Quincy Vidal began as so many groups do: in art school. Specifically, Le'Asha Julius and Caleb "CE" Eberhardt met in the acting conservatory at SUNY Purchase, and formed a group that they cemented a little while later in a small apartment in Brooklyn. Since then, their three self-released albums, Cookin' In Brooklyn (2010), Sentimental Moods (2012), and Utopia/LDZ (2014), have earned them a following in underground and not-so-underground hip-hop scenes, leading them to gigs opening for the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Talib Kweli.
Now, on their new release, Chi’ren, their backgrounds—the childhoods for which the album was named; Brooklyn, which they now call home; and their studies—all come into play. Their acting experience is particularly apparent in this seven-song EP that runs the gamut of emotions and moods. Julius and Eberhardt are skilled lyricists, singers, and rappers who have the ability to adapt completely with each new and fully-realized song and its narrative.
The EP opens on “Nostrand,” a short track with a ‘90s-feeling sample loop, about hanging out in the neighborhood on a Sunday, then transitions into the jazz-infused “Feelin’ Like,” a flirtatious song so relaxed it sounds straight out of a weekend cypher. The second track takes Nostrand Avenue from the first one and reimagines it for 2016: “Maybe later we could brunch it / I know this spot on Nostrand, got Bellinis,” Julius raps, inflecting with the playfulness of Missy Elliott. From there, “Chi’ren” introduces a heavier tone in Eberhardt’s voice, now a uttering quick, sharp, and lyrical flow, before “Rashee’s Interlude” laments lost youth in spoken-word poetry (“White lies found our lips no longer made of gossamer,” the male voice says, stringing together gorgeous words in an even voice).
In the second half, the fiery melody of “Valentine” reveals both perspectives of a romance gone wrong, while “Tackle Box” lands on a voice somewhere between angry and sad to narrate a story of an absent father. “Home for you must be where your hatred is,” Eberhardt says in one of the standout lines on an album by two people who clearly love language and can wield it beautifully and powerfully.
Each of the tones and voices come to a head in the final track, “Third Rail,” which explicitly addresses the artists’ own adaptability. “I’m trying to be black as Kendrick / Looking like Wiz Khalifa / Hair like a Puerto Rican / Speaking like a school teacher,” Eberhardt begins, laying down his intersectional identity with a series of statements that begin, “I’m trying.” He continues, “Black enough to get shot down in the streets / Light enough to feel guilty not getting stopped by police / Code switching on the bitch / I’m feeling stupid when I do it / Confused because there’s more than one slanguage in which I’m fluent.”
On “Third Rail” and on the entire album, Quincy Vidal aren’t just actors switching between parts, but real people switching between their identities—people who drink Bellinis on Nostrand on Sunday but also fear violence in the streets, who identify with hipsters but who can’t escape the politics of skin tone distinctions, who have BFAs from art school but are a little broke. Engaging in all of these, plus the other woes of the almost-adult world after college, Chi’ren is rich and fully-grown.