Shapeshifter 

The Sharp-Tongued Jean Grae

Jean Grae

The Bootleg of the Bootleg EP

(Baby Grande)

****

Where were you when Jam Master Jay died? A year after his death, JMJ's still-unsolved murder has contributed to a malaise wherein a procession of NY underground rappers have reacted in all manners to his death, producing a crop of existential, dark, soul-searching albums.

Jean Grae is one of them. The first song on her new EP, The Bootleg of the Bootleg (Baby Grande), boasts the chorus: "Fuck you/fuck you/fuck you/fuck you." It's a pretty straightforward thesis, that; and sets the tone for the record (as do her liner notes, which read, "Thanks everybody. Except the other people I hate. Fuck you to themÉ Slap Northern State if you see 'em.")

Jean Grae's rage is palpable, for excellent reason--she gets sold short, a talented emcee whose anger is apparently manifested in the popularity of the aforementioned no-flow Williamsburg jokesters. But Bootleg is her cynical masterpiece, another document of depression and disillusionment from NY hiphop. In particular, she expresses her lost faith on "Take Me" ("Three gone and maybe I'm a barren land/God help me/I'm havin' trouble with your master plan, sir"), and comes with two grim battle rhymes (one with Cannibal Ox, where the ever-brilliant Vast Aire utters the lyric: "I got a rap that's as fat as my waistband/you got a rap that belongs in the waste can." Dang.).

Even amid the verbalized futility, Grae's JMJ/state of the hiphop union track, "My Crew," is practically gentle with mournful beats, multiple soul melodies, and resigned, nearly whispery singing. And it's got some of the best JMJ imagery yet: "I represent for a nation/thought we was in it together/but I guess it gets strange when money rains in sunny weather/tougher than leather?/ we weaker than glass /and shattered on the side of the roadÉ " She continues, "rap's dead/rap sucks/thanks to y'all for killin' it/grillin' it down and spillin' its guts and fillin' it back up with trash/wait up--I mean 'cash'." It's lines like these that give Jean Grae her power. Even when she sounds lost and bitter, Grae brings it like a sharp axe.

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