Photo by: Mindy Tucker

Quelle Chris and Jean Grae Are Making Hip-Hop Fun Again

'Everything's Fine' will make you feel so happy and so confused to be alive...and that's a good thing.

It's a comical journey through the small intimacies of life, all the ironic ways our freedoms are sacrificed for survival...

On the Everything's Fine album cover, Jean Grae and Quelle Chris stare ahead like wax figures, their expressions painfully forced as if someone's standing nearby with a taser. This type of sedated emotion is explored throughout the entire album, an exhaustive cycle of acknowledging our most human capacities—the ability to love and the ability to fear our own mortality—and the mind tricks we play to pacify those feelings. A blend of soul and funk, the album is a satirical wonderland jam-packed with nuanced observations of our current political bewilderment.

Known for her indie rap presence and soloist project with collaborator and friend 9th Wonder, Jean Grae returns with some of her most methodical and succinct bars since Jeanius. Quelle Chris, a longtime jokester in rap (Being You Is Great, I wish I Could Be You More Often), bounces off of Grae's precise flow with spacey, mischievous rhymes. On "My Contributions to This Scam," Chris and Grae ponder all of the contradictions of rap culture, parodying Instagram baddies and white fans who desperately want to say the N-word: "Been hip-hop since Kriss Kross was turnin' pants 'round / Er'body wanna be a brand, I follow the barcode, I write bars for / the scam."

The very genre of hip-hop is scrutinized, its cornerstone in black culture and the routine ways it speaks to black men and women, almost haphazardly motivating contemporary complacency. Is everything fine when you're sedated every day? Going broke over your shoes? Displaying sociopathic behavioral patterns? Is everything fine when you can't keep track of the latest shooting of an unarmed black man? The question is never answered in the duration of the album, but Everything's Fine studies how we all collectively choose to cope: customizing our closets, rolling blunts, going to our office jobs—zombified—barely listening to our mothers on the phone…when we do finally call them. It's a comical journey through the small intimacies of life, all the ironic ways our freedoms are sacrificed for survival, a whimsical rap inversion of the Matrix with real-world bodies that can't dodge bullets. And Everything's Fine is the type of album that reminds you of those bullets and fallen bodies—but with a gleaming smile.

There are comedy sketches—one idly performed by comedian Hannibal Buress on "OhSh," and others that embody the pristine aesthetic of 1950s infomercials—simultaneously encouraging and refuting social and political inactivity. These contradictory statements are amplified on "Everything's Still Fine," where Nick Offerman (The Office) instructs listeners to abandon any feelings that may lead them to question their wellbeing: "You don't have to do anything about issues that don't affect you / Why would you?" It's one of the more hilarious and unnerving moments of the album, deadpan cynicism at its finest. It's the comedic timing and emotional resonance that both play such a large role in this album, intermixing the acute awareness of our current time with the elusive contradictions and pleasures of life itself. The entire album feels like a quasi-metaphysical exam, something you'd take to make sure you're still comfortable enough to be compliant.

As a whole, Chris and Grae are focused on what it means to be free, what it looks like during a presidency that outwardly encourages racist, homophobic, and divisive rhetoric. These same sentiments are beautifully rendered in "Gold Purple Orange," a jazzy, hypnotic track where Chris and Grae trade everyday contradictions, the latter rapping, "'Cause you can be the things they say to be and get killed." The line hits home and exemplifies the importance and urgency of #BlackLivesMatter. The entire project feels so large and yet, its rendering of everyday life is exquisite and fine-tuned. And even if we're all wax figures in dimly lit cubicles, in the moments where Everything's Fine actually allows us to smile, the feeling is so good, you can't help but be happy to be alive.


Shaun Harris is a poet, freelance writer, and editor published in avant-garde, feminist journals. Lover of warm-toned makeup palettes, psych-rock, and Hilton Als. Her work has allowed her to copyedit and curate content for various poetry organizations in the NYC area.


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