Championed in recent years as a king of the underground, Quelle Chris finds himself lamenting the simultaneous fame and lack of recognition. On a prolific run of four albums from 2017-2020 (perhaps most notably Innocent Country 2), he is best known for his blend of quirky, fun raps with biting social commentary and introspection over smooth, backpacky boombap. After taking a full year off though, his newest album Deathfame is an especially personal, broad take on his place in the world today.
Much of the production on Deathfame is handled by Chris himself, who has a long history of quality beats; In fact, he deserves to be brought up far more in conversations on the best rapper/producers (i.e. El-P, Tyler the Creator, Roc Marci, etc.). This time around, he seems to lean further into the style of Mutant Academy and Slums, with a subtly lofi, yet smooth and traditionally boombap sound. Knxwledge and Chris Keys make appearances as well, serving as strong compliments. Of all the great albums Quelle has dropped recently, perhaps what’s most impressive is how sonically distinct they all are.
See, a n—a like me just wanna smoke tree, paint happy trees
Hotel lobbies overseas with ashy knees
I been writing crack since rap was twenty-three
So if you want an unbiased opinion, don’t ask mе
My favorite emcees got propertiеs and bad knees
At dispensaries reflecting how we used to bag weed
Everybody wanna grow up to be that n—a that blow up
I’m the GOAT, everybody knew it, but don’t nobody know us
The album starts off with its greatest highlight: The single “Alive Ain’t Always Living”. Over an understated, yet beautiful saloon piano, Quelle discusses all of the little things to appreciate and better our lives despite fits of dejection. “King in Black” is a great display of his pure MC abilities, as Chris talks his shit , dunks on wack rappers with some great wordplay, and laments a lack of recognition despite his influence on the game (themes to be revisited on “The Agency of the Future”).
The track “So Tired You Can’t Stop Dreaming” is aptly named given its hypnotic beat. Here, Chris speaks on his artistic process and love for the culture, with the refrain “If Heaven’s got a ghetto, Hell’s got a resort” serving as a thought provoking statement of utter pride. Navy Blue also goes in on a lengthy verse, continuing his own reign of tight, personal lofi.
Deathfame‘s title track, with its lullaby piano beat, includes lengthy spoken interludes which sum up Quelle’s exasperation and frustration with the industry – core themes to the album which he is even more familiar with given his relationship with Jean Grae. Meanwhile, “How Could You Love Something Like Me” sees him take on a dreamy croon which expresses his feelings of listlessness in the world; At once a revered and starving artist.
“Cui Prodest” features the album’s most standout beat and a verse from frequent collaborator Denmark Vessey, while “The Sky is Blue Because the Sunset is Red” is a message ensuring we won’t be forgotten with time. Despite this track’s conclusive feeling, “Excuse My Back” acts as the album’s outro; Quelle opts to end things on a more braggadocios, blunt note, thesising that after listening to Deathfame, you have no choice but to pay respects.