Jean Grae

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Jean Grae
Jean Grae at La Zona - SXSW 2006 - crop.jpg
Background information
Birth nameTsidi Ibrahim
Also known asWhat? What?
Born (1976-11-26) November 26, 1976 (age 43)
Cape Town, South Africa
OriginBrooklyn, New York City, New York, United States
GenresHip hop
  • Rapper
  • songwriter
  • record producer
  • actress
  • comedian
Years active1996–present
Associated acts

Tsidi Ibrahim[1][2] (born November 26, 1976), known professionally as Jean Grae (formerly What? What?), is an American rapper, record producer, actress, and comedian[3] from Brooklyn, New York City. She rose to prominence in the underground hip hop scene in New York City and has since built an international fanbase. She is known as an important figure in hip hop and popular culture. Her unique music style, gritty rhymes, and lyrical mastery have earned her recognition as a favorite emcee by many rap artists such as Talib Kweli, Jay-Z, and Black Thought of the Roots.[4]

Early life[edit]

Jean Grae was born Tsidi Ibrahim, in Cape Town, South Africa, on November 26, 1976. The daughter of South African jazz musicians Sathima Bea Benjamin and Abdullah Ibrahim, she was raised in New York City, where her parents had relocated after her birth. She studied Vocal Performance at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, before majoring in Music Business at New York University. She dropped out after three weeks of class.[1][5]

Musical career[edit]

1996–98: Career beginnings[edit]

In 1995, she was discovered by George Rithm Martinez, when he recruited her for a five-song demo under his group Ground Zero. Their demo was critically acclaimed and earned the duo "Unsigned Hype" honors in The Source in March 1996.[2] She later joined a hip hop group called Natural Resource,[2] along with fellow rapper Ocean and disc jockey James "AGGIE" Barrett. In 1996, they released a pair of 12-inch singles called "Negro League Baseball"[5] b/w "Bum Deal" b/w "They Lied", and "Bum Deal (remix)" b/w "They Lied (remix)" b/w "I Love This World", on their own label, Makin' Records.[1] She also appeared on singles by fellow Makin' Records artists Pumpkinhead and Bad Seed, as well as on the O.B.S. (Original Blunted Soldiers) double 12-inch single alongside crew members Pumpkinhead, Bad Seed and Meat-pie, and produced much of the material released on the label under the pseudonym Run Run Shaw. During this period she established strong ties with the Brooklyn Academy crew, with which she would appear throughout her career.

1998–2004: Solo career[edit]

Natural Resource dissolved in 1998, after which Ibrahim changed her stage name from What? What? to Jean Grae, a reference to the X-Men character Jean Grey.[6] Under her new moniker, she released her first LPAttack of the Attacking Things—on August 6, 2002, and followed it on September 21, 2004 with This Week.[6] Throughout her career she has also recorded tracks with numerous major hip-hop artists, Atmosphere, The Roots, Talib Kweli, The Herbaliser, Royce da 5'9, Da Beatminerz, Phonte, Mr. Len, Masta Ace, Vordul Mega, C-Rayz Walz, Mos Def, Styles P, Pharoahe Monch and Immortal Technique among them.

Grae recorded an album with celebrated North Carolina producer 9th Wonder, of Little Brother fame, entitled Jeanius; the unfinished recording was leaked on the internet, and subsequently work stopped on the album.[7] However, at the release party for 9th Wonder's Dream Merchant Volume 2 she stated that Jeanius was still going to be released. The album was eventually released on June 24, 2008, through Zune Live Marketplace, then on disc on July 8, 2008. Her rapping on the album was described by Robert Christgau as "remarkable for its rapidity, clarity and idiomatic cadence. The writing has a good-humored polysyllabic literacy."[8] Elsewhere, it was reported that her proposed fourth album, provisionally titled Phoenix had gone into production and that 9th Wonder would handle the lion's share of the production duties with unknown UK producer Passion Hifi, English producer DJ SonicBass and NY resident Clinikal providing a beat each.

