Concept albums are nothing new in hip hop — recall how critics lost their collective minds over how Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d city totally had, like, a narrative and stuff! — but it’s hard to think of a project as ambitious as what Jean Grae is currently doing with her Gotham Down series*. A freakishly talented and ceaselessly creative artist, Jean Grae has spent the last ten years subtly weaving together the story of a futuristic assassin. Yes, ten years.
*(Okay, technically Gotham Down is the name for a collection of EPs that are part of a much larger story, but for the sake of simplicity we’ll just call the whole project Gotham Down until a different name is provided for the overarching narrative.)
Here’s her explanation from earlier this month:
The Gotham Down series follows a story I began telling on my BOOTLEG OF THE BOOTLEG EP.
It was released on October 7th, 2003. That’s exactly 10 years ago today, if you were not counting.
On “Chapter One: Destiny” jumped in on the story of an assassin on the run from the “company” she worked for.
The second time I jumped back into the same assassins storyline was a feature on Pharoahe Monch’s “Assassins” on his W.A.R. LP. Released in 2011.
The 2012 release of “Kill Screen” and the accompanying video, yet again dove into the storyline of the same assassin.
Cake Or Death will start the story in 2005 going to 2013.
Gotham Down starts the story in 2016.
I’ve been taking a huge chance in telling a story over a decade and especially telling it in non-linear form.
I think it’s a really cool thing to do to take a career, tell a story and to give the listener the ability to play along with all of it, like a giant puzzle, until the final picture is clear (OkayPlayer).
If the idea of a complex and non-linear storyline told through hip hop doesn’t excite you, well, go back to bumpin’ that A$AP Rocky. I hear he has all the swag.
Those looking to check out Jean Grae’s project can stream the first installment of Gotham Down at the provided OkayPlayer links or on her Bandcamp page. You should probably brush up on “Assassins,” “Kill Screen,” and Bootleg of the Bootleg EP first, though.