Meet Detroit's newest backpack rap contrarian
"Even their presentation was unique. I mean they weren't gangsta, but they weren't Huxtabilized either. That was the strangest irony of all: Musically, they were the next level A Tribe Called Quest. But lyrically? They were closer to N.W.A than De La Soul."
That's ?uestlove of the Roots, praising Detroit rap underground underdogs Slum Village, in the liner notes for the 2005 CD release of Fan-Tas-Tic Vol. 1. And even though some of that backpack rap-bucking spirit's not quite as shocking in 2012 as it was then — fellow Detroit oddball Danny Brown has pulverized rap's binaries, it seems — ?uestlove's words could easily describe any number of Detroit rappers precariously balancing "conscious" and "ignorant" and refusing to tow any hip-hop faction's party line.
Quelle Chris' Slum Village-indebted album, 2Dirt4TV Vol. 1, squarely fits in that tradition. Even if the Detroit rapper/producer's name doesn't sound familiar, you've heard some of his beats (he produced "EWNESW" off Danny Brown's XXX and five songs on Brown's The Hybrid, including the devastating "Guitar Solo"), or maybe you stumbled upon the Brown and Roc Marciano-featured "Shotgun" from Quelle's 2011 album Shotgun and Sleek Rifle. Big on pre-radio, rap-song construction, Quelle embraces verbose, mealy-mouthed hooks (from "2Dirt4TV": "No support like Chinese flat bottoms / But still, money comes easy / Like the lord's forgiveness / We be too dirt for TV / They listen, they love us, but they never plug us / Your favorite rapper got the CD, though") and shaky A.D.D beats that remain, at their core, sample-based. He also charmingly devotes way too much time on this 20-minute EP to stray audio of dudes complaining about the current state of hip-hop.
Quelle Chris raps in a kind of shuffling, get-there-when-I-get-there delivery, full of sex and weed talk, and punctuated by just the right amount of emotional honesty to temper the fun. He'll also do ridiculous things like rhyme "bills stackin' up" with "Scott Bakula"; on "Squabble x Take You There," he narrates an escalating fight in the club with a sense of bemusement and nervous energy, inventing — at least as far as I can tell — reverse hashtag rap, when he describes a guy looking to bust heads like this: "Now, he done went and called this whole nigga's fam out / Butcher, brought the beef and the ham out." That's Quelle in a nutshell — the guy in the crowd making jokes about stupid, tough-guy shit that's about to go down.
Slum Village also comes to mind because Los Angeles beatmaker DiBia$e, who produced 2Dirt4TV Vol. 1, is totally a Dilla disciple, and specifically seems to mine the ragged, off-kilter qualities of Fan-Tas-Tic Vol. 1. The beats wander around with a genuine sense of discovery and sloppiness that keeps you on your toes. At any moment a track could cut off, or simply morph into another sound altogether. "The Talk x So Fine x The Sermon," an affecting old-school homage that tells you how to talk to girls, is one part Digital Underground funk-groove and one part "Late 80s Skit," from Slum Village's Detroit Deli, ending with audio from a sex-education tape and the ODB shouting. "Squabble x Take Me There" kicks off with a clip from Eazy-E's “Real Muthaphukkin G's” and quickly jumps into a J. Dilla-like throb that's as relaxed as Eazy is amped up.
"Live Alone, Die Alone" begins with chopped-and-screwed dialogue from the movie Juice, and ends with verite audio of a guy talking about fighting the cops. In between, it's a confessional rap about trying to overcome addiction: "Habits that I formed back when I ain't give a fuck / Now, I'm trying to move on, but it's hard to give it up." In that one shambling song, Quelle Chris and DiBia$e express the multitudes of the streets — from turf-claiming, pissed-off perpetrators, to police-brutality victims, to that one regular ass guy just trying to get by. The traditionalist, though off-kilter strain that originated with Slum Village's demo is alive and well.Buy Quelle Chris' 2Dirt4TV Vol. 1.