It’s hard to believe it’s only been three years since Jeanius, Jean Grae’s last official album, was finally, finally released. We got to legitimately listen to the still-exciting “Intro” (some of us may have been listening to illegitimate leaked copies for awhile…) on which she raps “Jean, change your flow/No”. Now we have have Cookies or Comas, Grae’s DJ Drama-hosted mixtape, released in anticipation of this coming fall’s proper LP, Cake or Death. I have often thought of the Jeanius line while listening over the past few days, because on Cookies Grae changes up her flow on virtually every track. It’s an impressive show of versatility, to say the least. A great rapper for a very long time, on Cookies Grae sounds noticeably greater, jaw-droppingly great. Her always-fantastic lyrics have never been denser, sharper, or more hilarious, but her rapping itself sounds astoundingly effortless as she bobs and weaves through complex internal rhymes and tongue twisters. Her delivery is cool yet animated, and incredibly entertaining. She’s sometimes confrontational, sometimes goofy, sometimes heartbreaking, and sometimes all three at once, like on her freestyle over Kanye’s “Blame Game” beat on which she raps “I’m facing this February with less morals, Less normal, more Nellie Oleson, less Laura, Had it with explorations, less Dora” while vividly depicting the deterioration of a relationship. Yet Grae can just as easily tell cathartic tales of creative violence that leave promising (if over-hyped and under-baked) children like Tyler the Creator far back in the dust of their own retreading, or contribute a breezy alphabet rap that’s equally concerned with history and blasphemy. It’s not hyperbole to say that one can easily imagine Grae going toe to toe with Jay or Em or [insert your favorite rapper] and wiping the floor with them.
Grae hasn’t exactly set the bar low for herself on Cookies of Comas, what with appearances by Pharoahe Monch, Royce Da 5’9″, and frequent trader-of-guest-spots Talib Kweli. To say Grae holds her own with these highly respected rappers is an understatement. They all provide memorable verses, but this is the Jean Grae show, no mistake. Her personality and vision bring remarkable cohesion to Cookies, which hangs together better than most proper albums, despite a wider range of subject matter and tone than most rappers cover in their entire careers. Cookies is a thrilling rollercoaster ride, hurtling from song to song with controlled urgency. It’s a lot like Coney Island’s Cyclone actually: tossing riders around, leaving them bruised, confused, and possibly whiplashed, yet despite all warning signs never running off the tracks. With the possible exception of PJ Harvey’s eviscerating maybe-masterpiece Let England Shake, it is also the best album I’ve heard this year. And it’s a fucking mixtape. God knows what we’re in for with Cake or Death.
It is tempting to give over the rest of this post to quoting some of my many, many favorite lyrics, but I don’t want to spoil all the fun. Suffice to say that my first listen through Cookies was my giddiest experience in recent memory, and genius hilarity piled on top of stabbing insight on top of joyous juxtaposition of syllables and concepts. I’d rather play you the mixtape and gesticulate like a moron than try to explain much more (yet) about why it’s so great. It’s obvious why it’s so great, just listen to it. You can! For FREE! No, really, legally, it’s supposed to be free, not in a property-is-theft way, in a Jean-wanted-it-that-way way. Right here!
After you download and listen to Cookies, you can go geek out over the lyrics over at Rap Genius, where they (with Jean’s explicit blessing and occasional awesome notes) have been annotating the album. I may have contributed a note or two or tens. What? You can do it too! In fact, please do.