Jean Grae

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Jean Grae
Jean Grae performing in 2006
Jean Grae performing in 2006
Background information
Birth nameTsidi Ibrahim
Also known asWhat? What?
Born (1976-11-26) November 26, 1976 (age 45)
Cape Town, South Africa
OriginNew York City, New York, U.S.
  • Rapper
  • songwriter
  • record producer
  • actress[2]
Years active1996–present

Tsidi Ibrahim[3][4] (born November 26, 1976), known professionally as Jean Grae (formerly What? What?), is an American rapper from Manhattan, New York City. She rose in the underground hip hop scene in New York City and has built an international fanbase. Her unique music and lyrical style have earned her recognition as a favorite emcee by many rap artists such as Talib Kweli, Jay-Z, and Black Thought of the Roots.[5]

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 moved after her birth. She studied Vocal Performance at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, before studying a Major in Music Business at New York University. She dropped out after three weeks of class.[3][6]

Musical career[edit]

1996–1998: Career beginnings[edit]

In 1995, she was discovered by George Rithm Martinez when he recruited her for a five-song demo in his group Ground Zero. Their demo earned "Unsigned Hype" honors in The Source in March 1996.[4] She later joined a hip hop group called Natural Resource[4] along with rapper Ocean and disc jockey James "AGGIE" Barrett. In 1996, they released two 12-inch singles on their label, Makin' Records.[3] She appeared on singles by Pumpkinhead and Bad Seed, as well as on the O.B.S. (Original Blunted Soldiers) double 12-inch single. She produced much of the material released under pseudonym "Run Run Shaw".

1998–2004: Solo career[edit]

Natural Resource dissolved in 1998, after which she changed her stage name from What? What? to Jean Grae, a reference to the X-Men character Jean Grey.[7] She released her first LP, Attack of the Attacking Things, on August 6, 2002, and released This Week on September 21, 2004.[7] Throughout her career she has also recorded with major hip-hop artists such as Atmosphere, The Roots, Phonte, Mr. Len, Pharoahe Monch, and The Herbaliser.

Grae recorded an album with North Carolina producer 9th Wonder, entitled Jeanius; the unfinished recording was leaked online, and work stopped.[8] However, at a release party for 9th Wonder's Dream Merchant Volume 2, she stated that Jeanius was still going to be released. It was released on June 24, 2008 on Zune Live Marketplace, then on disc on July 8, 2008. Her rapping was described by Robert Christgau as "remarkable for its rapidity, clarity and idiomatic cadence. The writing has a good-humored polysyllabic literacy."[9]

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.[10] She was disenchanted with the music industry and desired to start a family, but said that she was working on new material.[11] 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.[12]

2008–present: Freelance[edit]

On September 18, 2008, Grae posted a Craigslist ad offering her creative services for $800/16 bars.[13][14] On her 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."[15] Since then, her music has been self-released through her website and Bandcamp.

On June 25, 2011, Grae released a free mixtape entitled Cookies or Comas, which features guest appearances from Styles P, Talib Kweli and Pharoahe Monch; it also includes "Assassins" from Monch's W.A.R. album and "Uh Oh" From Talib Kweli's Gutter Rainbows.[16] This was followed by the 10-track Dust Ruffle on January 2, 2013, featuring unreleased songs from 2004 to 2010.[17] Between October and November 2013 she released 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 them into Gotham Down Deluxe.[18]

Grae branched out from music, releasing audiobook The State of Eh in January 2014,[19] and writing, directing and starring in the online sitcom Life with Jeanie.[20] In 2013, she had a supporting role in indie film Big Words[21] and in 2015 appeared on the And The Crime Ring[21] episode of CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls.[22] On October 2, 2016, she hosted the Golden Probes.[23] On September 9, 2018, Grae and Quelle Chris released their 15 track joint album Everything's Fine,[24] rated by Rolling Stone as the 22nd best Hip Hop Album of 2018.[25]

