REVIEW: Jean Grae & Quelle Chris - Everything's Fine

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Phillipe Roberts

Everything’s Fine worms its way through the current dystopian landscape wielding an infectious, sun-kissed, optimistic flair. Situating their resilience to self-denying dishonesty within patiently nimble bars and beats, Quelle Chris and Jean Grae don’t get hung up on parodying coping mechanisms; these songs are far from lazy social media diss tracks. Instead, the duo handle those anxieties with a refreshing kindness that sparkles in a series of lovingly comical back-and-forth dialogues that challenge the listener to claw back a sense of self. “Fine” is fine, but you can and should be so much more.

In keeping with the loud social messaging of the record, Everything’s Fine calls in a surprising team of comic heavyweights to land the record’s least subtle punches in a series of entrancing skits. The opening is purely the duo, with a cameo by future cyborg “L-Tron 8000,” in a day-time TV game show setting where “there’s only one answer to everything,” but John Hodgman and Nick Offerman weave their way into mix over time, emerging like Public Service Announcements to quell dissenting voices. Hodgman sighs lethargically, but it’s Offerman’s sinister chuckles, explaining to us that “If receiving notifications to the contrary / You might want to mute those channels / Block those callers / Because everything is fine,” that take the cake. The narrative undercurrent is slight. The intention isn’t to smother you with white, male irony. But the presence of their voices is an effective reminder of the pleasing tone that the business-as-usual opposition can strike.

With the stakes established, Grae and Chris are free to become the heroic voices of reason and self-love that we need. The mood swings gracefully between trading breezy, conversational quips and huffing out breathless, hard-nosed reportage from inside the warzone. Hazy lead single “Gold Purple Orange” leans towards dissecting our shared insecurities and bashing those preconceived notions (“Every young nigga gotta deadbeat daddy / Every independent lady attitude trashy,” goes Chris) out of the way with gusto and incisive commentary (“With difficulty comes learnin' / Where typically those less exposed to those burdens / Can flourish without knowin' themselves / Without growin' themselves, without the moments of doubt,” Grae flows). “My Contributions to This Scam” lays shallow platitudes to rest. Grae pushes back against tenuous notions of solidarity: “Yo yo, peace and blessings, peace and blessings, sistar (don't call me that) / Us wombyn gotta stick together, (please no) you know what I'm saying, femme-c?” Chris knocks white N-word normalizers: “Everyone can say nigga, it's two-thousand-and (Thousand-and-thousand-and...)”

Their broadsides against the uneducated and divisive land over and over again, and the two never wither in the heat of ignorance. But where Everything’s Fine could become engulfed in the message, the individuals make time to celebrate themselves. Some of the albums’ strongest tracks wear their boastful colors proudly. The krautrock-infused funk of “Ohsh” finds Chris in top form, bragging that “fans beg him to leak the new heat like Trump staff,” while featuring a playful verse from Hannibal Burress. Grae’s melodic gifts pour over in “Peacock”, where she beautifully solos “I remember two niggas I cut out / The use of technology equal to having a gun out” over a frost-coated instrumental. Across the record, her flows tend to be the more lyrically overwhelming, striking out of nowhere with stunning and occasionally grotesque visuals—“Children called they mamas while they stared at they daddy's entrails / C'mon, how much more evidence you want?” on “Breakfast of Champions” makes the following line, “You think you could use your privilege like a human shield in front?” feel all the more urgent. The two never let themselves disappear into the rush of combating fake news, and assert their own truth as supreme above all. It’s exciting to see this process of healing played out so honestly and with such intensity.

Sliding into your mind just as the summer thaw threatens to consume your attention, the timing of Everything’s Fine’s release couldn’t be better. From the sound of it, Jean Grae and Quelle Chris would want you out there in the sun, living your days to the fullest—resistance is futile without space to breathe. But, like the record, make time to come back to the self, checking in on the state of your soul, and never accept “fine” as good enough.