Jean Grae

Born into music and trying to rebirth it in her own way. Jean Grae (p/k/a What?What?) is a different breed of emcee. Forget being a different type of female emcee which is painfully obvious at first listen, she is trying to take the game to a next level.

The daughter of jazz greats and South African exiled parents, Grae was born in South Africa but is a New Yorker at heart. Moved at the young age of 3 months, the young Jean grew up around all different kinds of music and learned to appreciate the ingenuity and creative driving force of being an independent musician and all around free spirit very quickly. Both her mother and father took a lot of care in exposing her to the openess and freedom of jazz and the free flowing expression of living a musicians life.

Attending the High School of Performing Arts as a vocal major, the experience of further learning to read and arrange music as well as learn classical and choral arrangements, enabled the young performer to have a broad knowledge and appreciation for all musical tastes. Equally inspiring were the English classes that Jean would excel in and choose to go to when deciding to skip the "uninteresting ones."

Grae decided on leaving high school in her senior year and after earning her G.E.D after 3 months. She then enrolled in an engineering course at Sam Ash Music Institute, a fledgling break off comprised of former Institute of Audio Research teachers and earned a degree in a short 6 months. Only 16, and out of school already, her mother suggested applying for New York University. "In [high] school, I had decided not to take my S.A.T's because I didn't think I would be attending an academic college, so I just dismissed it. My mom suggested NYU, but their policy is that if you didn't take your S.A.T.'s you couldn't be admitted unless you scored a 98 or above on the admissions test. I figured ok, make mom happy, take the test... I didn't think I would get in." But Grae did, and attended NYU for a semester, before realizing that the money her parents were spending to put her through school as a Music Buisness major was wasted when she could learn so much more from learning hands on in the real world. Grae had since long been trying her hand at production since 13, and was already immersed in the "hip-hop" culture through associations. "There was always a cipher, I never got in it. Everyone was emceeing, I would never rhyme in public but I was always writing, and making beats at home. I would rhyme for a couple of people, but I didn't really think of taking it too seriously. I think I wanted to be more of a producer and writer. The emceeing just kind of evolved out of that."

Through friends, Jean was introduced to Ocean, a Brooklyn emcee who had already formed a group Natural Resource.. "I was already in a group at the time," says Grae. "It was myself and a dude named Rhythm, we named ourselves Ground Zero, and did a few tracks. The producer had sent it to Unsigned Hype in The Source, and to my surprise they printed it up, people were feeling it. I wasn't really happy with the group though. My partner was cool but I wasn't as gung-ho about it as everyone else involved in the project. I don't regret it at all, it was a learning experience."

The break up of Ground Zero almost overlapped Jeans alliance with Natural Resource.. The group had quickly become a family of emcees, and the idea that grew on the phone about doing a skit about Jeans former moniker "What?What?" grew into the song "Baseball". "We were talking about the Abbot and Costello routine 'Whats on first...whos on second,' and for some reason, myself and Meat Pie (of OBS) thought maybe we should turn it into a song with a few emcees. Originally the lineup was going to be about 7 or eight people...but it turned out to be just the 3 of us." The young rappers put out the song "Baseball" with the flip side "They Lied", and it took off.

"We had no idea people would take to it that well, we didn't even put our names or pictures on the record, it was the cheapest art ever! DJ's would play it and ask on air if the people who made the record would please call up the station. It was crazy."

The next few releases from Natural Resource garnered worldwide attention and the small group grew to be part of an underground conglomerate Makin' Records. Jean continued recording with all Makin' artists, producing debut singles for the label’s artists Pumpkinhead and The Bad Seed. While recording as part of "Makin' Fam", she also traveled out to work with UK producers, The Herbaliser for their 1997 release Blow Your Headphones, steadily gaining credit as an emcee to listen for.

With the break up of Natural Reource in 1998 due to "creative differences", the group split amicably, each departing to pursue solo projects and more. Jean started recording as a solo artist and had the name change from the former What?What? to the now in use Jean Grae. "I just wanted to start over again, to introduce myself as a solo artist. I just didn't feel like anyone had really gotten a chance to hear what I had to say."

Over the next couple of years, Jean imprinted her stance as the coined "cameo queen" on a variety of independent releases. The High And Mighty's "Hands on Experience", featuring Kool Keith and Bobbito, the politically charged "Mumia 911" and "Hip Hop For Respect" projects, Apani B Fly's "Estragen", and the overlooked solo joint "Keep Livin'" released on The Lyricist Lounge's 1999 Tour album, just to name a few.

She continued to record a catalog of music, traveling overseas to her native South Africa with Mr.Len and Bobbito Garcia to become the first New York hip hop artists to perform there, months before the much publicized trip of Dead Prez.

Back in New York, Jean continued to record and work with producers like Mr.Len, evade, Masta Ace and Da Beatminerz, to try and create a sound for herself while constantly trying to always have releases or appearances out to keep the name hot. "I'm really happy that I never stopped working. There isn't a time where someone can say 'Jean Grae? Yeah I haven't heard anything from her in awhile'. There's always a release or 2, or 3 out that I'm on somewhere. I think it's incredible that I can have such a loyal fan base without ever having a single, EP, or full length release. How many artists can say that?"

Ms. Grae has indeed kept us listening for her. On Mr. Len's "Pity The Fool," Jean finally got a chance to shine, with 4 cuts on the album that showcase her versatility and storytelling abilities. “Taco Day”, in some hip-hop enthusiasts mind, was the track that really put Jean Grae on the map. This Carrie-like story showcased her storytelling abilities combined with her lyrical skillfulness, increasing her fans and solidifying her stay in the industrry.

She followed her Len appearance up with a full length that impressed all that heard it entitled, "Attack Of The Attacking Things." In late 2003, she followed up with another head-turning EP, "The Bootleg of the Bootleg" EP. This was the first of her work on Babygrande and working with the production company Orchestral and marked the beginning of her relationship with The Roots. A short stint on the winter OkayPlayer tour turned into The Roots asking her to tour with them and be on their new record as well as inclusion on the OkayPlayer spring 2004 tour. Along with the tour in 2004, Jean released “This Week”, her second LP featuring production from Midi Mafia and 9th Wonder.

How has 2006 been to Jean Grae? This year has already brought Jean to Blacksmith Music, the label under Warner Bros. Records that is run by Talib Kweli and Corey Smyth. You will soon find the official release of Jean’s “Jeanius” record with her and 9th Wonder followed by another full-length album proving that she’s not just a female emcee, she’s an emcee—period.

Featurette from
The state of women in Hip-Hop is terrible. All the top chicks appear to be a variation of the same person. Even if they aren't the same chick, there is one that is boldly different. The problem is, Jean Grae was unable to get any real traction in the rap game even though she had the illest wordplay, a cute face and an the critical acclaim beyond sales. She's appeared on this website and even had a column that had readers tickled pink. Well in the last few years, the mixtapes, the hype and the AHH column are all gone. Most fanatics like myself know that Jean inked with Talib Kweli's Blacksmith Records, but will the support be there in force like the love? Will the rap music industry allow for a new cog to enter the machine even though it doesn't quite fit? Only time will tell, but if she gets in she is going to give every rap chick a run for their Prada. Read the Article

This Week release 2004 — babygrande
Attack of the Attacking Things — release 2002 Third Earth Music
The Bootleg of The Bootleg 2003 — babygrande
Big Money talk/ The Jam 2005 — Decon



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