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Baker's Dozen

Bon Appétit: James Acaster's Favourite Albums
Emma Garland , February 9th, 2022 10:36

From the tiny emo scene of noughties Kettering to a love of underground hip-hop and the undying appeal of a cult classic, comedian James Acaster takes Emma Garland through the albums that have defined his life


Jean Grae & Quelle Chris – Everything’s Fine

Everything I say that I love about Madvillainy is present here. It’s unorthodox all the way through. They're not trying to make it sound pristine, but as a result it sounds perfect. The beats being quite lo-fi are still really well selected and well put together. It’s not super polished and clean, which I think would ruin it. Their rapping styles contrast each other perfectly. They’re two of my favourite rappers of all time, and they have different styles so it's really satisfying to hear them take it in turns to do the same hook, and hear how Jean Grae is very precise and tight and then Quelle Chris will loosen it up a bit more. I didn’t know they were a couple when I first listened to it, but you can tell by the way that they work together. They’re never doing the same thing, they’re like ‘you’ve got that and you’re really good at that, and I’ll do this because I’m really good at this, and together we’ve got everything covered’.

They're both great with themes on all their solo albums and carrying them through, and the theme of this one is great too. The whole idea of saying that we all have to say that we’re doing okay when we’re not, and everyone pretending the world’s alright when it clearly isn’t, and the way they attack that from every angle: race, gender, class. I love how they take that phrase ‘everything’s fine’ and rinse it for all its worth, until they’ve got everything out of it by the end of the album. It’s one of those alternative rap albums that doesn’t neglect melody, either. There are hooks on every single song, both in the instrumentals and in the vocals, that are so good I look forward to listening to them.

Jean Grae's not really done anything since, which is cool because she can do what she wants and she’s writing a lot of comedy I think for TV and different things. But as a fan I’d love another Jean Grae album. I think she’s one of the best rappers ever and someone who hasn’t been appreciated enough – yet. But if she’s not going to do anything else then I think this album is a really good send-off, because she’s so good on it. She doesn't drop the ball once. She's funny and thought provoking and her flows are amazing. Everything about her performance is so good. It represents her and her entire career that she’s built really well.

Quelle Chris I’ve been a fan of since Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often, which was my introduction to him and I really loved that and how idiosyncratic it was. Quite unexpectedly, I’ve been able to appear on two of his albums – doing monologues that he’s sent me to read, and having to remind myself that he’s asking me to do this because I’m a comedian, so not to worry about sounding cool. Like, ‘you’re not being booked for this because you’ve got a super smooth buttery voice, you’re booked because you sound like a weirdo, so just speak it in your normal voice and don’t worry about it.’

There’s this indescribable tone and mood to Everything’s Fine that I haven't found in any other rap album, where everything – the concepts, the production, the personalities – combines to make something that sounds like a human being in and of itself. It sounds like the whole album has this distinct persona that I can't find anywhere else. I like the fact that they haven’t gone back to it and tried to do it again. Quelle Chris has continued to progress as an artist, and Jean Grae has continued to progress as an artist outside of music, and they just continue to move forward and this was a thing that they did.

A lot of the albums I'm listing have this alchemy to them where it feels like they’ve just conjured it up out of somewhere and it’s maybe bigger than the artist themselves – like they’ve been able to get it from some sort of muse or somewhere else. I don’t know how you would sit down and deliberately make this album and have it be as human as it is, and speak to the soul as much as it does. I don’t even believe in the soul, but that’s how it feels. I really hope it doesn't get forgotten about and, over the years, finds its way on onto those ‘best underground rap album’ lists that I found Madvillainy on. There’s very few hip-hop albums in recent years that I’ve felt that way about – last year’s Injury Reserve album, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream by Open Mike Eagle, all the ones I’ve talked about on the 2016 podcast, obviously all of JPEGMAFIA’s stuff, but he’s not in any danger of being forgotten. But I still don’t think Everything’s Fine got as much credit as it deserves for how good it is and for how individual it is.