Rapper Jean Grae's lyrics cut deep on 'Jeanius'

Patrick Varine

My first introduction to New York rapper Jean Grae came a little late: it was via DJ Mr. Len’s hilariously-titled solo album, "Pity the Fool: Experiments in Therapy Behind the Mask of Music While Handing Out Dummy Smacks," where she tore into a sinister piano loop with the most commanding female rap voice I’d heard.

Jean pairs up with producer 9th Wonder for "Jeanius," and while he can always be counted on to bring a little soul to the proceedings, there always seems to be something keeping his beats from transcending the old-school R&B samples that comprise them. The relatively simple drum patterns suit Grae’s gruff delivery, but lack the pop and sizzle to elevate the album beyond mid-tempo, minor-key affairs.

But maybe that’s not it. Because Jean is lyrically strong throughout the entire album, particularly on the songs that cut a little deeper.

“Don’t Rush Me” is a prime example: "There’s nothing like knowin yourself / Like the way I know that smokin’s kinda tough on my health / Like the way I know my flow don’t make appropriate wealth / I know I can’t change that but it’s / Funny I say that / When it’s money I’m aimed at.”

“My Story” is another, as Grae explores her relationship with her mother as 9th Wonder drops a muted horn-and-flute loop and a sweetly-harmonized chorus washes through.

But that’s the thing – an R&B chorus on a Jean Grae joint? It’s not that the music isn’t good, but during many of its best moments, she kind of sounds like a guest on her own record.

Several songs showcase both the MC and production working perfectly together: the insistent Rhodes organ that drives “2-32’s,” a chorus of “aah’s” that backs “The Time is Now.” But the syncopated fills in many of 9th Wonder’s melodies don’t quite jive with Grae’s dense flow.

I’m not getting down on this album. It’s good, no question. It’s just that I can’t help wondering what the results might be if Jean had diversified the production roster with a few tracks from DJ Premier and a Beatminer or two.

Sussex Countian