Innocent Country, the 2015 collaboration between Quelle Chris and producer Chris Keys, signaled a noticeable shift from the stoner-boast verses that were the rapper’s stock-in-trade to that point. The album was introspective and ruminative, and Quelle’s writing unflinchingly stared down life’s darker corners. Now, five years later, that sharp, insightful approach has come to define Quelle Chris records to such a great degree that Innocent Country 2—a sequel to the album that kickstarted this phase of his career—feels like a counterpoint as much as a counterpart.
If the first Innocent Country was compellingly downbeat, IC2 recognizes the need to break out of that frustration to find solace in human connection. The moments of graceful tension in Keys’s productions add subtle shading to even the album’s brighter moments—his distorted-tape pianos and middle-distance drums feel like a deep gaze across a distant memory—and a spirit of togetherness, whether it’s in the ancestral recall of the Dr. Tennille feature “Ritual” or the social-media confab “Black Twitter,” is as present in the lyrics as it is in the album’s sprawling guest list.
But it’s Quelle’s strengths as an MC—both in writing and in flow—that carry the record. He’s sanguine in the face of pressure, whether he’s venting about a bad relationship in order to put it behind him (“Outro/Honest”), trading odes to storm-weathering strength with Cavalier and Homeboy Sandman (“Sacred Safe”), or radiating sincerity while searching for faith (“Graphic Bleed Outs”). His presence creates a sense of camaraderie through shared anxiety; his comic cynicism is still rich with humanity, and he’s self-effacing in a way that’s relatable instead of gimmicky. And he delivers all of it with the kind of conversational ease that inspires head nods that are as much in recognition as they are in time with the beat.