Rapper and comedian Jean Grae spits jokes at Union Hall

If it’s not careful, hip-hop just may lose one of its best MCs to the world of punch lines and Web series
Jean Grae
Photograph: Craig Carpenter Jean Grae
By Matthew Love |
Anyone with ears knows that the hip-hop phenom Jean Grae is funny, but it’s become evident that the warm, self-effacing underground star can act and tell jokes, too. Comedy lovers should thank their lucky stars: If she had been carried off by mainstream rap success by now, no one would know that she’s also a comedian.

Grae’s songs, dense with allusions and delivered with playful precision, prove she can write clever lines and make them pop. Even if you’ve never heard her music, some album titles (Attack of the Attacking Things) give an idea of her sense of humor, while others out her as a well-versed stand-up fan—her mixtape Cookies or Comas is a spin on the famous Eddie Izzard bit “Cake or Death.”

Disillusionment with the rap industry has been creeping into Grae’s work for years; to extrapolate one of her recent tweets, she now gives “minus pi fucks” about working within the confines of the music business. In addition to self-releasing EPs on her website, Grae edits her own videos, produced a reflective audio-essay collection (The State of Eh) and created a loose, charming Web series (Life with Jeannie). And she’s a demon on Twitter (“If you haven’t sat down and told your audience that you’ve ripped your leggings open in the ass area, you haven’t lived. I have lived”).

In the last year, Grae has been pushing personal boundaries onstage: She hosts her own interview show, the White Hot Room; participated in the recent recording of The Thrilling Adventure Hour at The Town Hall; and makes the rounds at comedy showcases such as Wyatt Cenac’s Night Train. What succeeds in her music—her revealing honesty, relatable persona and switchblade-sharp wit—translates perfectly to live appearances, making it clear she’s just begun to tap her potential. Let the hip-hop mainstream have its Iggy Azalea; we’ll take Jean Grae.

The White Hot Room with Jean Grae plays Union Hall on Fri 23.