Jean Grae is self-aware, if nothing else. At times captivated by a world of fantasy to hide her real thoughts, for the most part she is brutally honest with herself and the listener. Delivering her personal mantra on her second solo effort, the Babygrande release is as lyrically visceral as they come - a great irony for a woman who named herself after a fictitious comic book character. After venting throughout her solo debut, Attack of the Attacking Things, the former What? What? of the collective Natural Resource, is still using the mic as her therapist and the rolling tape as her personal diary.
The Bootleg of the Bootleg EP, her second solo effort in as many years, is a perfect name for the record. Often used as a way to give the world what the major record distributors and marketing teams won’t touch, the bootleg is an open canvas for many rappers these days. It limits the constraints of other hands touching one’s product and goes directly to the consumer. The abstract thought of bootlegging an original bootleg allows for even less diluted material - simply a novel idea.
On Bootleg, Grae’s six full songs and a 45-minute freestyle session allow for plenty of quality material to reach the listener. “Hater’s Anthem” is her response to her detractors over an Alchemist -like beat, and the wah-wah of ’70s funk on “Take Me” is a cry for help, as Jean Grae admits, “I am blinded like a junkie shooting up with emotional Novocain.” And those are only the first two songs on the EP. “My Crew”, with its subtle Jay-Z sample in the background, is the admission to troubles of hip-hop today. “I represent for a nation/Thought we was in it together/But I guess it gets strange when money rains in sunny weather,” she raps. “….Rap’s dead/ Rap sucks/ But thanks to y’all for killing it/ Grilling it down and spilling its guts and filling it back up with trash/I mean cash….” Once again, self-aware and brutally honest.
The most impressive of all the music are Grae’s rhymes over the relatively happy beat of Scarface’s “My Block.” The frank tone is striking as she recites lyrics that will leave the listener with raised eyebrows by the second line. “I’m feeling numb, thinking of changing my name to crystal meth/ Playing this game, holding my mic like a pistol/ Aiming at death/ And I love nobody/ Alone in this world, that how I came in it/ But shit can flash and reverse the same in a minute,” she raps. “….Drowning in a haze of smoke and glasses that never ran empty/ Bottles of SoCo, cheap vodka and 20-20/ Spending my pennies for thought on quarts of Henny….”
With few weak points (namely a sub-sub-par guest performance by Cannibal Ox). The Bootleg of the Bootleg is a fantastic album. Perfectly placed strings and piano loops (the record even samples Mozart), and excellent production by several newcomers (Wizard, Brooklyn Academy, Ruddy Rock and Belief, Bravo, China Black, etc.) make the record complete. Jean Grae also shines as she manages to rhyme over Jay-Z, Nas, and Eminem beats as well as the originals. During the 45- minute mix that follows the original six tracks, Grae provides her version of the hits (see the previously mentioned Scarface beat).
So for those who appreciated Attack of the Attacking Things, this record will not disappoint. For those who haven’t heard the first album, pick up the Bootleg.
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