Guns is Quelle Chris’ Most Direct Album Yet
by Owen Murray
Quelle Chris is an underrated voice in art-rap. While not as versatile as art-rap staples like Busdriver or Open Mike Eagle, Quelle stands out for darker, more biting cultural criticism in a genre that often hides its commentary behind a layer of comedy or lightheartedness. On Guns, Quelle takes the opposite route and hides his comedy and quirkiness behind a layer of pointed criticism and social awareness.
Guns, as you might have guessed, is a concept album about guns. Tracks like “Guns” and the opener “Spray and Pray” address gun culture with typical Quelle Chris directness where he raps about serious topics with a casual tone—just telling it like it is. In lines like “Studied gunslinging from '89 to new-thousand-two/Prayed if I paid my dues, I'd grow big to be just like you,” Chris addresses how he sees impressionable youth becoming obsessed with a glamorized idea of guns—only to have their fascination be their undoing. His low, raspy, sometimes nasally and direct delivery adds a feeling of authority to his commentary.
Cleverly applied vocal samples add perspective to the album. A monologue at the end of “Spray and Pray” including the line, “Family members killing each other, for money. We just killing each other for...I don't know,” connect the confusion about why guns are so idolized and our pointless tendency toward violence. The infamous Donald Trump campaign quote, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose,” shows up on more than one occasion. Contrasted with the unrest caused by guns that Chris describes all over the album, Trump’s bombastic and fearless threat shows absurd white privilege.
The overarching purpose of Guns goes beyond guns themselves. The object is used as a symbol to explore wider societal injustice in America. And what a fitting symbol—a uniquely American obsession that carries baggage of unrest, injustice, and inequality.
Guns is for the most part pretty bleak, but there are moments of optimism. “Straight Shot”’s refrain, “All we need is just a straight shot from here,” finds some form of solace while remaining solidly within the album’s gun-riddled world. The Jean Grae feature “You, Me, and Nobody Else” is one of the album’s most charming moments in which Chris and Grae find strength in each other’s company, despite the world’s chaos.
The instrumental pallet of Guns isn’t far off from Chris’s previous albums. Left-field art-rap beats with subtle jazzy elements are the album’s instrumental bread and butter. The lead single “Obamacare” stands out for its thumping bass and unsettling and dissonant piano, giving the track a bit more of an edge without drifting too far from the album’s low key sound. Guns could have been more engaging if it took more instrumental risks, but Chris occupies his niche well. His lyrical quirks and gravelly voice keep the album interesting, while the instrumentals serve to complement what he does vocally.
Guns is Quelle Chris’ most direct album yet. Chris declares his intentions in the album’s title and never loses touch with his cause. The result is a poignant and nuanced look at gun culture in America from one of art-rap’s most unique voices.