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​Quelle Chris.

Quelle Chris.

Photo by Saskia Khan. Photo illustration by Srikar Poruri.

Okayplayer Presents Respect the Architect: Quelle Chris

We sat down with prolific Detroit producer and rapper Quelle Chris as he drops an exclusive Okayplayer sound pack co-produced with his longtime collaborator, Chris Keys.

Quelle Chris exists in his own, self-contained galaxy in the hip-hop universe. He knows no other way.

The unconventional rapper, producer, and songwriter has developed an impeccable resume over a lengthy career by crafting textured, complex, and narrative-driven albums. It’s also worth noting that his music is equally loved and embraced by rap purists and genre agnostics alike. Chris comes from a long and distinguished heritage of Detroit rappers where originality, above all else, marks the true timbre of an artist. To kick off the new season of our producer-themed series “Respect the Architect,” we invited him to our Brooklyn studio to talk about his constantly evolving career and the new '90s crime noir-influenced sound pack he’s dropping exclusively with Okayplayer.

The interview transcript below has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Okayplayer: To start off, what’s the fan favorite Quelle Chris project that always gets requested when you perform?

Quelle Chris: That would have to be Being You Is Great. It’s the one people just really love, which is funny, because it was always one of the ones that I really loved too. Til' today, there's not a show I do that someone doesn't come up to me and tell me how that album saved their lives. It’s everyone, from 15 to 70-year-olds, every gender, every identity, every race.

How does that make you feel as an artist to hear that your album made such a difference in people's lives?

I would like to give the political answer and say that it’s all purely positive. But I do think that it's an interesting double-edged sword because this isn't an easy career choice. There's a lot of give and take and it's usually an uphill battle. Sometimes, you’ll be like, “I was struggling all the while I was making it." It's always interesting because that's the beauty of art. It’s that crossroads where healing and hurt and reality and fantasy all come together.

Any other songs or albums in your catalog that surprised you with their success and impact?

I'm always more surprised when things don't resonate. And that's not really a cocky answer, but, there's not too many times I make something that I don’t feel like “this is that shit.” I wouldn't follow through with it if I didn't think that.

Who’s the more fun version of you to hang out with: Quelle the producer or Quelle the emcee?

I've been executive producing a lot lately, just purely hands-on work with other artists. With Quelle Chris the producer, I'll be like, “Yo, let's do this, let's add this, I hear this, I hear that, I see that, I see that.” So to answer the question, it’s probably way better hanging with Quelle the producer - it’s more fun. With Quelle Chris the rapper, you're on rapper time. As the years have gone by, I’ve really started to appreciate the process of taking a lot more time to write, so it’s a more serious side of me.

Who would you say are your top three emcees of all time — the ones who really molded your style?

That’s a tough one. I don't think I could really narrow them down like that. Clearly, there are the people that I'm closest to: guys like Denmark Vessey and Cavalier. And pretty much, you can name anybody from Detroit — from Dilla to Big Tone and Elzhi. My big brother was bringing me the tapes of the early works of all these rappers. It’s a very hard question to answer because I listen to everything. Even lately, I've been inspired by Yeat. I think the best answer is every MC out there. Some of them inspire me to be like them, and others make me think, “I'm never gonna do some shit that wack.”

What did you think about Yasiin Bey criticizing Drake and saying that his music is “not hip-hop?”

I thought that was interesting, given that they're both artists for their time. Drake wasn’t popping when Rap City was popping. But back then, you could turn on Rap City and see Mos Def on there singing. So I do think there is a little bit of hypocrisy there, but also I think there is a misunderstanding about the idea of pop. Hip-hop is a genre, pop isn't a genre. Pop is something that changes with the population. So acts like The Carpenters, Dionne Warwick, Quincy Jones, they all had very popular albums at different times. But people wouldn't say Dionne Warwick is pop, people would say Dionne Warwick is soul.

All respect to Yasiin, but I think discrediting Drake's position in hip-hop is kind of sacrilegious — it's just not realistic. It's not based on reality, because the man can really rap, you know.

Let’s talk about producers — do you have a list of your top three to five of all time?

That’s also impossible to narrow down, because there are just so many. I mean clearly, there are names like Organized Noise, fuckin’ RZA, Dilla — you can't talk about production without talking about Dilla. As far as overall impact, you have to mention Prince Paul.

I could list names forever because we're talking about generations now. The "top five" question made more sense in the ‘90s maybe, because you were talking about maybe one to one and a half generations separated from the beginning of hip-hop. Over the last 10-20 years, it’s really hard to narrow down to my favorite three, five, 15, 20, 100, or 300, because everybody plays their part very heavily.

Is there any dream collab on your bucket list?

Not to sound cocky, but I feel like I’ve got access to all the coldest people right now. But outside of hip-hop, If I could do something with Jonny and Thom York from Radiohead, that would be a dream for me.

What inspired the sound of the beat sample pack with you and Chris Keys being released through Okayplayer?

So going into the beat pack, Chris Keys and I were kind of joshing around — we wanted to do something that kind of felt like a ‘90s gangsta movie, like a New Jack City or something like that. Ultimately, we ended up leaning more towards Asian crime films from that same era, but mixed with American urban films too. Chris and I had talked a lot about doing some sound packs and when the opportunity came to do one with Okayplayer, we were like, “I guess it's time to do it.”

We sat together in the room for a good while, exchanged ideas, and tried to really come up with something that felt unique and different. With a lot of sound packs, there are these particular drums and breaks that are always so simple — it's just so easy to piece them together like a Lego.

What we really wanted to do was have a sound pack that felt like digging. With ours, you get to the composition folder and it just kind of feels like you're digging through some really good rare samples. I want the people who get the pack to feel that same joy of a good digging session.

I didn’t want it to be, “I'm just taking this, dropping this break over it, and now I have a song.” I want to allow people to be a little challenged and have that sense of joy of figuring it out. That's always been where I find the most joy in producing.

What are your thoughts about the online digital beat community in general? What do you love the most about it and any facets you don’t like?

What I love most is the encapsulation of it seeing people keeping that art form alive. It's beautiful to see — the culture of creating and sharing. My only gripe would be the same gripe I've always had. And that’s the gatekeeper idea which leads to over-categorization. It’s certain groups saying things like, “This is only lo-fi, or this is this, or this is that,” and we get so lost in that and forget about the idea of just being like, “This is just good.” Throughout history, the things that have had the greatest impact on every genre of art are the things that there was no name for. By pocketing things into certain areas, a lot of times we miss out on the greatness of what certain things are.

Very well said, so what’s coming next for you in 2024?

Well, I can only say so much, but there's a film in the works — I don't know if it's ever going to see the light of day. Chris Keys and I are finishing our new album. There's an album that's coming out with Fly Anakin that I'm executive producing which is amazing. Homeboy Sandman and I are sitting on a couple of projects too.

Cop the Quelle Chris and Chris Keys Beat Sample Pack here.