One half of Crown Nation, Detroit spitter/producer Quelle Chris (@quellechris) does double duty as minimal synth one-man band Awesome in Outerspace and a zonked-out rap wonderkind with a lot to say for himself. His excellent album Shotgun and Sleek Rifle got substantial burn around these part. Since we already got him on the line for our “XXX” feature, we chopped it up on the subject of whiskey, musical chemistry and his production secrets. Follow along. —Aaron Matthews
When was Shotgun and Sleek Rifle recorded?
All this year. I told my homie John I could have a classic album in three weeks and that’s what I did. Minus “Mo Money, Less Problems” and “The Loop”, ‘cause I recorded them ahead of time. My homeboy Detroit Dante hopped on “Mo Money” first but I ended up going with Denmark. That song “The Loop” made me want to start working on the album. It started with that sample that made me want to make the record. I was sitting on the porch looking out on Oakland and the beat was playing and it just came to me. From that whole line, it just kinda poured out.
Was the process different from Blue Mondays and the Crown Nation album?
The situation is different but the process isn’t different. I’m really adamant about a natural process, a natural birth. I wait until the day I have to go in to record. Like Blue Mondays, I recorded in Detroit in my mom’s basement. Slutbag Edition I recorded at the old studio before it burned down. A lot of those albums we recorded we were there; we just played the beat, wrote the song and recorded it. We wouldn’t give it time to marinate so it wouldn’t get too much time to get too contrived or sterilized. I would choose a couple beats I knew I wanted to do, and the day I had to go to the lab, I would just write up the songs raw.
When you’re a rapper, if you’re just a rapper, not like me. And you get beat tapes and you hear the beat, you initially get this juice. But when you sit and listen to it forever, you start to think and get the setup of the song. Then you start thinking, “Will people receive it right?” We just dive right in. Even with [my rock band] Awesome In Outerspace , there are songs I really want to go on the new album. I think maybe there are lines I want to come in at the beginning so it has a more acceptable structure. But the original recording is better because it’s not a over-thought approach.
A lot of verses on this album feel off-the-cuff.
That’s important, that’s where you get the best stuff. I was listening to a beat somebody sent me, me and [my brother] Mosel were on the phone. Over the phone Mosel was like, “that don’t sound bad”. Because hip-hop is so infused into the new generation, hip-hop is in their DNA. Good music is the easiest thing for me to make. Good music is like bad music to me, it’s gotta be something a little more special. When you go with that raw, immediate feeling, you feel it. A lot of music nowadays is a product. Like if you getting Shamwow, you getting Shamwow.
Roc Marciano, who’s also on the record has a similar writing style.
When you hang around Roc Marcy and then hear Roc rhyme, it’s the same person. It’s how he talks. I think I had heard “Panic” around the time I met him. [DJ House Shoes] was like, “You need to holler at Roc. I really fuck with his music”. I listened to a couple songs, heard “Panic”, that shit was mean. The reality is we kicked it. We got to know each other as people before we started politicking about music. Same thing for Danny Brown. You get amazing music because it comes from real chemistry. I would rather have a handful of features from people who I feel I really work with than a billion features from the greatest artists in the world.
Why do you work so well with Danny?
The stuff I prefer, the things you’ll see me choose for myself, it’s usually more simplistic. The reason the songs work, is that the beats can carry their own weight. There’s gotta be a sharing of the stage for it to come together. It just works out. When we first hooked up, he was making hard shit, that’s the shit I prefer. I like music that’s funky. [Danny and I] have that same mentality, like our music has to be better than everyone else.
Does that theory apply to production as well?
For the Awesome In Outerspace project, either the verse will come to me and the music will come to me, or [vice versa]. Then I sit down and actually make it. Sometimes you’ll have a sample you’ve been sitting on forever and you’ll be walking around and all of a sudden it’ll just click. You’ll be humming it, and suddenly what needs to be chopped and what needs to be used will just click. Sometimes you think about it ahead of time to an extent but I take the same approach for the sampled and non-sampled beats. I just dive in and let nature take its course [laughs].
What’s your production set-up?
I got the Arturia keyboard, a small MIDI keyboard with the wood panels and shit. I got a couple of MIDI triggers I don’t use that often and then I got Reason. Reason’s basically been my favourite of whores since 2000-something. I started with the SP 202. I got my laptop which….Whoo! Let me throw a blessing on it and cross my chest but it still hasn’t died on me. Because I literally bring that with me everywhere and I treat it like a piece of shit. There’s people who’ve done photoshoots with me that focus on just the laptop itself for 30 minutes because the Macbook is literally the most weird, beat-up Macbook in the world. I got Band-Aids over holes in it. I really put that motherfucker to work. Reason, my laptop, a record player and any MIDI controller and I’m good.
Shotgun and Sleek Rifle has got a slightly different sound from your previous projects. “The Sly”’s got a Madlib feel to it.
That’s some minimal wave band, don’t remember the name off the top of my head.
What dictates how you use a sample?
I dunno, I think you obtain your own ear. When I would go with Roc to a record store, he’ll walk in and walk out with a billion records. He just has an ear. But he doesn’t listen for the same stuff I listen for and vice versa. I listen to the whole song because you never know what you’ll find. I don’t mean this in a selfish way but I always just listen for I’d rap over. I usually go for delf and pass over everything else. I just try to find what I feel is the funkiest moment in the record.
I never just listen for what I think I might use because I pass on a lot of things. I’ve hit up YouTube for songs I’ve wanted. With the sources we have, it’d be silly to not use ‘em all. It’d be like someone asking you to fix their Prius and coming over with a screwdriver and a wrench. You can’t fix a hybrid car with a screwdriver and a wrench. With the tools that exist, you get a lot of laziness. You get a lot of loop diggers who just look for records that sound good looped. There’s an art to it I can’t explain, you just gotta find your ear and know what you’re looking for. I look for off breaks, funky drums, funky bass lines. When I take what I want, I like to utilize it on an offbeat.
You sample a lot of odd dialogue samples, what attracts you to these clips?
Those are the last pieces I add. I’ll do a rough version of how I want the songs put together, like I’ve done for all the albums. I’ll put the songs in order the way I want ‘em. Then it works out itself. I’ll look for things to fill the places that need to be filled. I know what I need and things just fall into place. With “Know The Enemy” and the part before “Mo Money, Less Problems”, it just worked. I never question it.
The album also has a strong thematic glue in songs like “The Crook (The Enemy)” and “Slaves”.
Outside of the fact that no one does skits anymore, I know a lot of artists try to over-cohesify their album. I just try to think about songs I really like, I don’t care if there’s slow parts to the album. If you put an album on random, you would always go to a song you really like. I did the same thing, only took great songs. Wasn’t worried about them being cohesive, I’m more concerned about having a flawless track record. If they’re all solid, I just think about making them branch together.
If you’re making a sad song, and you’re sad, then that’s going to be the best sad song in the world. If you’re making a sad song just ‘cause you need a sad song for the album, then that’ll be fake. The Son EP I did in one day, minus one song. And I had a gallon of whiskey and I was talking shit, that’s what The Son sounds like. Same with Shotgun and Sleek Rifle, and that’s just how they turn out. Like me. I’m a pretty likeable person so it works! [laughs]