Ah, hip-hop collabs – when two MCs join together on a record and deliver the best of what they got, it can forever be known as a classic…..or some would just phone it in, talk some bullshit and sell it to those dumb enough to buy into it. Well, thankfully, in this review, I have some faith in this next album and it comes from Jean Grae and Quelle Chris.
Jean Grae is an underground NY hip hop MC who started in the late ’90s-early 2000s, working with artists like Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Little Brother, Pharoahe Monch, among others during that era, and has released 4 studio albums and countless EPs and mixtapes (not counting The Evil Jeanius project as she was pissed with her former label Babygrande with that one.) Quelle Chris is a Detroit rapper, songwriter and producer signed with Mello Music Group, the label that includes people like Open Mike Eagle, Mr. Lif, Oddisee, and Skyzoo among others, and if you remember our Decibel Boost Top Albums of 2017 Year-End Spectacular and my top 15 albums of 2017, I put his last album Being You is Great, I Wish I Was You More Often in my top albums of 2017, in which Jean Grae was a feature on there with “The Prestige,” which was one of my favorite tracks on there.
Also, I didn’t know the two were recently engaged back in late December 2017 until it just popped up when singles for the album started dropping. Anyway, looking into the album’s title, I immediately got the grasp of the concept of the expression with the touch of absurdity, honesty and self-reflection that both artists are known for. The first hint of that is the intro, the title track, when it’s played off like a game-show with everyone responding with “Everything’s Fine” in that dazed and depressing tone after the announcer describes their very sad lives. That also appears in the skits they put into the album like “Don’t Worry It’s Fine” with comedian John Hodgman and SNL’s Michael Che repeating the phrase, all played in this sad twisted sax solo sound, and with the other two, “Doing Better than Ever,” with that subject of trying to improve with the words of Ashop “Dap” Kondabolu, and then on “Everything’s Still Fine,” we get a calming and surreal beat and the soothing voice of one Nick Offerman telling us that we need to find a way to keep ourselves calm from all the drama and harsh realities in the world.
Performance-wise from our two rappers, they have a lot of chemistry on the mic with some impressive skills and sound awesome doing it with their absurd and witty delivery with some striking wordplay on the lyrics in these songs. One example would be in “My Contribution to this Scam,” with raps about trite and stale hip-hop templates like the backpacker rapper, the “Doin’ it for the Gram” rapper and some just going “I make a rap album ’cause anybody can.”
With Quelle’s verse on “Gold Purple Orange,” he points out some of the mis-conceptions in our modern times, such as:
Everybody gettin’ money had a game plan
Every truth seeker dropped by a hit man
Everybody alt-right gotta be white
Everybody disagree gotta be wrong
Everybody black dick gotta be long
Every mixtape dropped gotta be free
Everybody from the hood gotta be G
Everything in the news gotta be real, right?
Every Jew, golden rule, gotta save bills
Every young nigga gotta deadbeat daddy
Every independent lady attitude trashy
Jean also delivers on her verse with a great example like:
‘Cause you can be the things they say to be and get killed
With difficulty comes learnin’
Where typically those less exposed to those burdens
Can flourish without knowin’ themselves
“OhSh,” the first single released for the album, definitely display some hilarious trash-talking from the duo, and another pleasant surprise in here is a guest feature verse from Hannibal Buress with him going “I don’t got a fur coat but I got some Merlot,” but no, he’s got whiskey but would want a fur coat. “Zero,” with Grae being solo on this track, in terms of rapping is easily a fire-worthy track. The rest of the feature guest rappers/singers do not disappoint with some great highlights being Big Tone with his nice verse on “House Call,” Your Old Droog proving to be someone I should keep an eye on with “Scoop of Dirt,” and I am loving Anna Wise’s singing on both “Waiting for the Moon” and “River,” the two closing tracks and probably my favorite cuts on the album.
Oh, and on production, it’s the type of experimental hip-hop production I will vouch for, and it’s all done by Quelle Chris and Jean Grae as well, from the arcade-style synthesized synths and bloops of “Zero” to the entirety of “River” with the soft piano in the beginning as it builds up with the orchestral sound, the simple percussion beat on there, and that guitar riff near the beginning of the 5-minute mark. Most of the beats have that off-kilter sound, the production has some horns, piano, and flutes mixed in (especially in the skits), and they all got a unique and beautiful sound that doesn’t get monotonous after a listen or two.
The more I’ve listened to this album upon reviewing it (via NPR’s first listen) and went back to some songs I really loved, this is indeed a fantastic album. I love the idea around the themes of the saying “Everything’s Fine” that had enough absurdity that it kept my attention, showing the dynamic wit and chemistry that Quelle Chris and Jean Grae delivered on these songs. When I say I keep going back to the album, review purposes weren’t the only reason. I took my time with this, and it is that damn good.
FINAL VERDICT: Buy it. This is the kind of album that sinks into you and takes its time like duck confit.
Everything’s Fine is available from Mello Music Group on CD, digital download and streaming services.