MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Back now with Day to Day.
(Soundbite of song "Don't Rush Me")
BRAND: Rapper Jean Grae has learned that tough 21st-century lesson about success. Make music people love, and your fans will even steal to get their hands on it. Grae's album "Jeanius" was supposed to come out four years ago. A stalled release date couldn't stop bootleggers who have been spreading "Jeanius" thick across the web for the last several years.
Ms. JEAN GRAE: (Rapping) Black God and so she backslided (ph), back (unintelligible), Claps like an automatic hidden in her man's ride...
BRAND: "Jeanius" is out officially now. NPR's Christopher Johnson talked to Jean Grae about the album, and has this report.
CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON: Jean Grey is a super-heroine, not the hip-hop artist, but the original Jean Grey - Jean Grey-Summers, the one who's down with the Marvel Comics' "X-Men" crew. That Jean Grey has boundless telepathic powers, can defy death and manipulate life and matter any way she wants. As for the rapper with the comic-book alias, what's she got to wage war with the forces of darkness?
Ms. GRAE (Hip-Hop Artist, "Jeanius"): Jean Grae is gardening and making pita bread.
(Soundbite of laughter)
JOHNSON: Nope, no high-voltage telekinesis for this 31-year-old MC. Grae admits she's a comic-book nerd, but opts for more down-to-earth pursuits in her off time.
Ms. GRAE: Cooking, I will definitely get up to cook. It's, you know, another creative process. You're getting to make something from scratch and actually just create something that didn't exist before.
(Soundbite of song "Intro")
Ms. GRAE: (Rapping) At night, you know me, Infante, the (unintelligible)...
JOHNSON: The key ingredient on Grae's new album, "Jeanius," is production whiz 9th Wonder. He's been the master chef behind tracks for Mos Def, Destiny's Child and Mary J. Blige.
(Soundbite of song "The Time Is Now")
Ms. GRAE: (Rapping) I'm like my father. Only gonna deny it, though. My mother's like, I know. And my brother is quiet, so I fight further 'til I tight murder Family cycles have flopped further than expected. Titles on my life, a daughter...
JOHNSON: "Jeanius" was supposed to be old news by now, as the fourth full-length solo disc from Cape Town-born, New York-bred rapper.
(Soundbite of song "Desparada")
Ms. GRAE: (Rapping) Most of this here is just bragging. It don't show. Emphatically spoken, impeccable rap (beep) flow. Second to that, word play, akin to watching a verb Hitting the pinata on the eve of its birthday...
JOHNSON: In her short career, Grae had already earned thick props among indie hip-hop fans. Success came partly for what Jean Grae wasn't, a female MC sexing up her act just to move units.
Ms. GRAE: I think for, like, the first few photo shoots and stuff I started doing, I did repeatedly call my publicist and be like, can you do me a favor? Can you tell them to stop bringing swimsuits? Because there's really no use for them, and it's not going to happen.
JOHNSON: Grae was also hailed as a poetically solid and lyrically honest rapper. That's why when "Jeanius" was shelved indefinitely, web-savvy fans dubbed countless bootleg copies, and the album was officially an unofficial hit. Since the disc has gone legit, Grae went back to give it another listen. She tuned in partly with a critical ear. Grae is, after all, a classically trained musician and the daughter of two jazz artists.
(Soundbite of song "My Story")
JOHNSON: For Grae, going back to "Jeanius" was also a personal journey. Like when she pressed play on the track "My Story," an autobiographical cut about abortion.
Ms. GRAE: It was a good cry. But it was finally being in a comfortable place to talk about it, and really just detail the whole thing and not trying to sugarcoat anything.
(Soundbite of song "My Story")
Ms. GRAE: (Rapping) To see it in your hand, you're out for the cut. And then you wake up in another room with plenty others. They call it recovery. You're thinking we ain't mothers, And then prescription pills. We're in a script that chills. An understatement, you're dressed, but you're naked still. And your brain won't think straight. Wait, can't finish this...
JOHNSON: Grae dropped another personal bomb on her fans earlier this year. She announced her retirement from the rap game. Grae made the move because of what she calls issues with her record label.
Ms. GRAE: So, I just kind of stepped away, and I was, like, before I make myself completely sick and end up in jail with the rest of the female rappers, I'm going to just chill out and see what happens right now.
JOHNSON: A few months later, "Jeanius" hit stores. It's an uneven product that gets bogged down at times by singsong-y hooks and beats that just don't inspire. For an MC with such a dynamic moniker, it's surprising to hear Jean Grae often get locked in a wooden, two-dimensional flow.
(Soundbite of song)
Ms. GRAE: (Rapping) Brothers, they (unintelligible) on account of me gripping the truth. Flipping positions mission wherein, man, I'm living proof...
JOHNSON: At her rare best, though, Grae cracks open a can of flawless confidence, that too often seems buried down deep inside.
Ms. GRAE: (Rapping) Please, I'm about to show you the meaning of work affirmative. Jeanie Jackson, you can see up dirt and leaving, I'm bleeding and gasping like the Jesus on board. I wish I would get a reaction from (unintelligible) good. Controversy works...
JOHNSON: Right now, Jean Grae says she's thinking way outside of hip-hop. She wants to start a family, perfect her cooking skills, and maybe do some work in film. She's not likely to stray too far from the world that made her don a super-heroine's name. Just the way she talks about rap, it's clear Jean's a junkie for life.
Ms. GRAE: I really, really love hip-hop very, very much, and I can't really say I quit, because you can't. You can't quit. That's impossible. I am hip-hop.
JOHNSON: Christopher Johnson, NPR News.
(Soundbite of song "This World")
Ms. GRAE: (Rapping) Y'all just acting crazy now. I'll be doing Jeanie until this fades out. Y'all wanna let me in...
BRAND: You can hear full songs from Jean Grae's new album "Jeanius" at our website, nprmusic.org.
(Soundbite of song "This World")
Ms. GRAE: (Rapping) Y'all just acting crazy now. I'll be doing Jeanie until this world fades out. Pass me on your block...
BRAND: Finally, in a week dominated by Wall Street. We were intrigued by the story that a hacker had broken into Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's personal email account, and we wondered, how hard is it to hack into someone's email? So, we've set up a little contest. That's because Alex Chadwick is away. Hack Chadwick's fake email. We've set up a dummy account for our friend Alex, and we invite you to try to break into it. All the details are at our blog, npr.org/daydreaming. So, start hacking.
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