One of hip-hop's brightest MCs calls it quits.
The minute it popped up on MySpace members' friend status reports three weekends ago, it made thousands of hip-hop fans catch their breath: Jean Grae changed her profile name to "Jean Grae Saying Peace Out."
On her main page her pic has her about to blow a kiss goodbye, the word "Sing" tattooed on her left hand. (When people began wondering if the word might read "Sike," Grae immediately clarified by writing right next to it, "Doesn't say SIKE. LOL. My tat says SING. It's old.")
She wrote an accompanying farewell post on her blog titled "Thank You for Letting Me Be Myself." She begins by saying, "Everyone who has been on this ride with me since the beginning and continues to be a supporter of music that makes you feel something true and vulnerable and honest by being just that ... Thank you for letting me share what I could with you and sharing yourselves back, as you have really been the reason that I kept on." The mountain of comments left on the post ranged from heartbroken to sympathetic to straight-up pissed.
Of course people also began posing several theories for this sudden shocking announcement: This is all a calculated hoax (remember in the X-Men comic book the character Jean Gray died and rose from the ashes as a phoenix, which is reportedly the name of an upcoming Grae album); Grae was having a brief moment of frustration and said she was quitting, only to eventually cool down and come to her senses; Grae is just pulling a Jay-Z, "retiring" for a while only to come back into the fold, refreshed and ready.
A few days later, to bring the message home that she really meant it, she changed her profile name to, uh huh, "I really mean it."
But Grae has expressed leaving the rap game before. In an interview last year with online hip-hop site BallerStatus.com Grae said she was getting tired of industry politics. "I didn't wanna keep doing music at all," she said with a laugh, referring to the six-month writer's block she had before working with 9th Wonder on the long-awaited Jeanius album. "I was like, 'This is bullshit, why am I trying?'"
If Grae is serious about retiring from hip-hop, it's a truly sad loss. In an age when female MCs still have to scrape and claw for respectability and acceptance in the music industry (watch an episode of that VH1 reality show Miss Rap Supreme and tell me I'm lying), seeing a major talent like Grae just drop the mike like this is very disheartening. Grae was more than just an example of feminine perseverance in a testosterone-crazy field. She was also one of the fiercest, wittiest, most intelligent indie MCs out there.
The South Africa-born, New York-based Grae started out in the mid-'90s as a member of the group Natural Resource, rapping under the name What? What? When that group dissolved a couple years later she switched over to Jean Grae and dropped her 2002 solo debut Attack of the Attacking Things, one of the best hip-hop debuts this decade.
Apart from the MySpace blog post, Grae has kept mum about the official reason of her retirement, and apparently so is everybody else. Grae can't be reached for comment. The publicists who handle Grae can't seem to track her down. Even the hip-hop bloggers I emailed for their expert opinions haven't hit me back.
My questions are pretty straightforward. Namely--what's going to happen to the slew of upcoming Grae projects she was going to release on Talib Kweli's Blacksmith Music imprint? Phoenix, Prom Night, Next Week (the follow-up to her 2004 album This Week)? Where will it all go?
So far mum's the word. Just like everything in Grae's life at the moment--from her future releases to her future plans--things remain uncertain. And once again I have to reiterate how unfortunate it is for the hip-hop community to lose a bright, smart, confident MC like Grae. I can only wish her the best.