Review: Quelle Chris, 'Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often'
Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.
Our society puts a lot of emphasis on the Self. Self-improvement, self-help, self-awareness, self-discovery, etc.— you know, the type of stuff that keeps Tony Robbins seminars packed and Tim Ferriss's books on bestseller lists. We want to be our best selves. We want to win friends and influence people. But as we read, mantra, and journal our way toward our optimal incarnations, what are we to do with the rough edges that no amount of social sanding can smooth away? What to do with those undesirable but immutable parts of our personalities?
For rapper and producer Quelle Chris, the answer is as simple, yet profound: self-acceptance. That's the final destination on the humorous and heartfelt emotional journey that is his latest project, Being You Is Great, I Should Be You More Often. "It's an album about being human. Being great, being flawed, being you," he told me over Twitter.
The album's first song is "Buddies," a quirky expression of self-love that finds Quelle toasting his best friend (himself) over a jazzy bass loop and intermittent horn stabs courtesy of producer Ayepee: "I f--- with myself / I might buy myself some flowers / I'm in love with myself." The high doesn't last long; the harps that conclude "Buddies" give way to the choral "aahs" and somber guitar of "Popeye, "a meditation on regrets: "Kickin' the can but never eats the spinach / Seems I never reach the goal but alway meet the finish / Though / I know my heart ... goes."
Quelle isn't alone on this personal journey. Frequent collaborators like Cavalier, Jean Grae and Denmark Vessey (his partner in the collective Crown Nation) lend vocals throughout. Together, they make "In Case I Lose Myself" feel more like communion than a typical posse cut: "I am we / We are God / I am dirt / I am stars / C'est la vie / Say ase / Say Amen/ 'ḥamdu lillāh." The guests also help to counterbalance the album's weighty content. The droning synths of "Fascinating Grass" feels like a stuck-on-the-couch high until Roc Marciano appears to inject his sober hustler's perspective: "Sling blow / For cheese / Veuve Clicquot / I'm covered in gold / I feel like C-3PO." On "The Prestige," Quelle's short verse sets the stage for Jean Grae to wreak havoc over the Castlevania-esque instrumental for two minutes, quipping, "You're a one-slice toaster — useless."
Marciano's slick talk and Grae's battle rhymes are momentary digressions from the real battle at hand: Quelle's internal struggle between self-doubt and self-confidence. On "Dumb For Brains," he beats himself for his failures and on "BS Vibes" he bigs himself up for his talents. The album's most equanimous moment comes near the end, on "Great To Be": "Cause being you, is great to be / And lovin' you, is great to be / And me and you, is great to be." How's that for a "note to self?"