The story of rapper Jean Grae’s fourth CD Jeanius is fraught with peril. It leaked four years ago, and since then Grae has threatened to quit in frustration with the industry and sparred publicly with her label over the album’s videos. (“I think that shit is wack,” she told the Village Voice of the video for “Love Thirst.”)
Thankfully, Jeanius has finally seen the light of day in finished form, and it is a powerful hip-hop and neo-soul statement of personal empowerment. Its centerpiece, “My Story,” is Grae’s tale of abortion, miscarriage, attempted suicide and other trauma, told over a chillingly calm smooth-jazz beat. Grae contends the song is completely true—“Wait, I can’t finish this,” she interrupts herself at one point—and believing her isn’t a stretch.
Though Grae’s cadence seems oddly unemotional at times, her compelling narrative drives the album. She benefits from excellent production from superproducer 9th Wonder, as well as a guest verse from his former Little Brother mate Phonte. For the most part, though, it’s just Grae against herself. Her story comes full circle on “Desperada,” in which she purges her demons and gives thanks for what she has. It seems Grae made this album as much for herself as for us.
The bottom line: ****