Jean Grae

{grate 3.5/4}

Ever since reigning queen of the femcees Lauryn Hill unplugged her flow for a higher calling and Kum-Ba-Yah sensibility, the likewise socially conscious but significantly less angry-at-the-world Jean Grae has been it — on tour with halfway-underground crowd pleasers like Mos Def and Talib Kweli and recording in, most recently, the bottomless orchestra/church-choir pit that is studio to the concoctions of 9th Wonder (third wheel of Little Brother and general edge-giver to rap’s biggest egos).

Grae and Wonder’s high-energy Jeanius was originally leaked in 2004, and didn’t see its deserved release until this September; ironically, Babygrande (former Man to the devilish Grae spirit) now digs up some stock verses from her 2003-05 stay at the label, treats them with a mere two-week production period assigned to atmospheric at-home duo Blue Sky Black Death, hastily dubs the 10-track project The Evil Jeanius and frisbees it out the back door with almost zero publicity.

Accordingly, beat interaction with Grae’s chorus and vocal embellishment is tighter and more three-dimensional on the Wonder collab. But BSBD — accustomed to spreading their limbs on dark instrumental albums or scoring bloodthirsty raps by horrorcore underground like Wu-Tang outcast Holocaust and, just last month, the untamable Gutta — sunny up the signature thunderstorm to cradle Grae’s subtleties as best they can, never letting it be known that she wasn’t right beside the beat machine, getting her husky story raps all over their bedroom microphone.

In fact, the time and space gap between the cotton-mouthed, corn-rowed Cape Town native and her fresh-faced stagehands sets in motion a magnetic tension that Wonder’s safely classic Jeanius could never have felt. “Dressed in a throwback dress, fitted, throwin’ a line/ From the Patron shot, head spinnin’, sippin’ on wine/ I’ve control to the whole club, the scene of the crime,” she growls over the tingling mosquito synths and restless cymbals of “Even on Your Best Day,” which then breaks into a fit of spoken-verse snippets for a tornado of a hook. It’s a new springboard versatility for the boys of BSBD, who have historically lost us in epic layers of haunted forests and wind chimes, and ultimately a gift to hip-hop’s finest female — whose effortless rants take on new relevance in their crumpled, doodled notebook.