For many, Detroit is the current epicenter of Hip Hop music. Dozens of Motor City rappers, from Eminem to Elzhi, have established popular niches and relative levels of success. As of late, Quelle Chris is trending upward. The Mello Music Group emcee has been on the imprint since 2011, and now he’s ready to take the next step in his career.
With the help of producer Chris Keys, Quelle reintroduces Alternative Hip Hop to the Rap-listening general public with Innocent Country. The beats are dark and gritty, and Quelle’s mostly monotone delivery and haphazard flows are both welcome and sorely missed traits in an era where other styles are comfortably perched at the forefront.
Thus far in 2015, Quelle Chris has made the most of his studio time. MMG released their label compilation, Persona in March with Quelle providing a couple tracks of his own. The album closer, “All I See Is You” is a deviation from Hip Hop, with sing-songy verses and a dark, overarching acoustic guitar sample eerily reminiscent of something by the schizophrenic songwriter Daniel Johnston. Musically, Innocent Country is a little more grounded, but that iconoclastic vibe also carries over.
The intro “Freedom & Fear” is a two-minute piano medley that segues into the lyrical falsetto “Where The Wild Things Roam.” Here, Quelle sets the table with a whimsical delivery and humorous imagery before another piano segue leads into “We Want It Alive,” a posse cut featuring Fresh Daily and Cavalier.
Just when a particular theme begins to prevail, Quelle and Keys pull a fast one on the listener, delving into a more melancholy realm on “The Ones To Watch,” an introspective number about true friendship, with the hook: “Somebody somewhere be saying some shit about you / And that something be some bullshit when they know it ain’t true / Welcome to Friend Street.” The vibe continues on the next track, “Nothing Moves,” with Quelle displaying his lyrical chops: “Camping in immaculate sceneries / Off of DMT / Ronnie James Dio bangin’ on the neo / Level, my homie lit the B.O. / Peace King to the now, fade away until a later day / Instead of ‘hey’ we say ‘way.’” Quelle has a strong knack for stoner imagery, and, here, coupled with the right beat, the combination is a grand success. The flipside is “Drugfest TooThousandToo,” a hectic violin-led number with the protagonist asking his friends, “‘What kind of drugs do ya’ll want to do?’,” before declaring at the end, “Looks like it’s ‘shrooms and weed today!”
Chris Keys deserves equal commendation for his production. Innocent Country is mostly an amalgam of layered looping samples though Keys shines as a piano player too. Musically, his sound is a product of old-school techniques, reminiscent of J Dilla, Madlib, and Pete Rock, and as such, he thrives as a crate-digging sampler (“The Plan”) and a Jazz musician (“Freedom & Fear”). The cherry on top is his meticulous track sequencing, nearly seamless from beginning to end. Moods change frequently, but the smooth transitions enable a prescient ebb and flow.
Individual performances notwithstanding, Innocent Country also provides much in the way of collaborations. Denmark Vessey has two guest spots, appearing on “Murphy’s Law” and “The Plan.” Both tracks represent some of Keys’ best work on the album, and the spirit of competition brings out the best in Quelle, especially on “The Plan.”
In all, Innocent Country is a stoned-out, musically ambitious effort from one of Detroit’s brightest up-and-coming emcees. The only drawback is the short runtime of 33 minutes divided amongst twelve tracks, which will undoubtedly leave some fans wanting more. The most important takeaway though is this: Quelle Chris is at the top of his game, delivering a fun, refreshing album that should serve as a beloved introduction to his catalog.