by Craig Short
Quelle Chris has had a lot of labels thrown at him over the course of his prolific career: “oddball,” “alternative,” “woke,” “quirky,” etc… I won’t resort to such name-calling, but that’s because I have no idea what label I’d put on his music anyway. Quelle (pronounced “L.A.”) just does what comes naturally to him, and that’s generally nothing like what the rest of the world is doing. So instead of using more specific genre tags, I’ll say this: Quelle Chris is a spitfire MC with a whole lot to say, and he’s rapping in a time when saying nothing is not just irresponsible but dangerous.
On his latest effort, Guns, Chris takes on the concept of power, posturing, and the abuses that people inflict on each other with false notions of superiority. “If God made the law, we should follow it,” he intones sarcastically on “It’s The Law,” then reduces that statement to a mockery with “just like God made this dick, you can swallow it.” Everyone wants a platform to stand on, Chris suggests, a step stool to make themselves taller than the rest of the world.
Different characters zip in and out of the narrative. John the Baptist appears on “Wild Minks,” ghostwriting scripture for money, clout, and the promise of sacrifice. A smarmy businessman rambles on about his Panamanian tailor and the size of his mother’s pearls with patronizing, self-important glee. Chris himself searches for approval and admiration. “Just put me on a box of Wheaties!” he pleads, begging for the validation he’s earned just for trying his best every day.
The specter of gun violence floats over the proceedings. Weapons take many meanings on Guns, from staples of survival to cruel and callous reminders of power. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and I wouldn’t lose,” Chris spells out with disparate vocal samples, quoting one of our president’s most despicable moments. When heard after the album’s title track, a defeated snapshot of gun violence’s omnipresence in America (“coming to a city near you,” Chris warns us), the words are more insensitive than ever. Likewise, an ostensibly hopeful song called “Straight Shot” takes on a much darker tone when it comes immediately after a spoken word elegy to the victims of mass shootings.
Chris’ flow is remarkable. His words come out in a shaggy, rapid-fire slew of ideas, unloaded from his mind in short, blunt phrases that he drops as heavily as sacks of flour. His delivery is anything but precise. Even the catchiest hooks on Guns swerve across tempo lines with impunity, and at times his words come out in an impenetrable gabble, packed so full of wordplay and cryptic references that only a devoted fan with a lyric sheet could begin to tease them apart.
The production is equally dense, but similarly brilliant. Chris has a long history of beatmaking, producing the bulk of his own material and forging a totally unique style, full of surprising samples and drum loops that have been digitally chewed up and spat back out like gum. His years of practice combine to make Guns his hardest hitting album yet. On “Obamacare” he creates a bristling forest of pianos, chimes, and furious drum loops, providing the perfect backdrop to shout “I’m tryna burn this bitch down / I ain’t tryna break it!” as he plays the agent of chaos. The drifting jazz piano on closer “Wyrm,” meanwhile, mirrors the spiraling of Chris’ thoughts as he ponders his own legacy. “Will I be one of the greatest that’s never listed on pages next to B.I.G?” For all the work Quelle Chris puts in to empower himself, will he ever know if it’s been worth it? Lovers, mass shooters, and drug fiends alike ask the same question throughout Guns: “Will you remember me?”
There’s no answer yet.