Beneath The Surface: Phonte, Jean Grae & Quelle Chris, & CZARFACE & MF DOOM

Man… what the hell took so long?

The month of March didn’t really have any noteworthy releases, but I don’t focus on just that aspect of the genre… aka what the general public want. From where I sit, March was loaded with incredible efforts, as many of my favorite rappers re-emerged from long-term hiatuses. Up until a couple days ago, I had absolutely no idea which albums I was going to cover for this feature. I wish I could tell you about them all, but due to the criteria I set for this, I can only do three. Two favorites and an honorable mention.

So, quick shout-outs to Murs, Apathy, Dessa, Roc Maricano. & Jericho Jackson (the duo of Elzhi & Khrysis). I am looking forward to re-listening to your joints, because there can always be a shakeup to my best of the year. Alright, now that that’s out of the way, Here are three albums that are “Beneath The Surface” of Hip-Hop that you all should buy/stream on your downtime when you have worn that new Cardi B album out! Here we go!

Phonte – No News Is Good News

I find it an injustice that Phonte to this day is criminally slept on. Hell, I will be surprised if Saule & King Jerm knew this came out and they’re Tigallo stans (at least I think they still are….confirm please?)

Anyways, this joint right here, this is the epitome of grown-man rap, or Adult-Contemporary Hip-Hop (according to Charlamagne tha God… you face-bleaching bastard.)

“Expensive Genes” and “Cry No More” are songs that hit hard for an aging Hip-Hop head as myself, because on one hand, “Expensive Genes” acts as a call out to us as Black men, that as we get older, we have to start watching our health more. I’m in my thirties and I am beginning to feel the effects of not watching what you eat, what you drink, not exercising right and hearing lines such as “digging a grave with your teeth” or “a waistline that will rip the seams”, I am constantly frightened by the idea that last bite of a steak can be my last or becoming so overweight that I can fit my favorite jeans. If the losses of Phife Dawg, Prodigy, and recently Combat Jack are any indication, take care of yourselves people, for real.

Then there’s “Cry No More”. A tale in learning to not make the same mistakes that your parents have. Living without a father figure, learning about life by watching your parents and the things they do, even though their actions have consequences and living life to the fullest before that impending death that will eventually catch up to us all.

A lot of the album gives me more of a Foreign Exchange vibe. The beats are more vibrant, richer and soulful than the sample-heavy boom bap 9th Wonder would bring on Little Brother albums. Not that I have a problem with it, it can just get monotonous over time.

While it is just as short as Charity Starts At Home, this is vintage Tigallo, self-deprecating humor about the highs and lows of life with occasional barbs at a wack emcee or two. Right now, I can’t say this is my album of the year, but it sure has the potential to be.

Jean Grae & Quelle Chris – Everything’s Fine

The first ever husband/wife collaboration in Hip-Hop!!!

If you’re counting Cardi B and Offset…two words….*DX crotch chop ensues*

Jean Grae is someone I have followed and have adored since her 9th Wonder-helmed project Jeanius and my favorite out of her catalog This Week. Not to mention her Talib Kweli co-sign in the mid-2000s (that lead to NOWHERE might I add!), while on the other hand, Quelle Chris, I have listened to a couple of his songs and projects here and there but nothing really stuck out like THAT. Although many of my friends keep recommending his album from 2017 to me.

These two got together and created an off-the-wall yet discomforting record that I’ll even admit, it took MANY listens for this to latch on like Venom’s symbiote. I really hope I got that reference correct.

The whole theme of this album is that…well….everything’s fine?….*fake smile intact*

The tandem addresses the Hip-Hop culture, politics, systematic oppression/racism and humanity among other topics, while they weave dry humor into a combination of Jean’s technically-crafted but heavily layered verses and Chris’s offbeat, scatter-brained delivery. The production is a perfect blend of Jazz Rap and other experimental ideas that you would normally expect throughout Quelle Chris’s discography. They even got Hannibal Buress to spit some struggle bars.

Two highlights from this are “My Contribution to this Scam” where they are poking the proverbial bear at trend-hoppers and other discerning mentalities throughout the culture, that create what we call…..hives? With “Scoop of Dirt” being a close third due to mainly the Your Old Droog verse, “Zero” ultimately takes the runner-up spot, with Jean being just as brash as she’s ever been, with one line in the third verse, responding to fans asking where she’s been and her answer being, “I never left, stupid!”

As I said, you’re not going to get it within the first couple of listens, but when it hits, it hits and with both their brutal honesty and dry humor, it is an enjoyable listen when it does.

Honorable Mention: CZARFACE & MF DOOM – Czarface Meets Metal Face

There is not much of a theme to this project, there’s nothing new or groundbreaking under the sun, especially if you have followed both artists’ longstanding careers. This is really just something to enjoy for the dope beats and the witty bars coming from the trio of Inspectah Deck, Esoteric and rap’s favorite villain, MF DOOM, with 7L on the production.

“Phantoms” is my favorite track off the album, due to a show-stealing verse from Open Mike Eagle bookended with a beat switch and a gritty INS bars and a technically satisfying verse by Eso.

The faults I have with this is that, with CZARFACE being, I suppose the hero and DOOM of course being the villain, I don’t think they played to that concept much. As I mentioned before, there is not much of a theme or concept, it’s just three motherfuckers rapping. Hell, I don’t even think DOOM wanted to be there half the time, he sure as hell sounded like it…(if DOOM was even there at all….)

All in all, this album is great for the bars, the DOOM-influenced production is dope also, but so many…SO MANY ideas were missed for this one. Just saying.

Well there you have it! Those are my picks for the March edition of Beneath the Surface. April is already looking stacked so I got a lot of work to do. Hopefully this time, I won’t be as late as Cardi B’s period but I will be back quicker than Drake comes up with a plot to manipulate women through music. Be back next month with more joints and less Cardi jabs!….STATIC…OUT!