Jean Grae | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Jean Grae 

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Since the mid-90s, Jean Grae--daughter of jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim and singer Sathima Bea Benjamin--has been a preeminent underground MC, working in groups like Natural Resource (as What? What?) and doing cameos for everyone from the Herbaliser to Mr. Len to local MC Diverse. But since she released her debut album, Attack of the Attacking Things, in 2002, she's made it clear that she wants a wider audience, and despite her killer skills it hasn't happened. You can hear bitterness in her voice on her new disc, This Week (Babygrande): "Critically acclaimed and shot down since Attack / I took all the criticism, loaded it up, and shot back." The production on the CD is all over the place both stylistically and qualitatively, but her rhymes have never been sharper and she takes on a wide range of tones and perspectives. On "You Don't Want It" she pumps feminine ferocity: "Smack it like I was Wesley dating Halle Berry / Well that was fucked up, I'm lacking in tact / I'm just upset I never heard of Halle smacking him back." She exhibits humility on "P.S.," a series of aural e-mails where she admits to her errors in judgment, and on "Going Crazy" she succumbs to an unnerving urban paranoia: "It's a Rockwell song / Niggers are watching me through my cell phone." For all her finesse on record, though, live she's a ball of pure energy. Diverse, Abstract Giants, Psalm One, and Earatik Statik open. a 8:30 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-478-4408 or 866-777-8932, $13 in advance, $15 at the door, 18+.

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