Published Apr 06, 2019Racially charged accusations; viral social media videos; heated comment section debates. These are but a few of the muses that Detroit MC and producer Quelle Chris drew upon for "Mind Ya Bidness," one of the most significant and topical tracks from his new LP Guns. In that song's lyrics, Chris takes aim at the recent slew of white people calling 911 with baseless complaints against their African American neighbours, only to be caught in the act on Facebook Live.
"All of a sudden people were talking about driving while black, walking while black, even though it's not really anything new to a black person. But it was becoming a big popular social topic," Chris tells Exclaim! about the accusations against African Americans going about their daily routines that have caught fire online as of late. "The idea of 'Mind Ya Bidness' is we're all here just having a good time — leave us the fuck alone. Call the cops on yourself. Mind your business."
It's a surprisingly blunt description, given the rapper's penchant for elaborate, offbeat lyricism. Indeed, his lyrics might very well be some of the most ambitious, and some of the most densely complex, in the game these days. Prime example: "It's the Law (Farewell Goodbye Addio, Uncle Tom)," a seething midway track on the new album that finds Chris spitting layered lines like: "Let he who is without cast the first 'Get-out-of-our-country' / Oh, the hypocrisy." The song's title alludes to the 1971 film Goodbye Uncle Tom, which is notorious for its gruesome depictions of slavery, so much so that he can only "get through about half of it in one sitting" Chris says.
"I used that reference as a reminder that these aren't new problems. It's more like: 'Oh, they've looked at us this way for a long time.'"
And while some might laud the rapper for loading up Guns with such highfalutin' themes, Chris is well aware that other listeners won't be so open-minded. His cynicism stems from years of churning out albums that have been acclaimed at the margins, while falling short of major breakthroughs because of their lyrical and thematic density.
That all changed last year when he put out a collaborative album with his wife and fellow top-notch emcee Jean Grae called Everything's Fine, which cracked many music critics' best of lists in 2018 (including ours). Chris addresses that overdue success point-blank on the Guns track "Obamacare," rapping: "I was never weirdo, they just had to acclimate."
And it frustrates Chris: "Not to disparage, let's say Migos, because they're the fucking shit. But if [a huge act like that] comes out with a song it's automatically called 'fire.' But if I come out with a song, critics say 'It's not for everyone, but maybe you'll like it.' Why? Why not just say it's good?
"I'm not doing anything weird," he adds, adamantly. Sure, some consumers might disagree, citing everything from the gun barrels protruding out of Chris's nostrils and mouth on the cover of his new album to its track that references a controversial niche film from the 1970s. But his socially conscious rhymes and ambitious beats certainly make a case for listeners to open their minds.
"A lot of times people don't like things until someone influential does it, or they see a lot of people liking it and it becomes normal. It's just that the tide has to flow in a way where other people are doing it, and it's not weird anymore."
Guns is out now on Mello Music Group.