Quelle Chris declines to quell the riot goin’ on, instead fights fire with fire bars

By most accounts, including this one, Quelle Chris is a chameleonic, virtuosic veteran rapper-producerwriter who was born up in upstate New York and subsequently bounced around between California, Brooklyn, and various Midwest locales (such is the fate of shoe designer progeny) while calling Detroit home and gathering acclaim for his intricate, oft-satirical raps and sonically dense highbrow "lo-fi" productions. And if that’s not enough to win you over he also keeps good company being a longtime Motor City colleague of Danny Brown plus husband to New York City’s Wonder Woman of R.A.P. music, Jean Grae.

But if you check out Quelle’s latest long player, the self-produced DEATHFAME (with co-production by Chris Keys and Knxwledge on several tracks) released this last Friday by Mello Music Group, best be ready to get sucked into the album’s dark, dank vortex which is all but inevitable starting with the soul-gospel-infused-blunted-out-funk-crawl of “Alive Ain’t Always Living” which is like an ambivalent re-write of “Be Thankful For What You Got" (if everything happens for a reason / I ain’t really got shit else to do) through to the introspective piano ballad sung by a sad computer (“How Could They Love Something Like Me?”) right up to the final track declaring it "might spin off on a tangent when an answer’s needed” (don’t come to Quelle Chris looking for answers, but he’ll help you ask the right questions!) and I don’t feel entirely out of line calling DEATHFAME a hip hop There’s A Riot Goin’ On” which is a good thing because it’s exactly what we need right now.


Another good thing is how the production on DEATHFAME feels like rifling through an old sonic junk drawer full of music boxes running on low batteries and fuzzed out organs and well worn-in upright basses. Plus there’s the assorted ghostly warblings and ranting diatribes and suspense-movie cues recorded straight off the TV. All of which lends the album a Post Millennial Tension tension with malformed pearls of wisdom interspersed between garbled CB transmissions in the midst of an alien visitation which only underscores Quelle’s body-snatching vocal shapeshifting from track-to-track sometimes even morphing in the middle of a song.

Not that it matters. But “So Tired You Can’t Stop Dreaming” is the first song I heard off this record and it made an immediate impression with its chopped-up-and-screwed avant-jazz-piano-loop set against a herky jerky beat that sounds like a car riding on rims after a blowout and oddly enough it’ll make you wanna move your body in several incompatible directions at once, all topped off by Quelle’s hypnotic, polyrhythmic bars dancing in and around the beat like Ali in his prime and same goes for Brooklyn’s own Navy Blue who goes hard in the paint on the song’s back half and tells us about going “one on one with myself and I been above the rim” and I believe him.

Another couple lines on "So Tired" describes how “deep cuts heal the listener / quicker than it heals the man bleedin’ when he wrote it” which is not just some witty record-nerd wordplay but also gets to the LP’s overriding theme which is the "fame game" and its discontents (I’m the GOAT, everybody knew it / but don’t nobody know us) and how these discontents speak to our lives more generally in the midst of a social-media age where image play and online beefs and 24-hour performativity have been normalized to a degree that used to be exclusive to celebrities. 

It’s something to think about. But here’s the line that really gets me: “if Heaven’s got a ghetto, Hell’s got a resort.” At first it just seemed like a cool phrase but as the horrifying and soon-to-be infuriating news unfolded over this past weekend the profundity of the line started to sink in. Because it not only speaks to celebrity and exclusivity, but also a key tenet of laissez-faire capitalism and White Supremacist propaganda among other things—and that’s the notion that divisions between races and genders and socio-economic groups etc. are born out of in-born, natural and normal difference between groups of human.

Ergo even paradise has gotta have a "ghetto" and what’s the good of living "the good life" if everybody’s got it good? Plus, ghettos help draw physical lines of demarcation between Us and Them. Likewise, Hell requires a resort for its rich inhabitants because they’re not as steely as many of the other residents who came from hell in the first place. Plus wha you think the Devil’s a commie?! Of course there’s exclusive resorts in Hell because the Devil understands the power of divide and conquer.

Ergo the conceptual basis of White Supremacy: drawing a strict line between Us and Them where They will always be a threat to Us, and therefore We must keep Them in Their Place literally and figuratively, and by force if necessary, but with the assurance that We are always fully justified in our actions. And that’s how you end up with bullshit so-called theories like “replacement theory" that only serves to prop up paranoid fantasies and to justify barbarity.

And then there’s the whole strategy of perverting Civil Rights discourse into “grievance politics” and subsequently playing the victim in every situation—even in seemingly "good" situations—like the anti-abortionists getting all up in arms about a Supreme Court leak nevermind having just gotten what they wanted for nearly 50 years. And hey, not sure exactly where I’m going with this but it’s downright disturbing how easily the foxes have taken over the henhouse.

In closing, I feel somewhat beholden to offer a small glimmer of hope in the midst of all this mess (and who better than a music blogger to give the people hope!) and so I’ll hold out hope that maybe, just maybe, the democratizing impulse of an artist like Quelle Chris—whose music contains multitudes—will one day become the norm. And that maybe some day off in the distant future we’ll no longer need ghettos or resorts. (Jason Lee)

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