Jean Grae 

Jeanius (Blacksmith Music)

There’s no good reason Jean Grae isn’t a superstar (except, you know, rap industry misogyny), and this long-delayed collaboration with producer 9th Wonder is the strongest proof yet. Begun years ago, leaked, shelved and now revamped, the album illustrates why Jean and 9th are a perfect fit. With minimal guest appearances and an ideal balance of variety and consistency in both vocals and production, this is a great rap album in the Illmatic mold. Gone are the over-thought concept songs of Grae’s 2003 EP The Bootleg of the Bootleg and the directionless filler that weighed 2004’s This Week down. Grae has never sounded this good, with her trademark sense of humor and braggadocio continually turning her woman-in-a-man’s-game on its head, as on ‘This World’: “I’m entertaining, yes, attacking like Dick Cheney’s chest/but lacking nuts so macadamia fuckers claim the best.” Meanwhile, ‘My Story’ and ‘Love Thirst’ — pain and sex anthems respectively — feel earnest where similar songs on previous albums seemed forced. Finally, one of the best MCs in the game has a classic album to match her talent.

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