Quelle Chris Speaks On Self-Doubt, Trump + Making Drugs [Interview]
Photo of Quelle Chris courtesy of YouTube.
In the age of Instagram, Twitter and inspirational quotes — it is easy to forget that negativity is actually a pretty natural emotion. Positivity cannot exist without it, just like love cannot exist without hate. On his new album, Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often (out today!) — Quelle Chris explores the idea of not necessarily accepting one's flaws, but understanding that it is OK to have them. According to him, we just need to learn how to make them work for us. That is what makes life interesting.
On Being, the project features collaborations from Jean Grae, Elzhi, Denmark Vessey, Roc Marciano and a few others. Quelle invites us to a musical therapy session where he searches for a sustainable balance between self-confidence and doubt. Through self-reflection, humor and honesty — the Detroit rapper reminds himself and us that we're all great not only in spite of our flaws, but because of them.
Our imperfections make us perfect.
In this turbulent political climate, it is essential for us to get our own hearts and minds right before going into battle. We have got to fight our own inner critic before we can even think about fighting the power. Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often is our first therapy session of the new year with Quelle Chris as he discusses the human emotion complex, balancing self-confidence and self-doubt, plus why he chose to focus on himself instead of the orange slice running the White House.
Lastly, watch his brand new video from the project, "Birthdaze," below. Enjoy!
Okayplayer: I read that a real-life discussion inspired the title of this project. Can you elaborate on that?
Quelle Chris: Really the best way to put it is there are times when you're everything, when you're Superman. And then, there are times when you're fucking up. You know a common thing said in those times is like, "Man, how come some days you're doing so great and then like some days you're just fucking up. Why can't you be great all the time? Why can't you just not be fucking up?" So, that is the conversation that led to me sitting and smoking a square. I then said to myself, "Being you is great. I wish I could be you more often," and that is where the title came from.
OKP: So, “Being you is great…” That’s you giving yourself positive self-talk. Telling yourself you’re great?
QC: It is a mix of things. It is complex as human emotion is complex in itself. It starts with you and then it goes [out] to everybody else. On one end, it is me not necessarily calling myself "great," but it is talking to my great self and saying that "you are great." It's almost as if there are two meanings, y'know? At the same you're saying, "Being me is great. I wish I could be you more often," you're outwardly looking at other people who are doing better than yourself—or at least who I feel are doing better than me—and saying, "Being YOU is great."
OKP: Would the world be better if we were superheroes without any flaws or do our flaws balance us?
QC: Of course. Not only do we need them, we can't get rid of them. I think it is learning to work with those flaws and make the most of them that makes life interesting, and y'know, [makes] love interesting, friendships interesting and music interesting.
OKP: How did making this album help you to come to or strengthen that realization?
QC: For a lot of artists, especially me though, there is always a therapeutic side to getting things off of your chest. Just the process of making an album is therapeutic. N****s Is Men happened over the course of a handful of months and that was just us kind of spilling things out. So that was an immediate therapy process for me, whereas this one I have been adding songs over the course of the last three or four years. And with that, I wouldn't necessarily say it is as much the process of making the album as it was a matter of the process of staying alive, sane and happy.
OKP: You said “Making music is therapeutic for artists, especially me.” What did you mean by that? Why do you think it’s more therapeutic for you, personally?
QC: I mean primarily because only I can speak for myself. Only I can imagine how the act of creating is a release, but I [also] know specifically for me it is also just... getting personal stories off your chest. Sometimes it is saying things to people and getting messages out to them. A lot of times it is leaving little messages to myself. I feel like I might've said this to you before, but there are times when I go back and hear certain songs from certain albums, and it allows me to reflect on what was going on during that time. I realize that while I was trying to put a message out there for other people, I was actually leaving a message for myself that I needed [to hear] now more than I needed it then.
OKP: How do you think that making this album helped you balance your self-confidence with your self-doubt? And how do you hope it does that for others?
QC: It's kind of like that classic test they do for couples? "Sit down, write down everything you like about your partner and everything you don't like about your partner." I made this album with that approach, y'know. Being open about things with myself and others leads me to go, "Okay, well, now that I know that I feel this way or that you feel this way — what can we do about that or what can I do to make you not feel that way about it."
I would hope that for others on one end just to be like, 'Oh, yeah. Shit." Because a lot of times, especially with rappers and entertainers in general, [we] have deeper levels of notoriety. People have this idea that everything is just cloud nine. Like we got rap money coming in, we dropping albums and "doing shows," so you gotta be doing good. "I saw you take a trip here, [so] you gotta be doing great." Behind all those great rap stories, there is a human being. I would just like people to listen to the album on a human level, as much as on a rap music level, and just be like, "OK, cool, I can relate to this."
OKP: Do you think the struggle to find a balance between confidence and doubt is unique to or different for creatives?
Quelle: No, I think that’s everybody. That’s why depression exists. That’s why there’s so many emotional based issues. I think where you might find differences is just in your means of dealing with things. For some people it’s taking a vacation. For some people it’s sitting back and blazing up. Some people might be more destructive and shoot up. Some people meditate. But I think everybody deals with it.
OKP: Is this type self-criticism and scrutiny more intense for artists than for others or are we all kinda the same?
QC: I think we're all the same. It depends on the type of artist. With someone like me I want a range of different songs about a lot of different emotions and things—from jovial to serious shit. I think the only difference is that a lot of people can keep it to themselves. Like my job essentially is to express things, and personally, the way I think it is done best with me is to sometimes express things on a personal level.
