Although she was born in South Africa, Jean Grae (real name Tsidi Ibrahim) will always be a New Yorker by heart. The daughter of two jazz musicians, Jean learned an appreciation for all genres of music at an early age. She attended the High School of Performing Arts as a vocal major and was later accepted to New York University as a Music Business major. Disenchanted by the classroom settings, Jean decided early on that she was more of a hands-on learner. During high school she learned to read and arrange music as well as learn classical and choral arrangements, giving her a good foundation on becoming a hip-hop writer and producer.
Jean Grae (then known as What? What?) was recruited by a rapper named Ocean, who formed a group called Natural Resource in the mid-90s. In 1997, Natural Resource founded their own record label, Makin’ Records, and released the 12″ single, “Negro League Baseball”, which became an underground hip-hop classic. They followed with several other 12″s including “I Love This World”, “They Lied” and “Bum Deal”. In addition to writing and producing with Natural Resource, Jean Grae also produced singles for Makin’ Records artists Pumpkin Head, Don Scavone and The Bad Seed.
Natural Resource broke up in 1998 due to creative differences, but the exposure with the group worked towards Jean’s benefit. Changing her name from What? What? to Jean Grae, she was asked to appear on a number of songs with artists such as Herbaliser, High & Mighty, the Mumia 911 Project, the Hip-Hop For Respect project, Mr. Len, Da Beatminerz and Masta Ace.
In the summer of 2002, Jean Grae released her debut album, Attack of the Attacking Things. The album featured the assistance of Da Beatminerz, Mr. Len, and Masta Ace. The album received much critical and fan acclaim as one of the best female hip-hop albums since Lauryn Hill’s 1998 album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. This Week followed in 2004.