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Quelle Chris
Innocent Country 2 Michael Appouh , May 13th, 2020 08:31

Following directly on from 2015's Innocent Country, Detroit's Quelle Chris delivers a life-affirming and soul-nourishing epic on sequel Innocent Country 2, finds Michael Appouh

Innocent Country 2 is an antidote. An hour and four minutes of necessary healing. Where Innocent Country’s (2015) tones were pessimistic and internal, its sequel is joyfully defiant. Instead of swearing fealty to the inevitability of an apathetic existence in the American project, here Quelle grabs hold of the crumbling architecture of a nation split with itself and plays with it, hopscotching in and out of its moral caverns and contradictions.

On last years Guns, the Detroit rapper offered us a satirical yet comprehensive polemic on America’s relationship with guns and violence, with tracks like ‘It’s The Law’ and Spray and Pray’ offering some of the most incisive commentary on that very American question, ‘Do guns kill people, or do people kill people?’ With Innocent Country 2, Quelle solidifies his status as the most prescient and vital voice in hip hop today.

Beginning at Innocent Country’s end, ‘INTRO/ReCAP' is Book of Job biblical, with doom-filled and animated contributions including comedian James Acaster recapping the 2015 tape’s themes. Paired with the comparatively cheerful but still melancholic ‘OUTRO/HONEST’, it makes for a wholly satisfying break-up story, with Quelle delightfully reeling off a list of grievances he’s kept close to his chest.

The real first song of Innocent Country 2, ‘LIVING HAPPY’ starts with “I died the other night” but what could have been a trip into grief or pity instead becomes a dance recital live from a backyard cookout. A “cabbage patch” is chased quickly by a “Lean With It, Rock With It” followed by a “Tootsie Roll” and finished with a “Cat Daddy”: an outburst of frenetic movements as flaunted freedom, as resistance and ritual. Every track following it flows with that same kinesthetic possibility, the possibility that death can be a transition from one state to a better one (as on mid-album interlude ‘Ritual’), that work can be an alchemical process of overcoming rather than a process of enforced labour extraction (like on ‘MAKE IT BETTER’, an ode to the black imagination).

Starr Busby glides onto the beat with a radiant chorus, “If I can imagine it better, then it will be better…” holding onto the last note til it comes to a slow fade, letting us ponder on its presence. “Put my hands in the dirt, learn the ways of work, uncover the treasure”. Quelle, too, requires work from us on this standout, his steady and deliberate delivery demands close listening, whilst Chris Keys masterfully offsets the meditative lyrics with a twinkling instrumental loop that hypnotises you.

‘BOTTLE BLACK POWER (BUY THE BUSINESS)’ explores the sin of exploiting the imagination, firmly focusing in on those who try to tap into its power for profit, departing the ever present soft keys on the record for a cacophony of glitching 808s and hi-hats. But even sins have an untapped potential on ‘IC2’, like on the hilarious skit ‘MOMENTS’ where comedian Josh Gondelman tells us we don’t have to make the same mistakes, that we can make new ones instead.

On ‘SUDDEN DEATH’, Quelle is almost jovial about death, floating over the beat in a nasally, juvenile way that brings to mind childhood and transcendence, especially once those harmonies kick in. ‘GRAPHIC BLEED OUTS’, is more sombre in comparison, with Quelle focusing on the necessity of tending to wounds over a wonderfully quaint tune that slowly blossoms into a fluttering flute solo and classic jazz vocal performance from Melanie St. Charles.

‘MIRAGE’ might be one of the most singularly affirming tunes I’ve heard in a long while. The towering features from Earl Sweatshirt and Denmark Vessey uplift; the poignancy of Big Sen’s affirmations linger, becoming more and more important over multiple listens. Quelle’s chorale remind us to move collectively. The slow gospel chords Chris Keys repeats washes over us in gentle tides. It all makes for a visceral, baptismal experience. It’s hard to not feel transformed after listening to it. The necessity to defend our imagination is most vital here, to hold onto the power we have within ourselves to create out of the crisis we find ourselves in. Big Sen’s sermon would be eerily prophetic of our current moment if not for the fact that we are a people always in crisis, under attack from the converging -isms that being black and audacious enough to be alive bring about.

But it’s not work one can do alone, Quelle knows that. He knows it when he rids himself of the unwelcome companion of paranoia that’s stalks Innocent Country, when he instead brings in a gaggle of musicians to feature on this record, when he makes the decision to choose life, to look death in the face and dance in front of it, when he makes peace with the fact that people will always be parched, but says “when you’re swimming in lemons, get em by the throat squeeze ‘em to the pulp and fill a cup of something for the folks.” Us being all we have shouldn’t be a reason to despair; it's a reason to flock together and imagine something better.