grae on the track seems to see them toning down their usual act of rushing to fit as many words into each line as they can. Don’t get me wrong – most of what they kick is still a load on mumbo jumbo – Vast Aire and Vordul definitely ain’t members of the We Speak English Muhfucka club : but at least here, you can understand the words and come to the conclusion that these cats are un-understandable. If you understand me : Grae meanwhile does a creditable effort of keeping the track interesting, but its really a rather lukewarm cut.
Thankfully ‘My Crew’ pulls things back up by the bootstraps. Another gorgeous and instantly recognisable soul sample (that of course I can’t put a name on right now), another set of warm strings, and another set of hard snares lays the foundation for Grae to throw out her shouts to her immediate and extended fam in the Hiphop world. With the hook reinforcing her thoughts – “all I need is the love of my crew” – she goes from generalising on how she’s down with all types of crews and clicks, to railing against the wack trends in Hiphop – ice, whips, money, and loose living, to pinpointing and calling out the more upsetting happenings of the last few years – the reference to the R Kelly case leaps out as an immediate example.
Closing the real portion of the EP out, the string-laden ‘Code Red’ sees Grae share mic time with Block McCloud and Pumpkinhead, while ‘Chapter One:Destiny’ has Grae entering rapid-fire mode, spitting furiously over a harpsichord loop and a simple drum pattern. It’s a nice way to prepare for the bonus material tacked on at the end – once this cut finishes we’re treated to 45 (YES FORTY FIVE) minutes of exclusive freestyles from Ms Grae, which sees her covering beats and topics already aired by artists as wide ranging as Jay-Z (as she reworks ‘Lyrical Exercise’, ‘You Don’t Know’ and ‘Excuse Me Miss’), DITC, Eminem (a fiery freestyle over ‘Role Model’), and Scarface, as well as spitting over underground beats. Its this bonus section that serves to display exactly HOW talented Grae is.
Although she rolls with my favourite homies from now-thankfully-defunct Can Ox, Grae never really gets into the ridiculous too-many-words-in-the-line territory that El-P’s muckers built a house on with “The Cold Vein”. Nope, Miss Grae’s steelo never really gets out of cool-so-she-don’t-get-upset mode – calm and collected, female-Rakim-like (yeah I said it), the way she understatedly delivers her rhymes is both her gift and her curse. On one hand her whole style makes her instantly accessible and addictive to fans of REAL Hiphop, but this very fact and the lack of any hey-look-at-me tricks means that she seems destined to remain as a “secret” to many, at least while commercial Hiphop rules the roost, and Clear Channel rules the airwaves. Unfortunate as that is for Grae, it doesn’t mean that you should sleep – rivalled only by Rah Digga and Lauryn Hill in the female emcee category in recent times, you should probably pick this up whenever you see it.