Nate Patrin

Nate Patrin is a freelance music critic who has written for Pitchfork, Stereogum, Bandcamp, The Vinyl Factory, and many other venues. He currently resides in St. Paul, Minnesota.

"A Phoenix Saga: The Voices of Jean Grae"
 In her twenty-plus-years of rapping, Tsidi Ibrahim -- better (yet not always solely) known as Jean Grae -- has been a school shooter, a preteen delinquent, an etiquette instructor, a professional contract killer, a paranoiac, a womanizing bachelor, and a witness to the apocalypse. She has also been herself -- often to a fault.  Even without factoring in her experiences as a woman in the traditionally super-masculine world of underground hip-hop, Jean stands apart due to her stylistic versatility and ability to inhabit both her own personal space and the sort of narratives -- fictionalized and otherwise -- that make her one of the most respected storytelling rappers of her time. For this, she's gotten both hard-earned respect and a whole world of frustration to go with a career that seems to have rewarded her talent far short of what even an underground rapper typically earns. Nowadays, Jean still shows a major creative spark when she's on the mic, but her encounters with rap's glass ceiling -- which led her to seriously contemplate retirement after the 2008 release of her acclaimed album Jeanius -- have often made it difficult. "Why the fuck should I give 100% if you won't respect me 100%?" she stated in a 2014 interview to Rookie. "That's stupid. It's an abusive relationship."

As a result, she's spent much of her time in the last ten years releasing her music as independently and autonomously as possible while taking more time to focus on her work writing and performing comedy. It's her ability to switch between these two modes, often using an acerbic, sometimes morbid sense of humor, that makes her expressions of frustrations so vivid. In the process, she's spent less time than ever inhabiting other characters and more time being open about her own self, sacrificing some of her allusive identity shifts and outlandish storytelling for a more uncompromising frankness about her personal life. This presentation will look into just how one artist, chafing at the boundaries of what her art form traditionally expected from women, shifted from her tendency to inhabit other personas into a need to amplify her own -- through dark comedy, pure absurdism, and an adaptive knack for self-reinvention.