Talib Kweli and Jean Grae in 2010

2005–2008: Blacksmith Music[edit]

Previously signed to Babygrande Records, she signed a deal in 2005 with Talib Kweli's Blacksmith Records. On April 28, 2008, Grae posted a blog entry on her MySpace page saying goodbye to her fans.[9] 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."[10] In July 2008, Talib Kweli posted a blog entry explaining Grae's album, mentioning that she was not retiring. He encouraged 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.[11]

2008–present: Freelance[edit]

On September 18, 2008, Jean Grae posted a Craigslist ad offering her creative services for $800/16 bars.[12][13] On her MySpace blog, she stated, "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."[14] Since that time, all of her music has been self-released through her website and Bandcamp.

In 2008, Grae wrote the autobiographical song "My Story", which paints a vivid picture of her experience getting an abortion at age 16.[15]

On June 25, 2011, after a three-year break, 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.[16] This was followed on January 2, 2013, by the 10-track Dust Ruffle, featuring 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."[17] Between October and November 2013 she released a series of EPs entitled 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, entitled Gotham Down Deluxe.[18] In an interview on Judge John Hodgman late in 2012 she foreshadowed that her next full-length album would be called Cake or Death.[19]

More recently Grae has branched out from music, releasing the audiobook The State of Eh, in January 2014,[20] and writing, directing and starring in the online sitcom Life with Jeanie.[21] In 2013, she had a supporting role in the indie feature film Big Words[22] and in 2015 appeared on the And The Crime Ring[22] episode of CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls.[23]

On October 2, 2016, Grae hosted the Golden Probes, which paid tribute to "outstanding achievements in the fields of sexism and anti-abortion extremism".[24]

On September 9, 2018, Jean Grae and Quelle Chris released their 15 track joint album "Everything's Fine".[25] Rolling Stone rated the album as the 22nd best Hip Hop Album of 2018.[26] "Everything's fine" included many guest appearances including Anna Wise and Hannibal Buress.[27]

Personal life and musical style[edit]

On December 3, 2017, Jean Grae got engaged to fellow rapper and producer Quelle Chris.[28] On August 5, 2018, they were married at an intimate location, the W Loft in Brooklyn.[29] He is known for more than 15 studio albums and collaborative albums with fellow rappers.

Her rapping style relies on a complex interplay of shifting rhythms and slanted rhymes; Martin Connor, a music theorist who writes for Genius and Vox, feels that Grae's musical ability as a rapper will eventually place her in the "top 3 of the greatest musical rappers of all time".[30] A quantitative analysis by Matt Daniels for The Pudding also indicated that she uses a higher-than-average range of vocabulary in her lyrics, a distinction she shares with such luminaries as Ghostface Killah and RZA.[31]

A long time comic book fan, her stage name is based on the X Men character of the same name.[32]


Studio albums[edit]

Compilation albums[edit]

  • Grae Fruits: The Jean Grae Compilation (2004)
  • Dust Riffle (2012)
  • Gotham Down Deluxe (2013)


  • The Bootleg of the Bootleg EP (2003)
  • Ho x 3: A Christmas Thingy (2012)
  • Gotham Down: Cycle 1: Love In Infinity (Lo-Fi) (2013)
  • Gotham Down: Cycle II: Leviathan (2013)
  • Gotham Down: Cycle 3: The Artemis Epoch (2013)
  • jeannie. (2014)
  • #5 (2014)
  • The State of Eh. A Read Along Album Book Thing. By Jean Grae. (2014)
  • That's Not How You Do That: An Instructional Album for Adults (2014)
  • That's Not How You Do That Either: Yet Another Instructional Album for Adults (2015)
  • iSweatergawd (2015)
  • Saix (2015)
  • MERRYPOCALYPSE (with Quelle Chris) (2016)
  • Sevvin (2016)


