In light of Jean Grae’s recent identification as nonbinary, Shanté Paradigm Smalls’ chapter on her in Hip-Hop Heresies, a book about queer identity in hip-hop culture, is enlightening. The author, an associate professor at St. John’s University, shines a light on the rapper’s “God’s Gift” from Attack of the Attacking Things, where Grae impersonates a man in love with his own masculine prowess. “Grae performs masculinity better than most male emcees recording music,” writes Smalls. “Grae is both experimenting with a Black feminist project and performing gender — serious gender play, or gender play with weight and depth — in her performance…Grae uses her body — her voice and incredible skills as an emcee — to expose the masculine performance of misogynoir and its affects.” Meanwhile, Grae, who said years ago that rap was a “former career,” now focuses on satirical work for Patreon, among other places. “Non binary being the closest thing I can choose that fits. I’d rather choose nothing at all. I’m just me. Being,” Grae wrote on Twitter.
More than just a doc of an indestructible pop act, Wham! offers an instructive look at how early rap penetrated the mainstream.