Quelle Chris has been releasing some of the most open, honest and thoughtful music of the past half-decade. Last year’s Guns was an emotionally charged, layered project that focused on America’s gun crisis. The Detroit hip-hop veteran was at his most experimental yet and even dabbled with creating his own animation for the stand-out single “Obamacare”‘s music video. This year, he’s reigniting the collaborative partnership with multi-instrumentalist Chris Keys for the follow-up to their 2015 album, introducing Innocent Country 2, out April 24 via Mello Music Group. Each song was produced by Keys with Quelle credited as co-producer.
Today, Quelle Chris premieres “Sacred Safe” with guest spots from Homeboy Sandman, Cavalier and Merrill Garbus of the Tune-Yards. The effort follows “Living Happy” and his “Sudden Death” visual from February. His next LP will also feature guest spots from Earl Sweatshirt, Pink Siifu, Billy Woods, Denmark Vessey and plenty of other notable names.
Quelle joined HYPEBEAST to talk about Innocent Country 2‘s themes, working with his Chris Keys (the project is credited under Quelle Chris and Chris Keys as the album artists for a true partnership) and how he’s holding up during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. More below.
HYPEBEAST: How are things going, especially with your new album on the way?
Quelle Chris: As far as the album goes things are the same. This album was here in the now before we arrived here in this now. So I’m just following it’s lead at this point and sticking to the things my spirit told me were needed as closely as I can given the current situations.
What’s your routine like these days?
Wake up in panic. Go to sleep exhausted. Laugh and cry and love and work respectively in between. Pretty much the same as before just now everyone can play along… (laughs)
And has the isolation from the current Coronavirus pandemic prompted you to create more music?
Naw. Creation happens perpetually even when it’s not recorded. And while it’s definitely, coincidentally been a key ingredient in some of my best dishes, distress isn’t an ingredient I generally enjoy or look forward to cooking with. But I’ve definitely been creating as needed and continuing projects that were already in flight.
You’re coming up on your second installment of the Innocent Country (and fourth of the 2dirt4tv) series with collaborator Chris Keys. How did your approach change for this record since its been 5 years since the first album you two released together?
We’ve both grown as people and artists. We communicate and share our thoughts and ideas with a certain synergy now. Not much unlike five to eight years ago. We still bump heads. I still always make at least one song per album he absolutely disagrees with at first but eventually comes around to the dark side (laughs). But we know each other more now. As humans. As family. We started as collaborators but now we’re brothers. We’ve cried and laughed and all that’s between. So the musical exchange reflects that understanding.
You also co-produced each track. Keys is a multi-instrumentalist and you have an extensive history as a producer. What was your workflow and process like in creating each song?
Every song is different. Most of this album, production wise, started with the core ideas from Chris. Some more fleshed out and some less. From there we build. Sharing, discussing and adding and tailoring ideas until it’s right. I listen to everything on repeat 24 hours a day and arrange and rearrange and make notes obsessively until it’s “right”. About half was recorded together in Oakland. And the rest primarily recorded in Brooklyn with Dane Orr who also mixed and mastered the album. This entire album is a series of serendipities that lead to an end only by obligation. It all just kinda happened. Not without action and effort of course. But almost as if life provided it.
How’d the collab with Tune-Yard’s Merrill Garbus come together on your latest single “Sacred Safe?”
We did the JoCo Cruise together early 2019 as performers and guests. An innumerable amount of beautiful friendships have blossomed from those cruises (shout out Jonathan Coulton and all the sea monkeys). We’re both fans of each other’s stuff and post cruise said the ‘ole musician’s “we gotta link up after this” bit. And then we actually did it. Which is unicorn level rare sh*t in this universe. Like the rest of this album it couldn’t have worked any other way. Merrill’s the sh*t.
Fellow Mello Music Group member Homeboy Sandman also blessed the track. The last time he hopped on one of your songs was 2017’s “Pendulum Swing.” What have you learned from him as a member of the same roster over the last few years?
I can’t say I’ve learned from him specifically as a member of the same roster. But as a friend and brother and artist I’ve learned more than I can begin to get into here. He respects the sh*t out of the craft. He honors the energy in the words he casts. He’s always seeking growth. He bleeds. He’s the real deal.
The last visual you released, “Sudden Death” was an awesome conceptual display where you were left as the last person alive in the world. What else do you have planned in the visual department for Innocent Country 2?
Mr. Beast. Coronavirus. Read the room. [laughs]. We’ll see what life allows. Wherever the dart lands it will be awesome. At the very least I can guarantee that.
This is going to be your 6th full-length album, counting collaborative efforts and instrumental projects, in just under 5 years. How do you keep up that inspiration and drive year after year?
The need to create, the need to provide and where they intersect from year to year. If I wanted to I could do damn near Lil B numbers of solid work. If I had my druthers, I’d spend years working on some albums. But the need to create, the need to provide and where they intersect from year to year is the equation that’s been at the root of the last decade. An important, long and necessary ride.
Everything’s Fine with Jean Grae talked about the death of the American spirit, Guns was a critique on gun culture and weaponizing race and sort of this fear of “the other”… What other themes are you exploring on Innocent Country 2?
What else can fans expect from you this year?
The same things we do every year, Pinky. Try to take over the world.