  • The Official Bootleg (2003)
  • The Grae Files (2004)
  • The Grae Mixtape (2004)
  • Hurricane Jean The Mixtape (2005)
  • Hurricane Jean: The Jeanius Strikes Again (2005)
  • Cookies or Comas (2011)

Other song appearances[edit]

  • Immortal Technique – The Illest (ft. Jean Grae and Pumpkinhead)
  • Immortal Technique – You Never Know (ft. Jean Grae)
  • AkirTropical Fantasy (ft. Jean Grae)
  • The High & MightyHands On Experience (ft. What?What?, Kool Keith and Bobbito)
  • Tek 9 – Keep It Hot (ft. What?What?)
  • Tek 9 – Bruklon (ft. What?What?)
  • Mr. LifPost Mortem
  • AtmosphereInsomnia 411 (ft. Roosevelt Franklin and Jean Grae)
  • The HerbaliserBlow Your Headphones – "The Blend"
  • The Herbaliser – Blow Your Headphones – "New + Improved"
  • The Herbaliser – Blow Your Headphones – Bring It"
  • The Herbaliser – Very Mercenary – "Mission Improbable"
  • The Herbaliser – Very Mercenary – "Let It Go"
  • The Herbaliser – Take London – "Nah' Mean, Nah'm Sayin'"
  • The Herbaliser – Take London – "Generals"
  • The Herbaliser – Take London – "Close Your Eyes"
  • The Herbaliser – Take London – "Twice Around"
  • The Herbaliser – Take London (second edition's bonus disc) – "More Tea, More Beer"
  • The Herbaliser – Take London (second edition's bonus disc) – "How To Keep A Girlfriend"
  • The Herbaliser – Same As It Never Was – "Street Karma (A Cautionary Tale)"
  • Masta Ace – Soda and Soap (ft. Jean Grae)
  • Quelle ChrisBeing You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often – "The Prestige" (ft. Jean Grae)
  • Talib Kweli – New York Shit (ft. Jean Grae)
  • Talib Kweli – Say Something
  • Talib Kweli – Where You Gonna Run (ft. Jean Grae)
  • Talib Kweli – Uh Oh (ft. Jean Grae)
  • Talib Kweli – Black Girl Pain (ft. Jean Grae)
  • Cannibal OxSwing Blades (ft. Jean Grae)
  • Soul Daddy – No Drank (ft. Jean Grae)
  • Ski BeatzProwler 2 (ft. Jean Grae, Jay Electronica, Joell Ortiz & Mos Def)
  • WaleGoodbye (ft. Jean Grae)
  • DiverseUnder the hammer (ft. Jean Grae)
  • Joell OrtizSo Wrong (ft. Talib Kweli, Brother Ali & Jean Grae)
  • Lil BBase 4 Ya Face (ft. Jean Grae & Phonte)
  • DJ Jazzy JeffSupa Jean (ft. Jean Grae)
  • Pharoahe Monch – Assassins (ft. Jean Grae & Royce Da 5'9")
  • Sharkey – Sharkey's Machine – "Summer in the City (Lovin' It)"
  • Rosco P. Coldchain – It's Our World (Tryin' Times) (ft. D.P. & Jean Grae)
  • Maurice "Mobetta" BrownBack At The Ranch (ft. Jean Grae)
  • Bodi – Epilogue (ft. Kristoff Krane & Jean Grae)
  • Jota Mayúscula – Maybe (ft. Jean Grae)
  • The Roots – Somebody's Gotta Do It (ft. Jean Grae)
  • MC Frontalot - Gold Locks
  • Rapsody - Blankin Out Remix (ft. Jean Grae)
  • Sammus - 1080p (feat. Jean Grae)"


