An underground hero if not a household name, Jean Grae's flow is self-confident, intelligent, hard-hitting, polyrhythmic and playful: "Most of this here is just braggadocio/Emphatically spoken, impeccable rap flow/Second to that, wordplay/Akin to watching a verb/Hitting a piÃ±ata on the eve of its birthday," from "2-32's."
Grae is the child of a jazzman (South African drummer Abdullah Ibrahim) and has been a fixture on New York's hip-hop scene since 1996. "Jeanius" is her first official album since 2004; it was shelved for four years because of Internet leaks and bootlegging. (In September, Grae placed a Craigslist ad selling the service of performing lyrics over a beat of the purchaser's choice.)
Producer 9th Wonder provides beat variety, but he's not at his best , and as a result the album is merely great rather than classic.
The capstone is the heartbreaking, autobiographical tale of her teenage abortion, "My Story": "You wanna stop them but you say it in your head/And you're out for the cut/And then you wake up in another room with plenty others/They call it recovery, you're thinking we ain't mothers/And then prescription pills, written in a script of chills/An understatement, you're dressed, but you're naked still."
With this album, she proves that she's one of the best MCs alive, and if leaks don't stop her, her best work is ahead.
--Alexander F. Remington, Weekend (Dec. 5, 2008)