A dose of hip-hop escapism that knows how far it can go before it needs to reel itself back in.
Full of sarcasm from the jump, Everything’s Fine, the joint hip-hop album by Jean Grae and Quelle Chris, starts with a game-show host introducing her contestants, whose profiles get more and more depressing. “How are you doing today,” she asks Jess, a cat lady with a fine-arts degree who’s been unemployed for 15 years. The album title becomes the skit’s punchline and the record’s central concept as the duo constantly revisits the dark irony behind the cliché.
Humor isn’t new for Grae and Chris. The rappers (and real-life couple) deal with thoughtful introspection through their own idiosyncratic styles: Grae flexes a series of internal rhymes while Chris drifts aloof on his own set path. And they use their sense of humor to bring their head-in-the-clouds raps back down to earth. For instance, “Fuckery Level 3000” from Grae’s second EP of her Gotham Down series featured an office-therapist character to anchor run-on verses. Meanwhile, “Buddies,” from last year’s Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often had Chris stretch out a one-liner joke about loving yourself to a full stoned-out song.
Playful as they begin, the duo quickly gets serious to rap about how things aren’t exactly going alright. “My Contribution to This Scam” calls out the players of the game who give little respect to the culture they profit from, and the two act out several different characters in between their verses to show exactly who they’re talking about: “Old school, I sooo respect it,” Grae mocks with a Valley Girl drawl. Yet the real joke comes at the expense of the rappers as well with Grae, in character, dumbfounded from the reality that a rapper doesn’t necessarily make a lot of money.
The structure of Everything’s Fine recalls early De La Soul records, with freewheeling verses interspersed by sketches for which the duo call upon actual comedy stars. Actor John Hodgman and SNL mainstay Michael Che continue the album’s joke by speaking as hallucinatory voices reminding that “everything’s fine, man.” Park & Recreation’s Nick Offerman lets that same punchline land with impact through his signature dry delivery. “You don’t have to do anything about issues that don’t affect you,” he chuckles, and the intended sarcasm is thick enough to send chills.
Through skits and raps, Grae and Chris use the album as a platform to discuss complacency at large. The paranoid “Zero” has Grae pointing her finger at the rubberneckers who might snarkily ask, “what happened to Jean Grae?” She reminds them she has not lost a step with her rapping, but she also flips the script to make them reflect upon their own cheap take. Their lack of support hurts the music and will lead to Grae’s demise if they continue to ignore her work.
These vital points share equal space with creative forms of braggadocio. As the duo sheds light on the ills of the status quo, they take delight twisting phrases into fancy knots and sneakily tucking in cultural references. Each song admittedly throws a lot of information, whether in name checks or deep thoughts woven together in complex arrangements. But their unique styling is more the hook for closer listening than a barrier to entry.
Grae and Chris don’t try to convince anyone, even themselves that the album title might hold a bit of truth even by the end of the record. Despite the cynicism and dark humor present, though, Everything’s Fine ends on a rather sincere note. “Waiting for the Moon” may still be a blunt reality check, but the duo provides just enough hope to inspire others to push it along for one more day. Like their collaborative album as a whole, it’s a dose of hip-hop escapism that knows how far it can go before it needs to reel itself back in.