  1. ^ a b c Salazar-Moreno, Quibian. "Jean Grae Biography". Allmusic.
  2. ^ a b c Warren, Jamin (26 April 2005). "Jean Grae". Pitchfork Media.
  3. ^ La Gorce, Tammy (September 23, 2016). "New York Times: How Jean Grae, an Actress and Musician Spends Her Sundays".
  4. ^ Smalls, Shanté Paradigm (2010-10-07). ""The Rain Comes Down": Jean Grae and Hip Hop Heteronormativity". American Behavioral Scientist. 55: 86–95. doi:10.1177/0002764210381730.
  5. ^ a b "Jean Grae Biography". Archived from the original on October 9, 2008. Retrieved October 3, 2008.
  6. ^ a b Crockett, Stephen A., Jr. (2008), "Grae's Anatomy Archived 2009-07-29 at the Wayback Machine", The Root, August 12, 2008.
  7. ^ Johnson, Christopher (2008), "Jean Grae: 'I Am Hip-Hop'", NPR Music.
  8. ^ Christgau, Robert (2008), "Jean Grae Shows There's No Better Femcee", NPR Music
  9. ^; Jean Grae Retires From Hip-Hop?. Retrieved on 2008-05-07.
  10. ^ Harvilla, Rob (2008), "The Trials of Jean Grae", Village Voice, July 8, 2008.
  11. ^ Chinen, Nate (2008), "A Hip-Hop Classicist Defies Her Meager Turnout", New York Times, December 1, 2008.
  12. ^; Jean Grae Will Do Original Verses..For $$$, lol Archived 2008-09-24 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 2008-09-19.
  13. ^ Michaels, Sean (2008) "Jean Grae becomes a hip-hop mercenary", The Guardian, September 24, 2008.
  14. ^ JEAN GRAE IS FOR SALE. Retrieved on 2008-09-19.
  15. ^ "The Trials of Jean Grae". Retrieved 2019-05-28.
  16. ^ "Jean Grae - Cookies or Comas (Mixtape)", StupidDope, June 27, 2011.
  17. ^ Eric Diep, "Stream Jean Grae’s New Album 'Dust Ruffle'", XXL Magazine, January 2, 2013.
  18. ^ "Gotham Down Deluxe" by Jean Grae.
  19. ^ "Jean Grae on Judge John Hodgman Episode 83". Retrieved 2013-04-17.
  20. ^ ""The State of Eh. A Read Along Album Book Thing"". Archived from the original on 28 December 2017. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  21. ^ "Life With Jeannie". Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  22. ^ a b "Big Words". 1 September 2014. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  23. ^ "2 Broke Girls". Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  24. ^ Gorce, Tammy La (2016-09-23). "How Jean Grae, an Actress and Musician, Spends Her Sundays". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-05-06.
  25. ^ "Jean Grae & Quelle Chris - Everything's Fine (CD)". Mello Music Group. Retrieved 2019-05-04.
  26. ^ "Rolling Stone's 30 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2018". Album of The Year. Retrieved 2019-05-04.
  27. ^ "Jean Grae & Quelle Chris Talk Collaboration, Sharing Art, Love & 'Everything's Fine' [Interview]". Okayplayer. 2018-03-31. Retrieved 2019-05-06.
  28. ^ "Jean Grae Gets Engaged to Quelle Chris - XXL". XXL Mag. Retrieved 2017-12-12.
  29. ^ Ekpo, Ime (2018-08-08). "True Love and Hip-Hop: Jean Grae Gets Married to Longtime Boyfriend Quelle Chris". The Source. Retrieved 2019-05-06.
  30. ^ Connor, Martin (2015-04-09). "Rap Music Analysis #7 – The Jeanius of Ms. Jean Grae". RAP ANALYSIS. Retrieved 2019-07-16.
  31. ^ Daniels, Matt. "Rappers, sorted by the size of their vocabulary". The Pudding. Retrieved 2019-07-16.
  32. ^ Staff, SYFY WIRE (2018-05-23). "WATCH: Hip hop artist Jean Grae takes us comic book shopping". SYFY WIRE. Retrieved 2020-09-24.

External links[edit]