When she debuted in 1996 on the alt-rap scene, Jean Grae was part of a growing list of female MCs who proved women can go just as hard on the mic as their male counterparts. And even though female rappers are less an anomaly now, last Saturday at Paid Dues festival Grae found herself—the only female rapper on the bill—continuing the fight for recognition with a red-hot set aimed at a tepid crowd.
First off, the San Bernardino heat deserves part of the blame for the crowd's reaction to Grae. By late afternoon, the sun was blazing as hard as her breakneck flow and people were naturally slowing down.
But being scheduled to perform before Joey Bada$$—an 18-year-old Brooklyn newcomer whose fans skew much younger—didn't help. Many of those in the front row for her set were positioned there in order to see the Pro Era MC up close, and they didn't seem to know her music all that well. Although she valiantly forced them to respond with an energetic and antagonistic set, the crowd never quite found its groove.
Not that Grae let them off easy. The Cape Town MC wasn't having any of the audience's exhaustion or bullsh-t. "I know people [in this crowd] are like, 'Who the f-ck is this? And that's cool," Grae said. "I'm the only girl on this mother-cking lineup. I'm the Highlander of Paid Dues. You don’t gotta give it up for that, but you gotta give it up because this sh-t is dope."
Grae singled out a disinterested dude in the front row just to mock him and berated the entire crowd for being "shy motherf-ckers" who were "lackluster as f-ck." So when she tore through her new-ish "You Don’t Like It (So What)" track, she didn't have to reach inside to channel any hidden anger. There was enough pissing her off right there that when her middle finger went up, it seemed more heartfelt than any other rapper raising the bird at Paid Dues this year.
Eventually the crowd started moving to her set, partly because she was absolutely not letting them get away with phoning it in. "Look man, this is not a classical music concert with the f-cking Philharmonic," Grae told the crowd after stopping a track over what she thought was their unsatisfactory participation. "I don't care if you know me or not. When this sh-t comes on, you dance."
After that slap to the face, she started the track back up and you better believe the crowd moved to the music like they meant it. Because no matter how tired you are, you do NOT want to be compared to the philharmonic at a hip hop festival.