Quelle Chris-DEATHFAME

May 13th, 2022 proved to be quite the historic day for hip-hop. The long awaited fifth Kendrick Lamar finally released after little preview material ahead of time. And it is already proving to be one of the most talked about albums of the year.

At the same time, the untouchable underground emcee Quelle Chris dropped his newest album, DEATHFAME, on Mello Music Group. Now, who knows how long Chris had this date in mind before Kendrick announced Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers. But it takes real confidence in your product or a certain degree of insanity to go toe-to-toe with the biggest rapper in America. This is not to compare the ability of the two or suggest Chris isn’t up for the task. I’m only pointing out that the public eye was clearly going to be set in one direction that day.

However, the town called hip-hop is definitely big enough for two great releases on the same day. This is especially true when the albums are so different from each other.

History has seen matchups of this magnitude before. Two juggernauts in the family-friendly horror-comedy department came out on the same day in 1984: Ghostbusters and Gremlins. And two of Sci-Fi’s most prolific films entered into theaters on the same day in 1982: Blade Runner and The Thing.

All four of those movies are held in high esteem and have had long lasting impact in their respective genres.

DEATHFAME starts with warm hiss and crackle, punctuated by spoken word and schmaltzy piano before launching into “Alive Ain’t Always Living.” This track features gospel sounding organ and sing-song rhyming. The tone here will bring a smile to your face. Quelle rhymes “I’m so grateful, so grateful to be alive, but alive ain’t always living, some n****S just survive.” His voice displays great range with an incredible baritone note. He confirmed on Twitter that this is his actual voice, not the product of a processor. And his flow recalls the staccato of R. Kelly’s “Ignition-Remix,” a style that is both bouncy and engaging.

Then the album goes off the rails, moving between soul, funk, boom-bap, jazz-rap, and whatever else flows from Chris’ mind. He served as primary producer on this album along with longtime collaborator Chris Keys and the workhorse producer Knxwledge, who rivals Guided by Voices for albums released per year. Together they explore the limits of imagination on what could be contained in one hip-hop album.

“Feed The Heads” has the wiki-wiki guitar sound of a 70’s blaxploitation film with back-and-forth rap and spoken words that would fit easily into a DOOM track. “So Tired You Can’t Stop Dreaming” features incredible jazz piano, conjuring up the ragtime sounds of Jackie Byard.

The styles change-up smoothly between songs. Just when you feel you have a handle on the album, it switches gears into something completely different. It may be a little schizophrenic, but it still feels like a cohesive project. You will not get bored listening to DEATHFAME.

Chris invites fellow underground up and comers Navy Blue and Pink Siifu for guest spots on several tracks. And J. Jig Cicero does his best Danny Brown impression on “Cui Prodest,” even dropping a “Really Doe” for good measure.

Quelle Chris created another dope banger of an album, securing his place in the rap pantheon of great emcees, underground or otherwise. If you need a palate cleanser from the heaviness that is Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers but still want something of substance you can sink your teeth into, make sure you check out DEATHFAME. This is an album with artistic merit and definite staying power that should not be overlooked just because it had the unfortunate luck of being released against a hip-hop blockbuster.

Connect with Quelle Chris on Instagram, stream DEATHFAME HERE, and be sure to check out his previous projects (especially Everything’s Fine with Jean Grae, my top hip-hop album of 2018).

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