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Quelle Chris' "Deathfame,": A Somber Look at an Artist's Plight

The life of an artist is raw, unfiltered, and often thankless. Oftentimes, the most poignant thing that happens to an artist is their death; a statement that sounds grim and discomforting, but nevertheless filled with truth. Vincent Van Gogh was stricken with mental illness and deep sadness, he channelled his uncomfortable reality into his paintings which went thoroughly unnoticed and unappreciated for his entire lifetime. It was only after Van Gogh’s suicide that people caught on and began to hail him as one of the greatest painters of all time.


Nothing has changed with this phenomenon, with modern hip-hop artists like Juice Wrld dying tragically and earning a 453% increase in online streams. The brutal reality is that when a musician of today’s era passes away, it is far too easy for their record label or family estate to empty their hard drives of half-completed songs into soulless, cash-grab posthumous album releases. If that doesn’t speak to the importance of an artist’s death, for better or for worse, then perhaps Quelle Chris’ most recent album observing this very idea will encapsulate it better.


Quelle Chris has always been a “rapper’s rapper.” That’s to say, his writing relates to the pitfalls of the leeching music industry, the struggles of being independent and trying to sell authentic records that he puts his best work into, and comically appreciative observations of his everyday life.


Chris’ most recent offering, which was released in the first half of 2022 through Mello Music Group, is aptly titled, “Deathfame”. A surreal, yet hazily beautiful dive into Chris’ recent musings on making underground rap music, fame, and the different breed of fame that arrives when the artist is no longer around to enjoy it. The album is fully produced by Quelle himself, with guest appearances from long-time production collaborator Chris Keys as well as the legendary Knxwledge. The production on this album dashes back and forth from earnest piano and xylophone beats with a very atmospheric feeling to grim flourishes of deep basslines, and industrial-sounding drums - all paired with Chris’ smooth vocal delivery and entertaining flows.


Quelle Chris’ writing is constantly in the workshop. He is consistently levelling up his pen and bringing out new ideas as he ages and experiences more within hip-hop life. The records title track drives the theme of the album home with Quelle delivering lines such as:


“Run this up like I’m dead / Love me like you miss me / Post a pic, tell n****s you met me / Greedy Wrist, posthumous spit / Let these corporations sink their fangs in my legacy’s neck before I did / Death fame.”


Quelle Chris’ famous witty humor is still in full effect on this record despite the grim topics that he ponders throughout. References to hip hop artist Boosie Badazz’ head-scratchingly homophobic tweets, the physical differences in foot size between Americans and Europeans (“I stick out like the second toe on Europeans”), and referring to under-the-table money as “Lewinsky cabbage,” all are included in just one Quelle Chris verse on the track, “The Agency of the Future,” an effortless display of Quelle’s cleverness and random knowledge.


Counterattacks to these moments of wit and comedy from Quelle come in the form of tracks like, “How Could They Love Something Like Me?” A truly depraved-sounding song that feels hopeless and entombing. Quelle’s voice seeps through a sole haunting piano tune throughout the entire track. Quelle seems to be convinced that he has not achieved enough acknowledgment from fans of hip-hop to receive the death fame he discusses throughout the record. He’s suffering through the very question that the track title says, boiling himself down to a “thing,” that is meant to create art and content only to hit a much smaller audience than his peers in one of the largest and most dynamic music genres in the art scene. Quelle describes a feeling of drifting hopelessly in the ocean in the first short verse of this track and switches to the slightly different imagery of a cat stuck in a tree to emphasize the helplessness of his artist’s plight.


The structure and flow of this album are incredibly important and it lends itself to many relistens to understand the dynamic and intentionality in which Quelle built the tracklist. “Help, I’m Dead,” a brief instrumental track flows into “How Could They Love Something Like Me?” which then throws the listener into the bleak, yet jaw-droppingly fire track, “Cui Prodest,” with guest verses from Denmark Vessey and J Jig Cicero, the latter delivering one of  the most aggressive and outstanding verses on the album. This track finds the three rappers making biblical references whilst discussing the relentless pursuit of money while the name of the track is Latin for, “Who benefits?”.



This four track run to finish off the album is quite satisfying as it leads into perhaps my favorite track, “The Sky is Blue Because the Sunset is Red”. This is the track that has guest production from Chris Keys, with his instantly recognizable lush and glitchy piano loops layered over mellow drum loops. This track is very beautiful and closes with the repetition of the statement, “Why do they wait ‘till you’re gone for them to show they care,” hammering home the sombre reflections on death fame and the anxiety that comes with being an artist unsure of how your art will live on without you.


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