It’s no secret that female MCs are a dying breed, but Jean Grae refuses to go quietly. Miss rap supreme steps up to provide fans with some much-needed estrogen, alongside producer 9th Wonder, on Jeanius, her first release off Talib Kweli’s Blacksmith label.

The fact that Grae has never been one to flaunt her sexuality is commendable, but, more than likely, that’s one of the reasons she’s been unable to translate her witty rhymes into record sales. It’s a point she comes to grips with on the candid “Don’t Rush Me,” where she rhymes, “There’s nothing like knowing yourself… Like the way I know my flow don’t make appropriate wealth/I can’t change that/But funny I’m saying that/When it’s money I’m aimed at.”

It’s this kind of honesty and her willingness to recount vivid details of painful, haunting past experiences that allow Jean to connect with audiences on an intimate level. Such is the case with the jazzy, heart-wrenching “My Story,” where she describes her mounting feelings of remorse after a trip to the abortion clinic. Another notable cut is “Billy Killer,” where Grae fumes over the way her overworked man is mistreated. Not just covering emotional fare, the lady lyricist proves she’s equally adept at dishing out braggadocio and slick talk. That point is hammered home on cuts like the summery “This World” and the more sinister “2-32s.”

With its lyrical component in capable hands, Jeanius’s biggest drawback is perhaps the production. While 9th Wonder is unmatched in crafting smooth, retro-sounding cuts imbued with ’70s soul, his sound can get a bit repetitive. That’s not to say 9th and Jean are devoid of any chemistry. It’s just that there are moments, however rare, when their efforts feel formulaic and trite (“Desperada” and “#8”). Despite these minor faults, Jean Grae soars like a phoenix, while her competition remains dormant among the ashes. –Celia San Miguel

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