There's not a lot of room in the rap game for saucy badmouthed chicks unless they're talking about sex or shoes. Even then, female MCs (someone slap the person who came up with the term "femcees") tend to walk a tightrope between needing to be a part of the same old niches like Lil' Kim raunchy or Foxy Brown ghetto, or creating their own -- Missy multi-talented or Lauryn... never mind.
Rap will have to make room for Jean Grae, though.
In the tradition of independent hip-hop, she's anti-materialism and pro-good old fashioned skill. Outside of that, she's not afraid to criticize the machismo that rules hip-hop -- she just does it within reason and with a subtle flair that makes her irresistible.
The best thing about Grae, though, might be her sense of humor. She's no rap version of Dave Chappelle, but she's cracking herself up with some of her witticisms and it makes you want to listen harder to find the joke -- not something that happens too much in hip-hop, at least not right now.
The strength of her talent, though, lies in her versatility. Right out of the gate, on her first album, Attack of the Attacking Things, she proved her promise with insightful, creative rhymes over decent beats. She could wax poetic on everything from socio-economics to disrespectful hoodlums. Her newest, The Bootleg of the Bootleg EP is a pit stop on the way to her next album coming up next year, and it follows suit.
"Hater's Anthem" is Jean's rap version of Kelis's first single, "I Hate You So Much Right Now". She claims her title with lines like "filled with more flow than a cumulus cloud", and the rant is only decently toned down because her voice is stuck on mid-level monotone. "Take Me" is Jean Grae at her sassiest, with a flow reminiscent of a smart Lil' Kim -- with a merciless and almost urgent delivery, mind you. The beat isn't bad either: she's no gangster, but she does her best impression here. There's a 45-minute megamix of freestyles on Bootleg that are as entertaining as anything she's done. Her answer/remake to Jay-Z's "Excuse Me" at once makes a mockery of Jay's decadent image while showcasing Grae's ability to be effective and goofy.
If anything could hold her back, though, it might be her monotone delivery. (Interestingly enough, over Jay-Z's "U Don't Know" beat, she gets looser than ever.) Even with a seamless style, it can be hard not to get distracted from her soft, linear rhyme slipping. Grae seems to have a little more swagger waiting to swell up from within, she's just... not letting it out. It's the only thing that could hold her back, since it's clear she's not afraid of being a maverick or holding her own on the mic.