Brooklyn rapper Your Old Droog has been seriously churning out music this year. In April, he surprise released It Wasn’t Even Close. A second surprise-release album, Transportation, followed in June. And now, he’s back with another surprise drop and his third album of the year, Jewelry. More »
It’s always fun to hear unexpected new rapper team-ups. It’s especially fun when they’re team-ups you wouldn’t have expected, and especially especially fun when those team-ups turn out to make perfect sense. That’s the case with “Lookout,” the new track from Queens underground rap veteran Homeboy Sandman. More »
Surprise! Quelle Chris has a new album. It’s called Guns, but on the evidence of “Obamacare” and its video, there’s plenty more to it than a mere discussion about those most contentious instruments of death. In fact, the word “gun” finds itself mentioned just once here, an addendum to the verse, almost as an afterthought. Casually dashed-off, but not uncaring and certainly not unknowing. Smarts without the smarm. It’s these qualities that we’ve really come to appreciate from Chris lately, and they’re carried into the DIY vid with aplomb, as horr-edy collage animation rubs up against kitchen-sink beats and bars in mutual cacophony.
Tempting though it might be to say that Chris is sharpening his tools, that doesn’t seem quite right given his wit and whimsy — rather, he’s “just getting better every minute.” Aren’t we so very glad?
Guns is out today on Mello Music Group.
The Detroit-raised, Brooklyn-based rapper and producer Quelle Chris is returning later this month with Guns, his first album since last year’s Jean Grae collab Everything’s Fine and his first solo album since 2017’s Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often. We’ve already heard Guns’ More »
A decade ago, XXL did its best to figure out where rap was going. They’d tried it once before, spotlighting a bunch of rising street-rap stars — Lil Boosie, Young Dro, Saigon — on the cover of a 2007 issue. But 2009 was the beginning of the XXL Freshman class, a mostly-annual institution that’s come … More »
Brooklyn-via-Detroit rapper and producer Quelle Chris is getting ready to release his new LP, Guns. The album follows last year’s Everything’s Fine and features contributions from Jean Grae, Mach-Hommy, Denmark Vessey, and Bilal Salaam, among others. We’ve already heard its title track, and today he shares the next single, “Straight Shot” … More »
Over the years, the Detroit-raised, Brooklyn-based rapper and producer Quelle Chris has become one of the most thoughtful, inventive, bugged-out forces on the rap underground. Last year, he teamed up with his fiancée, the New York rap veteran Jean Grae, to release Everything’s Fine, and album that practically burst with ideas and personality. More »
There’s a moment on Hoodie SZN, the new album from the young Bronx sing-rapper A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, where A Boogie delivers a few words of praise for Future, his favorite rapper, saying all the things he wishes he’d said when he was in the studio with the man himself. “Used to … More »
Have you ever talked to your parents about what it was like to live through the late ’60s? National leaders were gunned down right and left. Entire generations were asserting themselves loudly. War was erupting, and nobody seemed quite certain why. People were walking on the moon. Hippie cults were chopping people up. A few … More »
Jean Grae & Quelle Chris
[Mello Music Group; 2018]
In an ever-changing reality, we’re always looking for an easy, simulated answer. We seek escape and endorphin pathways over much else. Because why even try anymore? Nothing is as it ever was. Life is filled with pain. Society is in the toilet. But we always have optimism, right? The handy tool to just keep on keeping on. Rarely do we question optimism, afraid of threatening the very cornerstone of that good old fashioned, American brand of determination.
Optimism doesn’t find much comfort in the labyrinthine greatness of Everything’s Fine, the latest thought-provoking release from hip-hop’s most underrated power couple, Jean Grae and Quelle Chris. Here, they deconstruct, criticize, and laugh in the face of optimism, shedding light on the coping mechanism of saying “everything’s fine” in the face of our farcical times. Through the lens of our intertwined relationship with technology, existentialist dread, and healthy skepticism, Grae and Chris demonstrate that suffering has corporeality; the burden of comparison falls upon black bodies a lot quicker than it does others. Everything might be fine, but fine-ness itself lies on an inscrutable spectrum.
This is not tiresome “jazz rap.” Beats stitch together to form an immersive sensorial experience, and the repeated utterance of “everything’s fine!” becomes increasingly unsettling, evolving from a blasé brush-off to a harbinger of the bleak, lifeless limbo birthed by incessant complacency. Whether it’s the siren-like strings that give “The Smoking Man” its haunting immediacy or the loungey, faux-nostalgic interludes placed in between tracks (“Don’t Worry it’s Fine,” “Everything’s Still Fine”), Chris and Grae’s production is as humorous and unsettling as it is eloquent. Strong features round out each track’s narrative strength: Your Old Droog and Denmark Vessey bring healthy doses of aggressive wordplay to the table, while Anna Wise’s restrained melodicism quietly hangs out in the backdrop, setting the stage for stories to unfold.
Perhaps Chris and Grae’s greatest strength is the ability to bring their subject matter into perspective. Right off the bat, the skeletal “My Contribution To This Scam” declares a non-allegiance to rapper stereotypes, that every image of a modern hip-hop aficionado is rife with cognitive dissonances. No idealized manifestation is perfect, so quit waiting for a woke savior to come sweep you away. The fleeting reference to “Cash Me Outside” on another track, “Scoop of Dirt,” is a reminder of how ridiculously hard it’s become to extricate trendiness from hip-hop. While others wax eloquent about the unprecedented decline of rap’s sanctity, Chris and Grae are among the few looking at the bigger picture, having fun, and making fun.
There’s a palpable vitality to this pairing; while Chris plays an extremely laconic game of word association, Grae is immediate, assertive. This is teamwork on colorful display. Despite the seemingly misanthropic attitude carried from bar to bar, it’s the duo’s delightfully self-aware attitude and relentless trade-offs that shine through, making you part of every inside joke, giving you an up-close and personal reality check. Over a modally mysterious rhythm, “Gold Purple Orange” bares its teeth in full brilliance. While Chris sets the stage by methodically listing off clichés we’re accustomed to, Grae self-reflects, perhaps reminiscing about a younger version of herself, closing things out with productivity: “Hey, yes, these ideas exist. But it doesn’t matter! Because one doesn’t have to be anything for anyone but themselves.” This is a pairing unlike other rapping duos out there, simply because of how well they work together to construct cohesive, captivating musical passages. A radically life-affirming breed of pedagogy is therefore created.
But a free life lesson is far from the essence of Everything’s Fine. “Breakfast of Champions” is a poetic testament to being black in 21st-century America — “Why we singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ in the 2000s?” may be the most poignant question ever asked about modern-day race relations. The underlying self-reflections and sorrow of Everything’s Fine goes above and beyond the surface-level hilarity that many are quick to grab on to. “River,” for example, a much-needed throwback to Grae’s 2003-era flows, shines with the sage wisdom of growing old. “Harder to speak within bars,” she admits over a languid beat, highlighting the cruel irony of making rap music. For an album so complex — one that’s simultaneously funny and fearless — it has an uncanny way of simplifying things.