February 4, 2018

My Gut Reaction: Jean Grae - This Week (September 21, 2004)


True fact: somewhere between 2013 and 2015, I had some grandiose plans for the blog. I’m talking article ideas, new concepts for series, different ideas for opening this site up to create the discussion place I’ve always wanted this to be. To ease myself into this role, I was going to force myself into shorter stunts, so as to broaden my horizons (and yours). One of those short-term stunts was to spend a month (later changed to a week, sadly) writing about nothing but female emcees, as they are severely underrepresented on this site, and in hip hop in general. I began taking notes on albums, but the idea was backburnered in favor of real life shit. This is all to say that today’s post, about Brooklyn’s own Jean Grae and her second full-length album This Week, is something I wrote several years ago, although this opening paragraph is brand new. So if there are references to President Obama or to the finale of Lost, just keep this in mind. Also, fuck Donald Trump. Ah, shit, that last sentence doesn't prove this paragraph is new at all: I've always hated Trump. Oh well.


As I mentioned, This Week is Tsidi “Jean Grae” Ibrahim’s second full-length project, following her debut Attack of the Attacking Things (still a pretty great title) and The Bootleg of the Bootleg EP. At this point, the artist formerly known as What? What? found herself signed to Babygrande Records, which has distributed projects from the likes of Jedi Mind Tricks, Canibus, and various Wu-Tang Clan b-teamers, which meant a national stage on which she could talk her shit again.

This Week was released nearly fourteen years ago as of this writing, and while a lot has changed in Jean Grae’s life (she’s become recently engaged to rapper-slash-producer Quelle Chris), her overall demeanor has remained the same: not necessarily that of a woman trying to hold her own in a male-dominated field, but that of a fellow rapper who commands respect. Featuring production from 9th Wonder, the duo Sid Roams (who I only know from their work with the late Prodigy of Mobb Deep), and other people who I couldn’t place if they had created the fucking music in my own house, This Week quickly found itself swept away in critical acclaim and nearly zero sales. Because that’s what happens on Babygrande Records: you get the prestige, but not the plaques.

1. INTRO (FEAT. RUDDY ROCK & TRACEY MOORE)
Yes, that clever track title signifies that this is a rap album intro, and yes, there happens to be some bullshit shouting that attempts to force the listener into acknowledging our host's existence, which doesn't really make sense, since you would have to actually listen to This Week in order to hear the introduction, which means you already know who Jean Grae is, but whatever, she actually spits a verse on here, and while some of it comes across as a bit too defensive, overall she sounds as potent as ever. J. Cardim's instrumental approaches Jay-Z rap album intro territory, which was a strange creative choice, but at least our host sounds good over it. Not bad.

2. A-ALIKES
I'm not going to lie: my mind drifted the moment I realized that Jean Grae's hook has about three times as many words as absolutely necessary. The Sid Roams beat was alright, and it's not like our host sounds bad over it or anything, but there is very little on “A-Alikes” to recommend: it's merely a technically competent rap song with no spirit in it. Everything on here is very mechanical, chugging along the track as Grae checks off boxes on her quest to create the perfect song. There's no heart here.

3. CUERVO LOCO (SKIT)

4. GOING CRAZY / SKIT
Possibly the most accessible Jean Grae song I’ve reviewed to date. Over the course of three verses, our host describes how an irrational fear of being fulfilled exacerbates into full-blown paranoia, complete with violent outbursts that seem excessive but play right into what she’s trying to do here. References to the Geto Boys classic “Mind Playing Tricks”, an obvious inspiration, and Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me” punctuate her thought process, but Grae seems more informed by Fight Club, specifically the plight of the anonymous narrator (played by Edward Norton in the film) just before he starts, well, fighting in a club. The Joey Chavez beat is cheesy, but it works in contrast to our host’s wrecked frame of mind, so it all comes together nicely. The audio track ends with a skit that is marked as separate from “Going Crazy” on the back cover of the physical release.

5. STYLE WARS (FEAT. BLOCK MCCLOUD)
If the intro was built atop a beat that Jay-Z would rhyme to in an alternate timeline, then Will Tell’s work behind the boards for “Style Wars” approximates something latter-day Fat Joe would purchase for use. Jean’s three verses are so chock-full of shit-talk that you won’t even realize this is supposed to be her club song until Block McCloud’s unnecessary hook kicks in. If Jean Grae’s intent was to record a song that could easily be lost in the shuffle of other, similarly tactless rap tracks, then she succeeded wildly. This was alright, but it’s wasn’t real.

6. NOT LIKE ME
Jean Grae showcases two facets of her hip hop persona on “Not Like Me”: the sing-songy object of affection that performs the hook, and the no-nonsense chick that believes she might be your perfect match, but also raps. I think most hip hop heads still reading this review would appreciate a significant other that could you could argue the respective merits of Illmatic and Reasonable Doubt with, unless you’re just here for the random pop culture references, anyway. This wasn’t bad at all, even if it lies in well-tread territory song-wise.

