Quelle Chris Takes Aim at the Weaponization of Art
On Guns, the Detroit rapper continues to defy assigned labels.
Quelle Chris isn’t a conscious rapper. He says such a label is an impossibility, considering he has as many songs about taking drugs and farting as he has critiques of societal ills. And yet, Chris is still attached to that label in some camps. Granted, he’s extremely smart, incredibly witty, and his albums often work in a social framework; but any label for an artist like Chris, with seven studio albums that vary dramatically in sound and style, is an affront. Quelle Chris is just a rapper, and on his latest LP, Guns, he sets out to prove it.
Guns is a tour de force, bouncing between art rap, lo-fi filth, and straight hood bangers—but its title may deceive. “Guns” is a loaded word in our fraught political era, and any mention of it brings to mind NRA shrills hiding behind shell counts and bump stock bans. But Chris has a different idea: This record is a display of his arsenal and an examination of weaponized art.
What makes Guns so effective isn’t the way Chris moralizes or teaches. Rather, he sits back and posits, asking more questions than he answers. He’s a facilitator for a greater discussion, whether that comes in the form of a Mach-Hommy featuring track about fur or an analysis of healthcare and inner-city struggles.
Quelle Chris records are one-sided conversations between a man and his moral compass—no matter where it points. On Guns, Chris takes aim at the way people frame themselves and others in both positions of power and subservience. What happens from there, Quelle isn’t willing to tell us outright; but he’s more than willing to raise the question.
Your last record with your wife Jean Grae, Everything’s Fine, was one of your most successful releases to date. Do you track response, success, and acclaim, or do you not bother with that aspect of the music business?
I have a bit of a gauge. I don’t mean to say this in an arrogant way, but there’s not much I’ve done in my documented career that I don’t think was great. The people that heard it enjoyed it. Until something comes out that brings along a physical benchmark, like going platinum, I know if I put it out it’s gonna be received well. Jean’s presence really helped, as did accumulated fandom. I think my audience grows with each album.
That’s a real solid playbook for people doing independent rap music now.
That’s a terrible playbook! It takes forever! [laughs]
It takes patience, I think. If you don’t put your all into it for a long time, you’re not gonna see any results.
There are days I’ll wake up and there are ten million other ways I’d rather get paid. I’d like to beeline straight to the Grammys on a fifteen million dollar budget, but unfortunately life handed me this particular set of cards.
Do you still aspire to reach a platform like the Grammys?
Of course. It’s a natural want. I desire certain public recognition for these things I’ve put a lot of effort into. There’s a little bit of ego to it. As I get older, I just want to create a level of sustainability and stability within this particular industry. With that comes a certain amount of change, both within the financial side and regarding opportunities. At my core, I always want to do something new and different. I don’t want any cap or ceiling on what I’m trying.
“I’d like to beeline straight to the Grammys on a fifteen million dollar budget, but unfortunately life handed me this particular set of cards.”
Was there any adjustment going back to making a straight solo record after working with Jean?
Not really. The two of us work in a very lone wolf way, anyways. There was a high level of collaboration but also a high level of private creation while making Everything’s Fine. It wasn’t too much of a switch-up regarding the process. I do this 24/7. I’m just always thinking of songs. But the hard thing was taking the business side—release dates, feeding fan demands—and scaling it down for Guns. I wanted to make the best product possible within the timeframe I was allotted.
What was the bigger idea that Guns was originally slated to be?
I wanted to hit all the styles with this one. I still kind of did that with Guns, never hit the same style twice, but the initial idea was to be thirty songs or something like that.
How did the idea of guns develop into a theme for the record?
The title song. I heard that beat from Chris [Keys] and the song came to my head. The title was already there, but once I heard that particular beat I had to scrap a bunch of the dirtier shit. I couldn’t have that stuff hanging around “Guns.” I had to step it up. A lot of the stuff I initially started I’ll still use, but it didn’t work for Guns anymore.
