500 Female Emcees: Meet Jean Grae-Iconic, Legendary-the Best

Jean Grae redOriginally known as What? What? Jean Grae (Tsidi Ibrahim) was born in South Africa, but says that she will always be a New Yorker by heart. She is the daughter of two jazz musicians where she learned an appreciation for all genres of music by age 9.

She attended the famed High School of Performing Arts as a vocal major and was later accepted to New York University as a Music Business major. She was recruited by a rapper named Ocean to form a group Natural Resources where Jean cut her teeth as a song writer and producer.

In 1997, Natural Resource founded their own record label, Makin’ Records, and released the 12″ single, “Negro League Baseball“, which became an underground hip-hop classic.

Natural Resource dissolved in 1998, after which Jean changed her stage name from What? What? to Jean Grae, which she was a reference to the X-Men character Jean Grey.  She released her first LP—Attack of the Attacking Things—in 2002, and followed it in 2004 with This Week.

She created a buzz for herself and which led to her recording tracks with artists like Atmosphere, The Roots, Talib Kweli, Da Beatminerz, Phonte, Masta Ace, Mos Def, Styles P, Pharoahe Monch and Immortal Technique just to name a few.

Jean linked up with producer 9th Wonder to record and album called Jeanius which was never completed after it was leakedon the internet. She went on to be signed to Babygrande Records where she released the critically acclaimed ‘This Week‘ and ‘Evil Jenius

Jean Grae micIn 2005 Jean signed to Talib Kweli’s Blacksmith Records. On April 28, 2008, Jean Grae posted a blog entry on her MySpace page saying goodbye to her fans.She later cited disenchantment with the music industry and desire to start a family as the reasons behind the “retirement” and said that she was working on new material and still wanted to continue in music: “You know what? I need that Grammy. I think I might be able to stop after that”.

According to her wikipedia entry…In July 2008, Talib Kweli posted a blog entry explaining Grae’s album, mentioning that she was not retiring. The blog ends encouraging fans to purchase the album, referring to Grae as “one of the last true MCs left.” Grae returned to doing live performances later that year.

On September 18, 2008, Jean Grae posted a Craigslist ad offering her creative services for $800/16 bars.[ On her MySpace blog entry, she states, “I don’t wanna complain anymore, I just wanna change some things about the way artists are treated and the way you guys are allowed to be involved, since it IS the digital age.”

On June 23, 2011, after an almost four-year hiatus, Grae released a free mixtape entitled Cookies or Comas, which features guest appearances from Styles P, Talib Kweli and Pharoahe Monch, it also includes the highly praised tracks “Assassins” from Monch’s W.A.R. album and “Uh Oh” From Talib Kweli’s Gutter Rainbows.

On October 22, 2012, Jean Grae performed with MeLa Machinko and DJ Mr. Len in New York City at WNYC’s Jerome L. Greene Performance Space, also recorded as an episode of Judge John Hodgman. During the episode the upcoming records “Gotham Down” and “Cake or Death” were named.

On January 2, 2013, she released a 10-track project called Dust Ruffle. Dust Ruffle features unreleased songs from between 2004 and 2010. Of the album she says: “It’s such an interesting retrospective project because I get to actually hear myself evolve from 2004-2010. Snapshots of life.”

Between October and November 2013 she self-released a series of EPs titled Gotham Down Cycle 1: Love in Infinity (Lo-Fi), Gotham Down Cycle II: Leviathan. Gotham Down Cycle 3: The Artemis Epoch. In December 2013 she combined the releases into one and titled it Gotham Down Deluxe. Jean Grae also released an online sitcom titled “Life with Jeanie”.


In January 2014 she also released The State of Eh, an audiobook. All are available for download on her website.

Jean Grae My Story


Jean Grae Love Thirst


Jean Grae Kill Screen


Jean Grae Supa Jean