Life is more than poppin' bubbly, clockin' on the corner, or even riding on dubs. Life is gray days you can't put on a billboard, capture in a video, or corral into a four-second hook. And since the sudden seclusion of Lauryn Hill, you've been hard-pressed to find this side of life on a hip-hop record (at least not from a female's perspective). But if you listen closely, you can hear it radiating from the rhymes of Brooklyn MC Jean Grae. With a smooth, monotone flow and a voice that betrays vulnerability as easily as it conveys confidence, Grae presents a multidimensional persona that is among the most refined and refreshing in hip-hop.
After fleeing South Africa during the Eighties, Grae joined seminal NYC underground crew Natural Resource as a teenager in the mid-Nineties and spent the next half-decade toiling in hip-hop's underground ghetto. In 2002 she finally released her debut album, Attack of the Attacking Things. Although that album's bittersweet tales of one-sided relationships announced a new voice in hip-hop, the album's lackluster production ensured poor sales and mixed reviews. But the tide began to turn with Attack's followup, last year's critically acclaimed This Week. The CD's polished production (courtesy of Jay-Z producer 9th Wonder, among others) and increasingly introspective rhymes offered us the most compelling picture of Grae to date. There were still the emotionally turgid meditations on relationships ("Going Crazy" comes to mind), but Grae was also able to wring a little happiness from life's painful procession. On the chorus to "Don't Rush Me," she sings, "I know I'm on the right path/To who I'm gonna be at last..../They say life needs everything to live/At the same time I got everything to give."