7. SUPA LUV
9th Wonder’s instrumental is a glorious mess, a cacophony of sounds that beautifully clash with one another even though they’re all sampled from the same source material. Unfortunately, there’s a reason why I’ve used up so many words on the beat: Jean’s lyrics are all instantly forgettable, and not just because a good chunk of them are buried underneath the music. Whoever pitched this beat higher than the vocals fucked up, no question, but it’s debatable that our host’s words were even worth hearing in the first place. Especially when placed after the similarly-themed “Not Like Me”. Groan.

8. GIVE IT UP
The unofficial narrative of This Week appears to be a challenge to bury Jean Grae’s bars within as many instrumentals as possible. “Give It Up” is no different: the listener will quickly lose the plot (another song about Jean Grae trying to hook up with the possible man of her dreams) within the loud-as-shit Shan Boogie beat that ends with an annoying-as-fuck dialogue sample that asks the listener if they would like a slice of cake, among other things. The best I can write about this entire song is, “Huh?”

9. WHATEVER
The best track on This Week also happens to be its shortest (if one doesn’t count the intro as a song in its own right). Over a funky Belief modernized Blaxploitation soundtrack, Jean Grae spits a single verse (and a hook) entirely focused on how much of a badass she believes herself to be, and it’s mighty convincing. I’ve always felt that our host is at her best when she’s in take-no-prisoners mode, but she can only be as good as her musical backing (like all rappers, duh): “Whatever” presents a cock and confident Jean Grae that could potentially take over the rap game if she so chose. Nice!

10. THE WALL
First thing that ran through my mind when I first heard “The Wall” was, “Fake-ass Dr. Dre-esque beat”. And that critique holds true today: LT Moe instrumental sounds like something the good Doctor would have given to Obie Trice just to shut him up. That said, fake-ass Dr.Dre-esque beats aren’t all bad, and the one present on here is pretty decent. Jean at least puts it to good use, aside from the unnecessary skit at the halfway point that fucks up all of her momentum. True to what she promises on the hook, our host says absolutely nothing of significance during her verses, controlling her message by not revealing anything at all. Which makes this track okay but hollow, as Grae remains a cypher.

11. BEFORE THE SPOT (SKIT)

12. YOU DON’T WANT IT
Midi Mafia’s instrumental sounds like an early Talib Kweli attempt at mainstream acceptance, and Jean Grae’s usage is just as successful, which is to say, it isn’t. At all. The hook makes a strained effort to bait the listener into shouting along, but our host’s actual bars showcase how a mastery of boasts-n-bullshit doesn’t automatically generate empathy or engagement from the audience. This was just a misfire all around.

13. WATCH ME
Weird. I’m pretty sure this track just played, but I couldn’t tell you what it sounded like even if you threatened my kids. Not a great sign.

14. P.S.
Jean Grae builds a song using the “each verse is a recited letter” trope that Eminem and Nas have previously utilized with entirely different and successful results. Our host spills some carefully selected personal details that may all be made the fuck up, and even uses her third verse to read a letter that was aimed at her. Everything is on a fairly positive bent, up to and including the outro that ends This Week as a whole. The J. Cardim beat is okay, and our host’s bars all sound genuine, if not entirely heartfelt (keeping your audience at arm’s length tends to do that). Not a bad way to end things, I suppose.

The final two tracks on This Week are considered to be bonuses.

15. FYRE BLAZER
Meh.

16. DON’T RUSH ME
9th’s instrumental bangs like nothing else does on This Week, and the fact that there’s no chorus, just three verses, is a plus in my book. Of course, it seems that there was always supposed to be a hook: perhaps the song was rushed out to meet This Week’s release date. Regardless, Jean Grae rocks the shit out of this one, so even though “Don’t Rush Me” may be incomplete, at least it sounds really fucking great.

THE LAST WORD:  This Week suffers from some bloat: even though it runs for roughly an hour, it feels like twice the length, as the songs that truly do not work seem to take forrreeevvveeerrr to creep past. Jean Grae’s lyrics are just fine: she had honed her boasts-n-bullshit well with her previous projects and her numerous cameos, so she wrote the songs she wanted to write. What killed This Week for me was the musical backing, for the most part: while there are some great fucking tracks on here (“Whatever” and “Don’t Rush Me” are two standouts), what you’ll remember the most are the moments where the beats and the lyrics clash, which, unfortunately, happen more often than not. I still believe Jean Grae is deserving of a wider audience (and all of the financial compensation that would come with), but if you two haven’t bailed on this post yet and are interested in hearing more, I would recommend looking her up on Spotify first. Here’s hoping any future projects of hers I write about solve the production conundrum.

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
I’ve written about Jean Grae before. Here’s proof.



3 comments:

  1. In all honesty I can't comment on this album or Jean Grae in general but I would like to comment just so you have some more. You deserve comments for the work you put in reviewing these albums especially when you keep up your schedule of reviewing one a day for a month. I'd hate for you to give up due to a lack of comments demotivating you.

    For what it's worth, I think your plans sounded pretty good and showcasing female emcees is still a worthwhile cause. Here's hoping you might do a review of Tairrie B., Doggy's Angels or H.W.A. (for I'd be sure reading a review of their work from you would be comedy gold) some time.

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  2. Jean Grae can spit for sure but have never bothered with a whole album. Here's hoping one day we can find it

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    1. The Jeanius album she made with 9th Wonder is very good in my opinion.

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