What would Jean do?

“This Week” puts Jean Grae in position to leave the underground

Tom Horgen

With 2003’s release, “The Black Album,” a reflective Jay-Z showed us what a retirement album sounds like. With “This Week,” Jean Grae shows us what it sounds like when you’re about to become Jay-Z.

OK, so saying Grae is going to step into the rap king’s Reeboks might be stretching it. She’s a little too sophisticated for radio. But her sophomore release, coming after an acclaimed debut and a follow-up EP, is expected to be her biggest success as an indie artist and a final push before jumping to a major label. And just as Jay-Z focused “The Black Album” on saying goodbye, Grae threads her latest offering together with an emphatic hello.

The New York-based MC bills the soul-heavy album as being a glimpse into her daily life – a week of it, at least. But from the opening seconds, it’s obvious the anticipation of blowing up and finding her rightful place in hip-hop is consuming her day to day.

Sure, there are plenty of moments in which Grae just snacks on male braggadocio, spitting harder than most gangsta rappers (“Style Wars”) or muses about club love (the 9th Wonder-produced “Supa Luv”). But the best parts are her ruminations about molding a rap career that everybody wants a say in.

Fans and critics often put the weight of all that should be good and righteous in hip-hop on her back. She’s one in only a handful of female artists who sell rhymes instead of sex (that’s not to say it’s Lil’ Kim’s fault that she has patriarchy breathing down her back every time she walks into a corporate boardroom to discuss her next album).

Fed up with this burden (one that seemingly drove Lauryn Hill into seclusion), Grae has threatened to quit rapping in the past, but here she is again, one more time. As always, she’s unwavering, never a pawn to the trends that run corporate rap. She’s still hard as hell, fully clothed and radio’s nightmare. On the album’s last song she raps, “I know I’m on the right path, to who I need to be at last Ö don’t rush me.”