Was there a specific event that sparked the theme of people interacting with guns and the way guns shape our society?
It was a culmination of a few things. The ego side of it is the basic idea of pulling out as many guns as I could. A lot of that comes from the process of my career. People that only heard Ni**as Is Men and “The Son” will go back years later and listen to Being You Is Great… and be like, “Woah, this isn’t the same artist.” People that only heard Everything Is Fine and then go back to Ghost at the Finish Line have the same reaction. Ultimately, I’m the same person, and I wanted to do one project where I let it be known that I’m an artist who can span all different styles.
The title and the premise of the album came from the spells and magic of words. There’s a lot of power behind what we say in conjunction with the things we do. That was the other idea that led me to think of Guns. All these ideas just smashed together at one point in my head. We as artists are often weaponized. Art is often weaponized. It’s used for great things, but it’s also used for evil. We are weapons, we are guns. How do we choose to use this weapon that we brand? Do we use it to protect people and bring awareness to good things? Or do we use it to shoot people down and kill the culture—pardon the pun.
How do you use your gun?
You’ll have to ask the people that I either hurt or help! It can go either way. My music helps a lot of people but it can also be used for dudes trying to jump somebody or something. I can help someone make it through the day or my music can be used for robbing. That’s the core question of this record.
And that seems to be the point of the record. You’re not coming to lecture or moralize. You’re asking questions and trying to figure this shit out as well.
Because I’m wild imperfect. Who am I to try to tell you anything? I don’t want to put myself in a position where people have to look to me for all of the answers, because I don’t have all of the answers. But I can recognize and address problems. If I could give you all of the solutions, everything would have already been solved.
“We as artists are often weaponized. Art is often weaponized. It’s used for great things, but it’s also used for evil. We are weapons, we are guns. How do we choose to use this weapon that we brand? Do we use it to protect people and bring awareness to good things? Or do we use it to shoot people down and kill the culture—pardon the pun.”
Were you worried about using Guns as the title when it’s a politically charged topic at the center of our country right now?
One of my first thoughts was a worry that people would interpret this as a big statement. Ultimately, the product speaks for itself. Sometimes people will come to artists and have some sort of gripe. A lot of these people don’t even listen to the record. They just make a decision. If anyone wants to come to me and be like, ‘You’re talking about guns, blah blah blah,’ they should just listen to the record first! If you’re basing your opinion off of the title, you’re doing yourself a disservice while simultaneously wasting my time talking about it.
You mentioned that you like changing up your style from record to record. What’s one thing in particular you wanted to do on Guns that you haven’t done before?
I didn’t go in with specifics. There was a ghost checklist. Like, I’ll make a joint that I enjoy, and if I make anything similar to it that I also like, I’ll scrap it. It just goes on the backburner. I wasn’t trying to do anything in particular, like a song for the steppers and a song for the strip club. Once I felt like I addressed a particular style, I just didn’t do it again.
This album interrogates the way people weaponize themselves and others. When did that idea begin to formulate?
This is something I’ve always been interested in. A lot of people tend to view the art we make binarily. A lot of people don’t realize how much effect words have on the world around them. I see the way everything changes. Attitude and respect, that sort of stuff, that alters with the music.
You’re often labeled a conscious or a brainy rapper. Do you shy away from that?
It just doesn’t apply. I can accept an argument where someone labels a verse or song “conscious,” but on one song I talk about farting and the next I talk about doing shrooms and drinking until I black out. The next one may be about keeping your head up or something, but because those other two are there I don’t think you can necessarily call me a “conscious rapper.” People try to label Tupac as a gangster rapper or a conscious rapper, but he was both! It’s limiting and it dilutes the way that people approach things. If you approach my music a certain way, you can be disappointed if it’s not what you expected. It doesn’t matter if it’s any good or not. You just poison your own well, and I think that happens a lot. People have a need to categorize things for the sake of being comfortable, which I understand, but I think a fair enough category for me is just a hip-hop artist. That’s good enough. I make hip-hop. FL