By: Thomas Rodriguez
Quelle Chris takes aim at gun politics and his own career, spraying at them both with a drum loaded with cynicism and jazzy production.
The concept of a gun is horrifying: an instrument designed solely to end the life of another person, either in self defense or in deluded rage. The terrifying concept behind a gun has been somewhat diluted over the years, as gun politics rage on and on in an everlasting tug of war between politicians, people, and proven psychopaths. If you stop and remember what exactly the people of the U.S have been arguing over, it sounds like we’re straight out of a dystopian novel where murder is normalized among millions.
Normalization of the gun hasn’t just been pushed in the local news station or NRA chapter. Gang banging, violence, and murder have been a staple of hip hop ever since NWA had stepped onto the scene in the 80s.
Fast forward to today, where Michigan underground rapper Quelle Chris is making an album which has a cover with as much gun porn as possible. A reclusive cynic with a knack for clever satire and layered verses, Chris seems to be at his home shooting range on his latest album, Guns. Instead of aiming at his opponents, however, he’s seemingly aiming at the root of American gun politics and his own career. His accuracy is that of a sharpshooter; Guns rarely misses the mark, and is an incredibly thought-provoking reflection of the faults in the system we live in today.
Strength in Silence
Guns, despite its blunt title and explosive aesthetic, is less like a noisy shootout and more a silenced sniper shot. “Spray and Pray” features syrupy bass licks and grainy percussion that establish a moody aesthetic behind Chris’s trademark rasp and sharp characterization of gang members’ familiarity with firing guns. Nothing truly sets the record ablaze on the instrumental front, but the moody tone of the jazzy beats juxtapose amazingly with brutal lyrical takedowns here. I love the somber pianowork on “Guns”, almost giving the track a pitch black film over Chris’s bars; the elegant feel of the beats on “Box of Wheaties” plays perfectly to the faux-classiness of the track, and the dramatic tone of the pianos on “Straight Shot” is downright beautiful. Chris Keys and Quelle Chris combine to make some truly wonderful musical moments on the record, especially with some of the more horror-core instrumentals, like on the gothic synths and children choir on “PSA Drugfest 2003” and the maniacal guitar and doughy drums on “Obamacare”.
The instrumentals don’t just succeed on their own merits; the overall aesthetic of the album is reminiscent of an old school art house film. Chris’s voice is baritone and gravelly, cutting away at societal ills like a sharpened sword. The interludes here are creepy as hell, with disembodied voices discussing crime, emotionlessness and race relations (such as on “Color of the Day”). Because the lyrics can be a bit tough to decipher at times, these interludes help drive the themes home for initial listens, snapping your attention to the theming; the stereotypical Jersey guy at the end of “Wild Minks” and portions of “Box of Wheaties” may overstay his welcome, but some of his quips are downright hilarious.
“Hey, hey sweetheart, bring me a glass, will ya?A random Jersey guy on Guns somehow helps drive the album forward in its theming with his narcissism and love of wealth.
Not a cup, a glass, rhymes with class, ya understand?”
The writing itself is usually gruffly delivered, but the features throughout add some fresh takes on the beat, like Jean Grae on the heart warming “You, Me & Nobody Else” and Bilal Salaam on “Straight Shot”. The features here are consistently great on the record; they may not steal the show, but they help run it extraordinarily well.
If Guns is a show, Quelle Chris is its sarcastic ringleader. The writing here is simply astonishing most of the time, filled with clever nuggets of wisdom, sarcasm, and gripping detail. The verbal shots fired are direct, aiming at the ugly heart of society that causes people to pull their triggers. Title track “Guns” is a lyrical magnifying glass focused on gun rights supporters, and the worries that arise from knowing many you brush shoulders with carry heat. “Box of Wheaties” is a swankering warning for shooters chasing expensive clothing, utilizing multiple refrains and hooks before ending on a robotically-delivered message to all gun owners: put down the weapons before someone gets hurt. “Wild Minks” is a track with more layers than a Florida kid in Chicago, weaving religious metaphors in between oddly structured bars to paint Chris’s peaceful message as falling on deaf ears before he is executed by a Herodian figure.
Direct conscious rhyming isn’t the sole source of Guns’ power: satire plays a massive role as well. “PSA Drugfest 2003” asks its listeners to take every drug imaginable, but the villainous delivery of the over-the-top bars imply that maybe, just maybe, crippling drug reliance is a huge reason for going out to commit a crime for cash. “Mind Ya Bidness” and “Obamacare”, probably the hardest hitting tracks on the album, are tongue-in-cheek brag raps celebrating dominance and an inflated Quelle Chris ego that seems to be completely deflated through the rest of the album; the tonal difference between the two is great at portraying hip hop’s love of aggression and secretive depression. “It’s The Law” is a genius portrayal of American political unrest, discussing xenophobia and social depression with the speed of a rocket and a cartoonish delivery that emphasizes the disastrous state American politics are in today.
The album Guns, ironically, isn’t always about guns. Rather, it directs its focus towards Chris himself by the end of it all, questioning his role as a human and a foreteller of social unrest. “Straight Shot” portrays his pessimism and faith as conflicted in a truly personal moment, while “You, Me & Nobody Else” is an ode to love and acceptance in a world as bleak as ours. In a way, it’s almost as if Chris is looking at his own weapon, a lyrical gun. The ultimate conflict lies not just with firearms, but if his lyrical blasts will make a difference in our crap world, or fall on deaf ears like so many other gunshots in our world…
Guns is a stellar record. Its production is nuanced and masterful (if a bit slow at times), and its theming, performances, and lyricism are top notch. In the closing moments of the album’s final track “WYRM”, Quelle Chris asks if we will remember him and his words. With an album as great as this, it’s gonna be pretty hard to forget him.
Score: Listen to This/10
Tracks to Save: “Guns”, “Mind Ya Bidness”, “It’s the Law”, “Box of Wheaties”, “PSA Drugfest 2003”, “Straight Shot”, “Obamacare”, “You, Me, & Nobody Else”
Tracks to Skip: N/A
What did you guys think of Guns? Love it, hate it, REALLY love it? How are you doing today, beautiful? Sound off in the comments below!