Personal life and musical style[edit]

On December 3, 2017, Grae got engaged to fellow rapper and producer Quelle Chris.[26] On August 5, 2018, they were married at the W Loft in Brooklyn.[27] 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.[28] An analysis by Matt Daniels for The Pudding indicated that she uses a higher-than-average range of vocabulary in her lyrics.[29]


Studio albums[edit]

Compilation albums[edit]

  • Dust Ruffle (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 TechniqueThe 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 – Disposable Arts – "Hold U" (ft. Jean Grae)
  • 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)"
  • Flying Pupa - Can It


  1. ^ Wiltz, Teresa (December 31, 2004). "Ladies Last". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 25, 2021.
  2. ^ La Gorce, Tammy (September 23, 2016). "New York Times: How Jean Grae, an Actress and Musician Spends Her Sundays".
  3. ^ a b c Salazar-Moreno, Quibian. "Jean Grae Biography". AllMusic.
  4. ^ a b c Warren, Jamin (April 26, 2005). "Jean Grae". Pitchfork Media.
  5. ^ Smalls, Shanté Paradigm (October 7, 2010). ""The Rain Comes Down": Jean Grae and Hip Hop Heteronormativity". American Behavioral Scientist. 55: 86–95. doi:10.1177/0002764210381730.
  6. ^ "Jean Grae Biography". Archived from the original on October 9, 2008. Retrieved October 3, 2008.
  7. ^ a b Crockett, Stephen A., Jr. (2008), "Grae's Anatomy Archived 2009-07-29 at the Wayback Machine", The Root, August 12, 2008.
  8. ^ Johnson, Christopher (2008), "Jean Grae: 'I Am Hip-Hop'", NPR Music.
  9. ^ Christgau, Robert (2008), "Jean Grae Shows There's No Better Femcee", NPR Music
  10. ^; Jean Grae Retires From Hip-Hop?. Retrieved on May 7, 2008.
  11. ^ Harvilla, Rob (2008), "The Trials of Jean Grae", Village Voice, July 8, 2008.
  12. ^ Chinen, Nate (2008), "A Hip-Hop Classicist Defies Her Meager Turnout", New York Times, December 1, 2008.
  13. ^; Jean Grae Will Do Original Verses..For $$$, lol Archived September 24, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved September 19, 2008.
  14. ^ Michaels, Sean (2008) "Jean Grae becomes a hip-hop mercenary", The Guardian, September 24, 2008.
  15. ^ JEAN GRAE IS FOR SALE. Retrieved on September 19, 2008.
  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. ^ ""The State of Eh. A Read Along Album Book Thing"". Archived from the original on December 28, 2017. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  20. ^ "Life With Jeannie". Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  21. ^ a b "Big Words". September 1, 2014. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  22. ^ "2 Broke Girls". September 19, 2011. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
  23. ^ Gorce, Tammy La (September 23, 2016). "How Jean Grae, an Actress and Musician, Spends Her Sundays". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 6, 2019.
  24. ^ "Jean Grae & Quelle Chris - Everything's Fine (CD)". Mello Music Group. Retrieved May 4, 2019.
  25. ^ "Rolling Stone's 30 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2018". Album of The Year. Retrieved May 4, 2019.
  26. ^ "Jean Grae Gets Engaged to Quelle Chris - XXL". XXL Mag. Retrieved December 12, 2017.
  27. ^ Ekpo, Ime (August 8, 2018). "True Love and Hip-Hop: Jean Grae Gets Married to Longtime Boyfriend Quelle Chris". The Source. Retrieved May 6, 2019.
  28. ^ Connor, Martin (April 9, 2015). "Rap Music Analysis #7 – The Jeanius of Ms. Jean Grae". RAP ANALYSIS. Retrieved July 16, 2019.
  29. ^ Daniels, Matt. "Rappers, sorted by the size of their vocabulary". The Pudding. Retrieved July 16, 2019.

External links[edit]