I would say everybody has these things, but the different for an artist or writer or somebody like that is your job allows you to express yourself to different people. I've worked at a few pizza places, fast food places and all that stuff. When someone would come in and order a burger, I couldn't be like, "Yeah, you know what? I'm going through this..." Those type of jobs don't allow you to express yourself to a bunch of people. So, you end up having to go through it in a different way like therapy and things like that.
I believe that is the key difference. My job includes daily therapy sessions in front of large numbers of people.
OKP: What do you think is the best way to balance our negativity and doubt with bursts of confidence and inspiration? How do we channel all that?
QC: Maybe this is just where I am right now, but I don't think "acceptance" is the right word. I think learning to be not necessarily OK with it, but able to understand that the negative is always gonna be there even if it's not you bringing it to the table. I have this song, "Learn To Love Hate," which sounds negative as fuck, but it's really about learning to be OK with the idea of hating shit. Especially in this age of Instagram and inspirational quotes, where we're taught to love everything, sometimes it's just cool to be like, "No, I hate that shit." The album is about learning to deal with the roller coaster that is life, and understanding that love and hate can co-exist.
OKP: We’ve talked before about how people often think you’re trying to be funny when that’s not your objective. Have you received that type of feedback on this project?
QC: People are always gonna think [that] I'm trying to be funny. I am the type of dude that laughs when I'm pissed off. I know there is a little bit of tongue-and-cheek whenever I deliver anything that I'm talking about, but it is always real. So, with this one, y'know, "Buddies," which is the first single that we put out, it got the reaction that I thought it would.
There were some people that were like, "Yo, this song is fire. This is my motto," and there were some people who were like, "Yo, this is a weird way to talk about yourself. I don't get it." Not everyone is always gonna take everything the same way. There is always things [that] I don't necessarily know how to categorize, so I am just gonna tell you it's funny and leave it at that.
OKP: Right. Well there’s also therapy in putting humor in the things that are bothering us.
QC: There definitely is. Finding the light in it and finding that more conversational part of it [is important], y'know? I have found sometimes too that the best way to pull somebody into something real is to talk to them in just a regular way. If you see everything with this donkey-looking-president that we have, you get a mix of people approaching their angst and frustration with our new leader. These people are just dropping facts and then there are people who are approaching it in a humorous way. You need that mix in order to be able to cope with it and try to start digesting it.
OKP: Speaking of our new president, Why did you decide to focus on yourself + your self-confidence rather than make an album about the Trump’d up system?
QC: There is time for all that. I think for this one, it started before and was done before a lot of people were awakened to the realization that there was a lot more going on in this country than people were willing to accept. I am from the Midwest, I know this forgotten Middle America and I spent a lot of my life dealing with that. I think a lot of people didn't really realize it existed.
But anyway, the reason I didn't really tackle a lot of that stuff was because this album has its own intention. By the time shit had hit the fan, the project was already done. There was also a part of me that was like, "Shit. Now, I gotta give people a whole album of self-reflection and self-worth." There are other things going on in the album, too. You can't fight a war unless you gear up and get your heart in the right place.
It's a piece to add to the overall battle. By getting your heart and mind right before you go out, you're able to sincerely fight the power.
OKP: This album has psychedelia in the production. Can you tell me how/if psychedelics played a role in you gaining this strong sense of self-reflection and self-love?
QC: Did using drugs turn me into the person that I am today? Of course [laughs]. I mean shrooms when taken the right way and with the right mind-state allow you to kind of—well, it's different for everyone. Sometimes it is taking in messages, imagery and things like that, too, and becomes an internal scan of yourself. How these things truly affect you physically and emotionally are major. Other times it is like a cleaning out where by the time you're done with the trip, you're feeling like a whole new person.
OKP: Did the shrooms play a role in this particular process?
QC: I took shrooms during the process of making this album. I wouldn't say it played specifically into this album, but it does play into me being me. I don't make what I make how I make it 'cos of drugs. If anything, I'm making drugs.
OKP: The title of the album explores a sense of vulnerability, the kind that comes with ego death. Do you think you’ve experienced ego death, and if so, does this project tap into that conflict?
QC: The purpose of Being was to say, "It is OK to have [an] ego and it is OK to have humility." It is also about bringing those two extremes together. I wouldn't go so far to say that I have experienced my own ego death, but I think that during the process of [making this album] I've become a self-aware artist. There has been a lot of getting away from the idea of making music in hopes that specific pockets of people will like it. [I believe] it is more about making music and being happy with yourself. So, if that isn't an ego death, but a kick to the ego's shin if anything then it is what it is. If I released this and didn't get any compliments, of course, my ego would be bruised.
OKP: If you could have a top spot on the Billboard charts for the rest of your life or just be financially set for life, which would you choose? The notoriety or the money?
QC: I would say top of the Billboard charts because if I am at the top I have opportunities where I'm already bringing in money. I would take that and it would also open up doors for a lot of opportunities to create platforms for a lot of the other things you want to create, build and bring to people. If I was just getting checks then what does that really do for other people? With Billboard, I get the money, I get the platform and I get the prestige.
OKP: What are some things that your fans would be surprised to learn about you after listening to this project?
QC: I mean I feel like they already know my intention is always to bring something fresh to them, but I would imagine + hope that with every album I bring in new listeners and new ears. So, I would guess that maybe they would be just surprised to learn that I am them or that they are me.
Layne Weiss is a Los Angeles-based author whose work has appeared in a number of publications including LA Weekly, Paper Mag, Wax Poetics and Mass Appeal. You can follow her (and us!) latest and greatest on Twitter @lawflylikepaper.