“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall”: that arbitrary division locking in the distance between pine trees and apple-orchards; commercial hip-hop and underground backpackers; superior MC Jean Grae and the thousands of dick-wielding beat-riders who have come and prospered. Of course that distance is predicated on difference: pines shed cones, orchards bear fruit; commercial artists boast major label dollars and distribution, indie artists subsist on monetary crumbs; Jean’s female, they’re obviously by virtue of their dicks very male.
South African born, New York bred multi-talent Jean Grae offers a nuanced take on brutal barriers in “The Wall”, the tenth track from her exceptional sophomore album This Week. The irreverent architect of 2003 should-have-been-a-smash “Hater’s Anthem” rhymes over a thumping track where skeleton-like keys tiptoe out of closets accompanied by the hushed tones of a tentative gothic organ. A high school vocal major, Jean exhibits singing chops honed at the feet of her jazz-singing mother on the eerie chorus: “You can try but you will never know Jean / Only what I give you and you can’t get in I / Never meant for anyone to know me / You can try but you can’t find me I’ll be hiding.” Although confessedly “cold to the bone when exposed in your home stereo”, Jean speaks like she has no fear unveiling layers of insecurity, alcohol dependency, alienation, and good old-fashioned pathology formerly hidden behind her “fuck you” b-girl stance.
But fear not hard rocks. The self-proclaimed “wax hedonist” prone to lyrical assaults and mental attacks is never abandoned. Emotional wreckage, psychological crisis, and health concerns comprise a day in This Week, a representative sample of Jean’s raucous hip-hop life. “Styles upon styles upon styles are what she has,” evidenced by the comic tales, horror stories, fierce battle rhymes, love songs, amd ego-stroking monologues packed into the rest of This Week‘s eventful days.
Monday’s requisite mania shows up on “Going Crazy”. Jean’s tongue-in-cheek escapade into some “Geto Boys ‘Minds Playing Tricks on Me’ shit.” Frequent Dilated People’s collaborator Joey Chavez gives the stock horror movie soundtrack a hip-hop makeover. Relentless rhymeslayer Jean treads lightly at times before erratically breaking into a full frenzied sprint then stubbornly holding her ground just like every other bug-eyed crazy. Her script-like lyrics, understated delivery, varied syllabic emphasis and absolute assuredness create a monster track. Add on lines like: “How about I Ed Norton it / Find a support group” or “Drown beers like I’m Norm avoiding Vera in Cheers” and semi-retired rap don Jay-Z’s masterful allusive dexterity is undoubtedly evoked.
Jigga’s unexpected Black Album contributor 9th Wonder cranked out two bangers, “Supa Luv” and “Don’t Rush Me” for Okayplayer tourmate Jean Greasy. Tuesday’s offering, “Supa Luv”, on it’s own, warrants bended-knee prayers that 9th and Jean’s leaked full length collab, Jeanius, eventually sees the light of day. On the shameless love song, Jean manages to speak on the sentiment, not to mention the reticence, infatuation and game that surround it, without cornball or mush over the dirty drums, driving basslines, doting horns and damned soulfulness we’ve come to expect from the North Carolina beatsmith. 9th passes the torch to Midi Mafia on Wednesday’s stand-out selection “You Don’t Want It”. Taking a cue from Lil’ Flip’s “Game Over” and most recently Talib Kweli’s “A Game”, the musical Mafioso’s creation channels the video game sound to booty-rocking heights. Quickly rewind to the grimy “Style Wars” and listen as scatologist Jean Grae promises “to poop scoop your fans up” and with all due respect to Lil’ Flip the game is officially over.
Yet there is a wall that obscures Jean Grae’s rising talent from the judges table. Paul Hamm-type Olympic scandals persist in hip-hop, too unfairly apportioning obscurity and fame. The recently resuscitated rapstress Lauryn Hill presaged it would “all fall down”. Robert Frost’s aforementioned meditation subtly suggests we tear it down. Bold beyond comprehension, This Week‘s Jean Grae acknowledged the “tilted” field, rolled up on the wall “and filled it with a billion other quotes”.