Quelle Chris has made an ambitious project that is an off-kilter hike through different faces of equally forward-thinking and revivalist hip-hop.
Being You Is Great starts off on a note that could have been pulled from the banalest positive self-talk book. “I fuck with myself,” mutters Quelle Chris, “might buy myself some flowers I’m in love with myself.” The sentiment doesn’t soar; it creeps, a grandiose declaration swiftly transforming into a shrug of content reaffirmation. “I look in the mirror / Like who is that nigga? / I’m cool with that nigga / I’m through with these niggas.”
Musically, Being You Is Great is an off-kilter hike through different faces of equally forward-thinking and revivalist hip-hop. Regarding content, the Detroit rapper shuffles through various ways to cope with self-doubt. Chris is a human who is aware of his mortality and proficient at demonstrating it, and considering how this record is openly introspective about envy, hesitation, and internal ambiguity, emotional theater emerges as an unlikely strong-suit. That being said, it’s only unlikely when propped up against the lazy, goofy poise Chris carries throughout the album; when he hits you with “yes I like to drink / Yes I like to smoke / Yes it’s an escape / I don’t like to cope” in his sleepy deadpan, a double-take might be necessary.
Some turns this album takes could even be rendered epic. The stretch from “The Dreamer in the Den of Wolves” to “Birthdaze” is like a vignette version of the Who’s "Tommy" tweaked for an underground hip-hop narrative, and although it is one of the least gripping runs on the album, the ambition is admirable. Tracks like “BS Vibes” take a more atmospheric approach, nonchalantly painting Chris as this exasperated misanthrope, and faring much better. Chris was not shy about making a personal record and seems to have spilled his heart on the table with this one. Its authenticity and ability to cover a multitude of bases is consistently the most impressive thing about it.
If last year’s Lullabies for the Broken Brain was emblematic of anything, it was that Chris wanted to be taken as seriously as a producer as he is a rapper, and if you look at Being You Is Great from that lens, he has translated his practice into compelling results. Sure, some the best beats come from outside forces like Mndsgn (“Popeye”), House Shoes (“BS Vibes”), and the Alchemist (“Pendulum Swing”). But Chris’s fingerprints are on just about everything, like “Fascinating Grass” where a cartoonish sample stirs up the pot on what seems to be a run-of-the-mill weed song or “In Case I Lose Myself in the Crowd” which drunkenly huffs and puffs along the line between hellish, dreamy, and soulful.
However, Being You Is Great has a lot of songs, and through a good deal of them, it’s not clear when the substance compensates for the ennui or when the stellar production balances out the not-so-stellar delivery. Chris can rap, but very rarely in a register that fights for your attention, leaning on the production to draw you into what he’s saying with most of the rewards being found once you actively seek them out. Being You Is Great is largely experimental, but it pushes the confines of structure more than it finds anything outside of them, and a lot of the time the tracks barely hold themselves together (“It’s Great to Be”, “The Dreamer in the Den of Wolves”). Other times they mimic old stalwarts and stay in the equilibrium set by underground Detroit rap veterans without incorporating pop appeal or fresh ideas (“I’m That Nigga”). Quelle Chris has made an ambitious project that will likely push him to the forefront of the local scene, but as listening material, it doesn’t quite justify its runtime or the existence of many of its songs. Everything makes a sufficient appearance, but the project is low on energy, and this is ultimately what washes it out.