If Hip Hop is a reflection of what’s happening in society at large, then it stands to reason that we’re seeing the musical equivalent of an erosion of the middle class. Major labels will still scratch and claw for every penny, even if it results in a year like 2012—where Nicki Minaj was the only rapper with an album to be certified platinum during the same calendar year of its release. Meanwhile, established vets are reduced to peddling their wares via the digital mixtape circuit in hopes of having a single that’s at least catchy enough to take on tour. As much as we’d all like our emcees to perform herculean lyrical feats while still growing their brand off the mic, is there any room for rappers with skill, mass appeal and the candor to talk about living in the same tax bracket as their fans?
“That over-struggle rap is real annoying,” explains Quelle Chris. The Detroit transplant likely won’t sniff the Billboard or SoundScan charts this year. HipHopDX neglected to review his project, Niggas Is Men, yet enough fans voted for the album to warrant a third-place showing in the HipHopDX Awards “Readers’ Choice Album of the Year” category. “When people are saying, ‘But I’m struggling!’ it’s like… Just come to terms with it and look me eye-to-eye… As artists and as musicians, we lose a lot of shit. That’s our life, and we sacrifice every fucking thing to make barely anything while giving our whole life to people.”
Quelle’s statements essentially represent the dichotomy that comes with following one’s perceived professional calling while being knee deep in a high-risk/high-reward industry. Self-proclaimed “conscious” rappers paint themselves as the polar opposite of their turned-up counterparts, but who says both camps don’t want the same thing. At the risk of getting all existential, we asked Quelle Chris to tie all these ideas together and link them with concepts from the projects that respectively bookend Niggas Is Men—2012’s 2Dirt4TV and November’s retail release, Ghost At The Finish Line.
Quelle Chris Details Concepts Behind “Ghost At The Finish Line”
HipHopDX: Ghost At The Finish Line is a pretty atypical title. What’s the reasoning and/or meaning behind that?
Quelle Chris: I feel like it’s more of a feeling-based title, but word-wise it makes sense too. When you say or read, Ghost At The Finish Line, you feel some shit. In life, you’re running a billion different races, although some people are running the same race their whole life. But whatever race you’re running, what’s there in the end? That’s the ghost, and it doesn’t mean it has to be a person; it can also be ideas or lessons learned. But what things are still there that you’re just seeing glimpses of like ghosts? What things do you just feel?
As artists and as musicians, we lose a lot of shit. That’s our life, and we sacrifice every fucking thing to make barely anything while giving our whole life to people. After you get done doing all that, what remains? What’s it worth?
DX: That’s interesting. Is that connected to you exploring pre-life and the afterlife in your music? Does that tie into the song “Old Friend?”
Quelle Chris: Not at all. But you meet certain people when you’re forced to be someone who is sociable as part of your career. You meet a billion people, and even if you’re a pharmacist or a rapper, you start to acquire a certain sense for people. Then you start to think, “Wow, I met this guy before.” The way life moves, I felt like I’ve known Denmark and Scud One for years. I’ve actually known Denmark for years, and I’ve known Scud less than a year, but it feels like I’ve known them forever. I think there’s something beyond what we see on the surface. I don’t know if I want to get into that concept right now.
In addition to that, sometimes regardless of what you try to do, life puts you back on a certain path until you get it right. My brother was talking to me about running into ancestral déjà vu, where you’ll say, “Man, I’ve been here before.” I think that’s a moment where you need to do something again so you have another chance to get it right. A lot of people don’t get those chances. So those little phenomena we dust off as being nothing are really larger within the idea of maybe a past life.
DX: Do you mean something along the lines of there being no coincidences?
Quelle Chris: No coincidences, but I think there still is freedom of choice. And each choice has its consequence. Sometimes that’s not even a negative choice that means you did anything wrong. It was just the consequence of that choice. Maybe you decided to take a drive that day and got into a car accident. When you decided to take that drive, you might have been thinking about going to Trader Joe’s to get some food. It wasn’t a negative choice, but it had a negative consequence. So it’s just realizing there are a lot of greater things going on. Who was talking about splitting cells?
