Jean Grae & Quelle Chris Talk Collaboration, Sharing Art, Love & ‘Everything’s Fine’ [Interview]
The recently engaged rap juggernauts, Jean Grae and Quelle Chris, talk about their new project, Everything’s Fine, art, love and more.
From the moment you meet Jean Grae and Quelle Chris you know you’re meeting pure genius talent. Raw, uncut, able to spot the real from the fake — these two have spent years giving fans unabashedly fresh sounds, ill visuals and other forms of media that shows that they aren’t limited to just rap as a vehicle.
Having personally known these two in different ways (Jean from being my first interview and Quelle from brownstone parties in Brooklyn) — I can say from experience that both see things different than your average creative. For Quelle, he can take an impossibly dire situation and still see the silver lining, while Jean can see that same scenario and call out exactly why the B.S. is the B.S. we are experiencing.
They fit like an iron fist in a velvet glove.
Those attributes are also why these two make some pretty dope, albeit surreal sounds with their newest project, Everything’s Fine. Sharing the vocals and production duties, Everything’s Fine is a 15-track effort, which features guest appearances from Anna Wise, Nick Offerman, Hannibal Buress, Denmark Vessey, Michael Che and more. Sardonic, witty, and fueled with black humor, Everything’s Fine enables both Jeannie and Quelle to express other skill sets and abilities.
For the latter, designing intriguing and fresh AF visuals (such as the 16-bit video game inspired music video for “Zero”) is a welcomed sight for a fellow gaming nerd such as myself. And the former gets to be super-ambitious with the rhyme schemes, pairing “tick lyme” and “reticulum” for an example. Or utilizing comic accents that keep the yuks going on choice cuts throughout Everything’s Fine. Quelle and Jean are also great collaborators (in addition to being an engaged couple) and there’s no better track to see this in action than on “Gold Purple Orange”. Quelle adds his own flair and style to Jean’s vivid self-portrait, all the while, we’re along for the ride and never feel like getting off.
I was able to get some time with the dynamic duo to talk to them about Everything’s Fine, what they appreciate in the other when collaborating, why us fans should share this album and not keep it to ourselves, and what the other appreciates in the other.
Plus, you get a chance to stream Everything’s Fine below! So, enjoy!
Okayplayer:Personally, I’ve known both of you guys for quite some time. Jean, it’s no secret that you were my first interview ever as a rap journalist, and Quelle, we would share jokes at the homie Fresh Daily’s house and during his string of parties around Brooklyn. How did you guys originally cross paths? Can you share what your initial thought or commentary about the other was?
Jean Grae: Quelle thinks I don’t remember meeting him for the first time. Which is…only partially true. In my defense, a lot of us met up at a very loud sports bar in Park Slope. Sports bars are very distracting. So many TVs. And, so many rappers that day. Also… magic tricks were being done. However, when we met the second time, we were very fast friends. I thoroughly enjoyed his general vibe and immediately “got” his creativity.
Quelle Chris: We met through a few channels of friends. The first time I met Jean was with my brothers Rio, Fatt Father and MarvWon in Brooklyn. I don’t recall the bar, but we had a great chill night. I remember afterwards talking about how cool she was and jokingly how she ages like a mix of Babyface and Benjamin Button. It really wasn’t until much later that we really connected.
OKP: In presenting this album, Quelle you hit the hammer right on the head with your statement that no matter what one might be going through when asked they’ll more than likely respond with “fine”. What was the moment you had that breakthrough and from there how did you apply that theory to the development of this album?
QC: We were in the lab working late night as usual. I imagine Bae Bro (who recorded and helped mix a lot of the album) asked, “So how’re things?” and Jean said, “Everything’s fine.” Immediately, she said that should be the name of the album since that was the common safe response at the time. It’s late, we’re tired, stressed, but we have work to do and everything’s fine.
OKP: Jeannie, you have released music, created your own web series, kicked arse on Twitter, hopped on stage to deliver jokes and proved to be an awesome jill-of-all-trades. But it all hasn’t been sunshine and puppy dogs, no? Can you talk about how some of the themes this album addresses help you get your thoughts and feelings out? Also, could you talk about what you learned about yourself that you might not have noticed before on other projects?
JG: Well, I don’t think I’m a person that ever has an issue expressing myself. I’ve never held back, whether it be terrible things to tell, or wonderful things to share. What was awesome, was producing for a strictly rap album. Something I haven’t done in awhile. I’ve produced other things, but stayed away from doing whole rap albums in general—besides Isweatergawd.
I also don’t like working as a “team” on anything, but I love Quelle’s mind, so it’s impossible to not make things together. I think it’s the only team I can work in because we’re a life team.
I think any time you start a new project, no matter what it is, you should have evolved. In life and as a person. So I know that my writing is never going to be the same, my arrangements or production is never going to be the same. The stuff I’ve gathered from experience is in it. If it’s not, then you’re doing life wrong.
OKP: The videos for “Gold, Purple, Orange” and “Zero” are wildly imaginative and pretty funkin’ fun to experience. Outside of getting dusted in Street Fighter, Quelle, were there any never-before-told stories about “Gold, Purple, Orange” and “Zero” that you could share with our readers?
