It is fitting that Jean Grae, the super-heroine femcee also known as Tsidi Ibrahim, takes her stage name from a Marvel ‘X‑men’ character. In the comic book series Jean Grey is born with telepathic and telekinetic superpowers, and it would seem that Jean Grae, South Africa born, New York based rapper is also bestowed with powers beyond the average human. Thankfully for hip hop connoisseurs it is not telepathic and telekinetic powers Jean is gifted with, but some freakishly superhuman delivery, flow and imagination. At the same time as delivering high-grade home-grown hip hop, Jean is also telling a story, and it’s a complex one.
The story began on ‘Chapter One: Destiny’ with 2003’s ‘The Bootleg of the Bootleg EP’, following an assassin on the run from the company she worked for. This story and assassin theme was then continued in Jean’s feature on the track ‘Assassins’ for Pharoahe Monch’s 2011 LP ‘W.A.R.’. Jean picked up the story again in 2012 with track ‘Kill Screen (Steve Wiebe)’ and it’s accompanying video (a track which features on this collection). Later this year Jean is set to release ‘Cake or Death’ her much anticipated album that covers the assassin storyline from 2005 to 2013 and the Gotham Down project picks up the story in 2016. So this is non-linear storytelling through hip hop, and who else has done that, ever?
Gotham Down is an album released as a trilogy with ‘Cycle 1: Love in Infinity’ being, obviously, part one. Opening with ‘Time (Gotham Intro)’ a short, futuristic apocalyptic scene-setter, with Jean delivering just one line, ‘The funny thing about time is: it doesn’t exist’. Time, or non-existence thereof has played a big part in this story, Jean has previously stated that if you truly understand that we are all, in the simplest form, energy, there is no such thing as running out of time, there is no time. Think about that.
We are then launched straight into track 2, ‘Iwanteweback[the4ewesong]’, a metaphor-laden break-up song with an insanely catchy hook (‘I want you back, I want you boo, though we ain’t lovin’, we ain’t fuckin’, we ain’t through’) and a bass line that does things to your brain, good things. Jean delivers lines referencing everything from musicals to oil soap, delivered with her usual expert timing that belies her underground status.
Track 3 ‘Before the Summer Broke’ sees Jean parlay her delivery over a reminiscent sounding beat, synthesisers and what sounds like a live drum kit accompanied by a smooth-as-a-Ken-doll hook.
Cleverly titled ‘Ah, Muse You’, a love song to a lover and inspiration follows as track 4. Another smooth hook is accompanied by a mechanical beat, and lyrics of adulation, ‘I got a pillow with your name on it, You down, monograms – so you know you got the claims on it, I sewed it by hand with heart strings, Guitar strings play when you lay on it’.
The old-skool style beats and delivery of Jean’s 2011’s ‘Cookies or Comas’ mix-tape are revisited magnificently on track 5, ‘Double Katanas’. Clever rhymes, and amazingly deep metaphors make this a brilliant track, a definite album highlight. Particularly reminiscent of ‘You Don’t Like It (So What)’ and ‘Casebaskets’ from the aforementioned mix-tape, which by the way is also a phenomenal hip hop work that if you don’t know, you should get to know.
‘Love in Infinity’ closes with ‘Kill Screen (Steve Wiebe)’, inspired Donkey Kong movie ‘The King of the Kong: A Fistful of Quarters’, the track was released by Jean last year with a graphic and enthralling accompanying video. This off-the-wall track opens with the line ‘This is rebel shit’ setting the tone and goes forth to deliver, probably, the most in-depth metaphors and intricate prose ever heard on record. This track is pure hip hop gold, there’s not many people that make tracks like this anymore, and endageoured species like Jean Grae really do need conserving.
‘Gotham Down: Cycle 1: Love in Infinity’ is a truly amazing record which will not receive even half the praise or revenue it deserves. An organic (all beats made by Jean, at home) record which displays the true talent of Ms. Grae. If you are a new listener this album is a perfect example of what the talents she poses, but please listen to her back catalogue, especially those records forming the story line continued here.
Yes, Jean Grey of X‑Men, Jean Grae of Hip Hop, both super-heroines. This is how to deliver hip hop, a record on so many levels, a gift. Jean Grae, I salute you.
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