Jean Grae
Thurs Sept 8
Berbati's Pan
10 SW 3rd

"First batter up well here's the pitch that's a curve / Second batter up because the first got served..."

Back in '96, watching BET, a grainy, black and white video caught my eye... its simplicity stood out among the proto-jiggy and wan G-Funk clips that were in such abundance at the time. Just an unassuming chocolate trio spinning clever sports-as-music-biz metaphors on a baseball field. The group in question was future rap footnote Natural Resource, the song called "Negro League Baseball"; but it was honey batting second that got my attention. That conversational flow and keen wit had heads wondering who in the hell this striking sista was; that wasn't Ladybug was it? Or Shorty No Mas perhaps?

No, the MC's name was What What (government name: Tsidi Ibrahim), and soon enough, she began popping up on a slew of 12 inches as the Great Indie Vinyl Boom of the '90s commenced; You couldn't hit up or Sandbox Automatic without seeing "f/What What" suffixing some release or another for quite awhile. After Resource's breakup in '99 (and N.O.R.E.'s canonization of "What What" as a catchphrase), chica changed her sobriquet to Jean Grae (having been weaned on her brother's X-Men comics) and put in even more work, appearing on albums from Apani B, Masta Ace, The Herbaliser, Da Beatminerz and the High & Mighty (the latter of which offering a blush inducing verse on the masturbation ode "Hands On Experience (Remix)" that outshined Kool Keith). Jean even showed off her uncommon sense of humor in the short-lived column she wrote for Hiphopsite, where in she dreamed of enticing no less a personage than Nas to fall in love with her. Only fitting, as her flow owed more than a little to Nasty Nasir—icy and deadpan, as detailed as an anchorman's pores on hi-def. Indeed, it was the harrowing detail of her first-person narrative of a school shooting, "Taco Day" (from Mr. Len's 2001 Pity The Fool LP), that truly trumpeted her genius. Clocking in at a grueling nine minutes, her nuanced nightmare of the swiftly deteriorating mind state of a prom queen-turned-shooter evinced an MC with storytelling skills and emotional depth to rival the best in the game.

Still, her releases Attack Of The Attacking Things, The Bootleg Of The Bootleg, and This Week were met with commercial indifference despite a persistent critical buzz. Hungrier and more frustrated than ever, Jean soon traded her status as indie gun for hire for full-fledged membership in the Roots' extended OkayPlayer family, earning her biggest budget appearance on The Roots' "Somebody's Gotta Do It." Her boho homies brought her into the orbit of Little Brother's up and coming beat conductor 9th Wonder, resulting in Jean's best work, the as yet unreleased Jeanius EP. On it, Jean seems at last comfortable enough to finally flip and bounce her flow, surfing 9th's Sunday soul and serving up speed knots like "controversy works, and plus I got a pussy/but even with that, people scared to push me/who's a pussy first?" Having really found the confidence to match her box cutter-sharp snaps, Jean's bound to be spitting bile from your TV screen soon enough... and she won't be wearing no goddamn thong.