[Fellow Crown Nation Member Denmark Vessey interjects]
Denmark Vessey: You mean the double-slit theory? That kind of opened up my whole world and perspective on things. They shot two very small particles through one slit with a wall behind it. The particle would end up being everywhere on the wall, and you’d expect the particle to only be where the slit was exposed instead of here, here and here. So you’re wondering, “Are the atoms and sub-atomic particles moving or what? What’s going on?” So they decide to visually record it, and it remains in the same path.
Quelle Chris: So what you can see is not what’s really there.
Denmark Vessey: Right. Once there’s observation applied, then the atoms act normally. But without that, they’re doing whatever the fuck they wanna do.
DX: That’s pretty crazy…
Quelle Chris: So from there, think about lucid dreams or something like that. What really is the reality that we’re in? What were we before, and what will we be? All that plays into music, because all we do is record what we make and see.
Why Quelle Chris Says Rapping Isn’t Really A Choice
DX: True. Both you and Denmark frequently touch on the sacrifices made for your craft without resorting to struggle rap. Where do you decide to draw the line?
Quelle Chris: That over-struggle rap is real annoying. When people are saying, “But I’m struggling!” it’s like… Just come to terms with it and look me eye-to-eye. When I listen to Denmark or Mozel, I’ll know how they feel. Mozel might send me five songs, and it’s not like he’s forcing it on me. But it’s also not like he’s trying to restrain anything. It’s a conversational kind of Rap. And even if I don’t agree with the way you feel, at least you came to me on a human level.
DX: Another theme across multiple projects from you is that rapping may not be something that’s a choice. On “Undying,” you said, “This is ain’t what I wanna do, this is what I had to do.”
Quelle Chris: It kind of goes back to what we were talking about earlier. When you talk about choices in making music, it depends on what your intentions are. If your goal is to provide great music and to survive, you can try everything. I’ve done a billion jobs, and I never felt right. I think you hit a point where you just realize, “This is what I do.”
Denmark Vessey: And if you’re really good, why not? I’m not gonna sit up here like, “I’m really, really good,” but why not? Why not do something that you really enjoy doing? That’s the problem with the world right now, there’s way too many people doing shit that they don’t want to do. Now that we have a forum to do something we dreamed about and worked really hard…there’s some aspects we might have mastered already. Why not come to the conclusion of, “Yeah, this is what I’m supposed to do?” With everyone respectively here, I feel like we’ve certainly worked hard enough to where this is what we do for a living. So this is both something we chose to do and were selected for. That’s how I feel.
Quelle Chris: I was watching a documentary on Bo Jackson, and it was like he had no choice. He was destined to do that shit. Sometimes you have to hit a point where you realize it’s beyond what you feel like you want or need to do. You just decide, “This is something I have no choice but to do. This is what I’m here to do.” I think a lot of people fight through that and say, “This is what I want to do regardless of what I need to do.” Some people reach a point where in their heart and soul, there’s nothing else that they can possibly contribute to the world without doing this one thing. The right people sometimes hit a point with music where they realize, “It’s not what I need to do. There’s things I need to do, but I can also do this through music. It’s not what I want to do, but I really have no choice but to do this. It’s what I have to do, and it’s beyond need or want.” Once you hit that point, you just throw everything else to the wind.
DX: So we’re back to choices and consequences. Rap may be something you have to do, but you’re within the constraints of capitalism and labels—as you pointed out on 2Dirt4TV.
Quelle Chris: I don’t remember the exact line either, but I know what you’re talking about. That line is about the idea that the A&R doesn’t exist anymore, but they want us all to be stars before they sign us. They want to capitalize on the shit that starts from the ground up, but they want to capitalize on it when it’s not at the ground level anymore. They want things from the roots, but they’re not willing to actually plant, and grow them themselves. They want to see me, Scud or Denmark start from the bottom and make it happen. And then they want to come, clip it and grow little shits off of it after it’s already grown.
In the past, we would find people in the lab like, “Oh, this nigga is obviously gonna be a star.” But now, they want the shit that starts from the bottom, but they’re not willing to actually dig for it. They just want us to somehow root ourselves, and put ourselves in their hands, which is fuckin’ weird. Then they capitalize off of it, waste it and run it into the ground like they did corn and every other great crop.