There isn’t really anyone in Hip-Hop like Jean Grae.
A singular artist who’s good at practically everything (singing, acting, comedy, producing, rapping), Jean’s career spans decades, kicking off in the mid-90s and twisting its way through creative disciplines and platforms — from the comedy stage, to the screen, to the booth, and beyond. She’s always marched to her own drum and it’s always been few beats ahead of everyone else.
A close look at her career is fascinating. She does so much (sitcoms, comedy sets, audiobooks, albums, stage plays, and the list goes on); but it's also intriguing because her voice is so distinctively hers. Born Tsidi Ibrahim to jazz musician parents in Cape Town, South Africa, at three months old she moved to New York. Growing up, everyone thought she’d be a performer. An overachiever in that department, Jean Grae’s personality, innovative ideas, and output has made her a quiet trendsetter, particularly as pertains to branching out beyond rap music, and into other artforms.
Basically, Jean Grae is dope as fuck. Here are just 7 reasons why.
She gives awesome advice.
Just listen to her “instructional album” series with frequent collaborator (and now husband) Quelles Chris. The trio of comical EPs were released from 2014 to 2016 and kicked off with That's Not How You Do That: An Instructional Album For Adults. Jean’s dry wit shines throughout the series, as she delivers what should be common sense living instructions for functional adults. She offered sound life lessons like, “Don’t Be a Dick to the Wait Staff” and “You’re Not Going to Win the Lottery So Can You Please Step Aside So I can Buy My Items?” Ditties like “Wash Your Hands” are especially helpful, where she politely implores employees to wash their hands “before you return with you palm full of germs.” It also turned out to be stable futuristic advice for the COVID era.
She isn’t one of the best female rappers ever.
No, Jean Grae is not one of the best the female rappers in Hip-Hop history. She’s one of the illest rappers to ever touch a mic, period. From her storytelling, punchlines, intricate tales about living that swerve from hilarious to poignant depending on her intent, Jean’s is pretty much better than everyone else at rapping, something she’s proved over and over again since she emerged on the scene in the mid-90s, rapping on New York’s underground scene. From her 2002 debut, Attack of the Attacking Things, to her infamously leaked venture with 9th Wonder, 2008’s Jeanius, Jean’s lyrical talent is unquestionable. Her 2018 project, Everything’s Fine, with her now-husband, Quelle Chris, was one of the year’s best. Featuring comedian friends, Hannibal Burres and Michael Che, as well as longtime collaborator Ana Wise, the album was another entry into Jean’s decades-long discography that’s showcased her other-worldly talent.
She’s a polymath (and she’s also hilarious).
Polymath, multi-hyphenate, whatever, there isn’t much that Jean Grae can’t do, or hasn’t done creatively. Writer, rapper, comedian, producer, director, cinematographer, singer, director, and the list goes on. “I make all of the everything,” she explains on her bandcamp page.
She created Life With Jeannie.
Yes, it only lasted for about four-and-a-half-ish episodes but it, like a lot of the things Jean cares to lend her talents to, was very funny. It’s almost cliché to call things “ahead of their time” but the short-lived online sitcom, which debuted in 2013, was certainly innovative. It followed a Black woman in New York just hanging out and living life with her friends while they pontificated on everything from dating Shea Butter-obsessed men, to the Christmas Jesus. The irreverent comedy series had sprinkles of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl, while still managing to be completely its own thing, mostly because the camera was firmly focused on capturing Jean’s personality and her formidable comedic chops. You seriously have to wonder what would’ve come of the series had it continued with a larger production budget— it certainly had all the hallmarks of a trailblazing show.
She’s a talented producer.
It doesn’t get talked about much, but Jean Grae is a dope producer. In the early days, she made beats under the alias Nasain Naheem, producing a third of her debut, Attack of the Attacking Things (“Block Party,” “Thank Ya!” “No Doubt,” “Get It”) and has also produced under the alias Run Run Shaw. She’s continued gathering production credits throughout her entire career, including crafting three tracks on her most recent release, 2018’s Everything’s Fine.
Via her monthly advice column, Ask Jeannie with The Believer which debuted in in 2019, Jeannie delivered excellent advice to desperate and curious folks from all walks of life. Whether it was someone wanting to know whether world-building with action figures is as respectable as world-building with worlds (it is according to Jeannie, and she suggested the advice-seeker “check yourself for kinda asshole-ing this up”), or a concerned person upset because their neighbor put up a fence near their avocado tree (Jeannie kicked off that advice session with some little known trivia: “Did you know that Jason Mraz is an avocado farmer and supplies Chipotle with their cados?”) her column was full of funny anecdotes and words of wisdom.
She started a church for people who don’t do church (she’s even an ordained minister).
In the fall of 2016, Jean Grae launched the nondenominational, motivational, Church of Infinite You for people who don’t do church. No amens, just “fuck yeah’s” were uttered during her sermons, where she would often drink vodka as she delivered encouraging, common sense advice to people who attended the Brooklyn-based church at Union Hall before it went virtual during the pandemic.
*HEADER CREDIT: Jean Grae performs onstage at The Golden Probe Awards 2016 at Le Poisson Rouge on October 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images for Lady Parts Justice)