QC: Well the Street Fighter story was years before I even met Jean yet alone conceptualized Zero, but it is a great story about my ever aging relationship with gaming. I guess I can say a small moment before starting the “Gold, Purple, Orange” video was when we were in Maine with Hodgman. I was heavy on myself mentally crafting a proper video but in the back of my head I thought, ‘Why not just make a video in the style of the album cover photoshoot?’ I started awkwardly explaining the idea I had to Jean and she asked why not just make a video in the style of the photo shoot. So blah-blah, it just felt good to know that when my brain is doing the most she’s there to be a better brain at times. And vice versa.
JG: Littles was not happy about being in that sweater. At all.
OKP: The Wired feature also hinted that there will be some playable levels in the future from you, sir? So, I must ask you both this very personal, somewhat intrusive question. When did you and to what title did you lose your video game virginity?
JG: Ooh. Umm. Whenever the [Atari] 2600 came out. We actually just shot the next video for “Breakfast of Champions” and my plan was to go get my 2600 out of storage. Time didn’t permit us to do so, but we rented one. It’s still in the house. I just got very frustrated at those stupid dragons in Adventure. Fuck those dragons.
QC: I can’t remember. I would guess it was an arcade game or Atari. I know my early memories of hardcore, personal, I-gotta-beat-this-shit gaming consisted of [Super] Mario, Mega Man, California Speed, etc. A bunch of NES titles from the mid-80s that I was too young to understand that I was too young to understand how to really play. But I remember being ice cold. In hindsight, there’s no way I could have been fucking cold because I was a kid.
OKP: Before we ended the year, we all had some life changing news to share. You both got engaged to be married (congratulations!!!) and I had a kidney match for transplant surgery. With such a history together I have to ask what took so long or better yet what made when it happened the right moment?
JG: Congrats! That’s incredible!!! I don’t know if I can answer that one. I just showed up [laughs]. I’ll say that it was beautiful. Romantic. Poignant. Thoughtful. Funny. Perfect. He did a great job. A really great one.
QC: I don’t know. It was the right moment.
OKP: In the chat you guys had with NPR, Jean you talked about watching Hannibal Buress craft his verse for “OhSh”. Besides the Jameson and gingers, what other elements made the night such a memorable one? Also, can you talk about what the funniest joke told while writing “OhSh”…?
JG: It was just cool to have Hannibal in another element that we all love. He’s good people. Funniest joke? Oh, that’s hard to pin down.
QC: I can’t remember. I was drunk.
OKP: With everything that’s going on that’s clearly not fine (Trump, Stormy Daniels, mailed bombs to black folks, reversal of rights and privileges, etc.) — how did Everything’s Fine the album serve as a stress reliever from the constant reminder that we need to find another planet soon? Also, share your thoughts on whether or not there is a Jean Grae – Quelle Chris ticket on the horizon for City Comptroller and Assistant Comptroller.
JG: I don’t know if it’s a stress reliever. I’m not really one for handling things with escapism. I like confrontation and being in the state of acceptance of the bullshit. Not saying that it must continue, but not running from it either. Running doesn’t help. Sooner or later you have to come back and face the issues. They don’t just go away. I like making people uncomfortable in order to then have to find comfort in that space. That’s important. To say shit straight up. Be blunt. Not everyone is a fan of that… and I’m okay with that too.
QC: Writing has proven to be therapeutic so there’s that. Unless forced I don’t see myself hopping on a rocket to go to another planet with the elite or leftovers of the same people on this planet. That seems pointless unless it’s a matter of resources. Which I imagine you’d have to be in a certain tax bracket to qualify. As far as running for some sort of office, I’m pretty sure no one in their right mind should vote for me to control their well being. I’m a very kind and caring guy but I’m mostly an artist. I make music. Not law.
OKP: From creating albums to audiobooks to entire short films — there’s no shortage of inspiration and perspiration between you two. What do appreciate in each other when it comes to being creative and putting out work to be experienced and appreciated?
QC: She’s really good at what she does. I like people who are really good at being themselves and doing what they do.
JG: His mind. I just appreciate his mind so much. I appreciate his quick pick up on everything. I think the level of heart and soul that comes though in Quelle’s work is so honest. That’s the right word. His work is incredibly honest and brilliant. It’s him all the time. He sees beauty in things that a lot of us don’t. That’s so magical. It’s just a beautiful thing to watch.
OKP: Last question, for those who might just be getting their first taste of Jean Grae, Quelle Chris and Everything’s Fine — how would you sum up what they’re getting themselves into?
QC: Hip-hop. You know? That art form that grew from the need of self-expression. It’s a lot of that. Done well.
JG: We made some art. We made all of it. We’d like our propers. Give them to us. Then go and make some art. That’s what you should get into. Make something that inspires someone to make something else.
Also, don’t keep this a secret. That’s so stupid and I intensely dislike it. Don’t keep good art, good anything a secret. Share it. Spread the word. Stop trying to be niche and cool. Spread the fucking love.
Jean Grae & Quelle Chris’ Everything’s Fine is out and available on all digital platforms. If you really want to hear what you’re getting yourself into, you can stream the album below.