The word fine has evolved over time into a fascinatingly loaded term. No matter your economic despair, spiralling social-media induced anxiety, or whether you’re unintentionally being swept up in daily news cycles projecting political shitstorms—when asked how you are or how life is, everything is fine. Maybe, just maybe, everything is fine—or, perhaps, we’re deliberately unwilling to unmask the horrors beneath.
With their new collaborative album ‘Everything’s Fine’, Quelle Chris and Jean Grae (who are engaged to be married), attempt to flip the oft-heard casual remark that often obfuscates truth and true emotion.
Jean Grae, it must be said, remains one of the most underappreciated rappers since the turn of the millennium, known for surgically incisive, laser-beam focused wordplay and unforgiving, lyrical agility. Chris has a blunt, cryptic, minimalist, deadpan style to rhyming. The album is entirely self-produced between the couple, too.
The instrumentals keep everything in relative shape and proximity—coated in static drums, sax solos, humming synths, oddball soul samples—with strong elements of funk and jazz, but like the album’s motif, there’s a sense of disarray.
Chris’ productions are unnervingly versatile; from a hat-tip to sample-auteur and label-mate Apollo Brown (Waiting for the Moon) to stomping grindcore distortion (Scoop of Dirt), to screwy, proto-funk (House Call). A virtuosic beatmaker, he remains among the best today who both MC and produce.
Everything’s Fine, the album’s hilarious opener, takes the format of a pseudo-psychological game-show where the contestants, who sound utterly deflated, are rewarded for masking their emotions. We hear comedians on the two further skits (Don’t Worry It’s Fine, Everything’s Still Fine)—including Parks and Rec’s Nick Offerman—delineate in exhaustive fashion how fine they are. But, without doubt, it’s Chris and Grae, whose world-weary, sharply delivered witticisms, shine brightest.
My Contribution to This Scam is most hard-hitting, a biting satire of flagrant toxicity in hip-hop, laid out over a bed of thudding drums and what sounds like a late-night field recording of a derelict city district. Grae pulls no punches, parodying social-media-stars-turned-rappers and faux-woke rap fans who feel they can say n-word under the guise of progress; her scathing lacerations set the tone early, giving you the effect of aural whiplash.
Hip-hop intruders, it seems, are most definitely not fine. Breakfast of Champions is a fuzzed-out, tragic examination of the police murders of unarmed black kids in American cities.
“Children called they mamas while they stared at they daddy’s entrails/C’mon, how much more evidence you want?” Grae asks, while Chris, overcome in fatigue from hearing the same story, doesn’t even remember where the latest shooting took place.
In what stands as the emotive, swirling album crescendo, the Grae-produced River utilises space as economically as a ballet-dancer; a flute dips in, then out, of beautiful string arrangements, as if to represent paranoia etched at the back of one’s mind.
What feels like the album’s coiled centrepiece is Gold Purple Orange. It sees Chris take the wheel of a smokey, freakishly claustrophobic jazz-instrumental, and with typically caustic wit, he swerves in heavy traffic towards common preconceptions. He wonders why, “Everybody alt-right gotta be white/Everybody disagree gotta be wrong/Everybody black dick gotta be long”, the specificity of the bars, a super-sharp Grae verse, and a lurking Dane Orr sax render this unskippable.
Here, without question, Grae and Chris feel untethered to any particular subset in hip-hop’s sprawling entrails. There is also no epiphany as to why we would rather say we’re fine when we’re not, it’s merely human nature they seem to decide, a psychological shell we form. But the sobering truth is that things are frequently not fine. The duo, however, find solace in the inane and the darkness—futile and quixotic is to expect anything more from life. It’s abstract hip-hop for the unsure, the enlightened and the crestfallen, which, at the end of the day, is all of us.