Jean Grae is a lyricist, producer, engineer and performing artist. She is one American lady whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. She first started out as an MC and became popular in the underground hip-hop circles, but a quick look at her Patreon page, reveals that she has since moved on from where she started, adding a whole lot more feathers to her cap, including, rapping, singing, directing, filming and editing, acting, comedy, hosting and cooking.
That’s not all, she is also into freelance writing, voiceovers, hairstyling, putting on plays, teaching children, hosting her own live talk show, live music shows, free hug stations, improv, and podcasts. Grae has been Keynote Speaker at Hip-Hop Week Montreal and lecturer at prestigious universities like Yale, Princeton, Columbia, and the Kennedy Performing Arts Center… Quite a plateful!
Jean Grae born as Tsidi Ibrahim on November 26, 1976, in Cape Town, South Africa, is the daughter of two legendary South African jazz musicians Sathima Bea Benjamin and Abdullah Ibrahim. Being born to these two who lived a creative and independent lifestyle got Jean prepared for life as a creative artist.
As a result of the racial turmoil in their home country at the time, her family relocated to America when she was just three months old and the talented artist was raised in New York City where she later studied Vocal Performance at the famed Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. She enrolled at New York University to study Music Business but dropped out three weeks later to pursue a career in music full-time.
Jean Grae Music Career
Jean Grae’s career kicked off in 1995 after she was discovered by George Rithm Martinez who recruited her for a five-song demo under his group, Ground Zero. The demo turned out to be a huge success, earning the duo “Unsigned Hype” honors in The Source (magazine) in March 1996.
Moving on, she teamed up with Ocean and DJ Aggie to form a hip-hop group known as Natural Resource and in 1996, they released a pair of singles on their own label, Makin’ Records, which created quite a stir on New York’s underground Hip-Hop scene. Jean who went by the stage name ‘What? What?’ also featured on singles by her fellow artists on the record and produced a lot of songs released on the label under the pseudonym Run Run Shaw.
Following the dissolution of Natural Resource in 1998, Tsidi Ibrahim dropped her former alias What? What? and picked up Jean Grae under which she released her first LP “Attack of the Attacking Things” (2002) and followed it up with “This Week” two years later.
In 2005, she left her former record label, Babygrande Records and signed a deal with Talib Kweli’s Blacksmith Records. In the course of her career, Jean Grae has worked with many strong figures in the hip-hop industry, including Atmosphere, The Roots, Talib Kweli, The Herbaliser, Da Beatminerz, Phonte, Mr. Len, Masta Ace, Vordul Mega, C-Rayz Walz, Mos Def, Styles P, Pharoahe Monch, and Immortal Technique.
Citing disenchantment with the music industry and a desire to start a family, Jean Grae announced her retirement through a blog entry on her MySpace page on April 28, 2008, saying goodbye to her fans. She, however, added that she was working on a new piece and still wanted to keep making music: “You know what? I need that Grammy. I think I might be able to stop after that.”
On July 8, 2008, Grae released an album titled “Jeanius” which she recorded with North Carolina producer, 9th Wonder. Prior to this time, she released this same album through Zune Live Marketplace two weeks earlier. The work was initially leaked on the internet before it was finished and as a result, it was put on hold. However, by the time it was released, it received lots of positive reviews with Robert Christgau describing Grea’s rapping on the album as remarkable for its rapidity, clarity and idiomatic cadence.
Sequel to the release, Talib Kweli explained Grae’s album via a blog post, urging fans to buy it while describing her as one of the last true MCs left. In the same post, he also stated that she was not retiring. Later in 2008, Grae went back to performing live, self-releasing all her music through her website and Bandcamp.
After being away from the scene for three years, Grae released a free mixtape titled “Cookies or Comas” on June 23, 2011. Following on January 2, 2013, was the 10-track “Dust Ruffle”, featuring unreleased songs from between 2004 and 2010. She went on to release a series of EPs titled “Gotham Down Cycle 1: Love in Infinity (Lo-Fi)”, “Gotham Down Cycle II: Leviathan” and “Gotham Down Cycle 3: The Artemis Epoch”, between October and November 2013.
Branching out of music, she played a supporting role in the 2013 indie feature film “Big Words” and released the audiobook The State of Eh, in January 2014. She also got involved in writing and directing and starred in the online sitcom “Life with Jeanie”. In 2015, she appeared on CBS sitcom “2 Broke Girls”.
Jean Grae got engaged to fellow rapper and producer Quelle Chris on December 3, 2017, and on March 30, 2018, they released a fifteen-track collaborative studio album titled “Everything’s Fine”, through Mello Music Group. The LP, a masterpiece of rap performance, blends dark comedy, cathartic narrative, and even vaudeville with a hip-hop soul.
The beautiful black lady is so good at what she does that her work has been archived in The Yale Anthology of Rap and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and Culture.
Even though she has spent more than 20 years in the music industry, Grea might not be described as a household name but that notwithstanding, it is very hard to find any rapper who will be willing to battle her. Lyrically, she is one of the most talented MCs ever.
The autocratically inclined lyricist got married to her longtime boyfriend, Gavin Christopher Tennille, known by his stage name Quelle Chris, in August 2018. The young man who is from Detroit, Michigan, is a record producer, rapper, and songwriter.
They tied the knot in an intimate occasion which held on Sunday, August 5th at W Loft in Brooklyn, with the duo’s closest buddies in the likes of Donwill and Von Pea of Tanya Morgan, comedian Hannibal Burress, and author John Hodgman in attendance.