Let’s just go ahead and get this out of the way right now: Everything isn’t fine. In fact, it’s looking pretty bleak. America can’t break itself out of a cycle of gun violence, one which disproportionately affects Black communities, and there’s little hope in the short term of the U.S. government making a change to anyone’s lives for the better. It’s a system run by the worst people, for the worst people, and it’s going to be that way for a while. So it’s more than understandable if people are desperate for some kind of new age self-care “Serenity Now!” regimen to wean them off of the endless cycle of panic. Jean Grae and Quelle Chris offer just such a moment of soothing affirmations on new album Everything’s Fine, guided by the perfectly calming voice of Parks and Recreation‘s Nick Offerman. But it doesn’t take long until his spa-day voice over turns absurdly cynical: “You don’t have to do anything about issues that don’t affect YOU—why would you?… These things figure themselves out. Don’t say anything.”
The intent behind Everything’s Fine should be clear based on the guests that crop up throughout its 15 tracks: Offerman for one, The Daily Show‘s John Hodgman is another, and Hannibal Buress—who proved his rap cred on Open Mike Eagle’s “Doug Stamper“—offers up a spectacular verse of his own. The belly laughs are in ample supply throughout Everything’s Fine, but they’re almost always followed by a heavy sigh. The best satire is that which cuts close to the bone, and while Jean Grae and Quelle Chris are quick with a punchline, a pun or clever wordplay, the underlying message is essentially the title’s antonym: Shit’s fucked.
It’s not always fucked in the most catastrophic ways, however; the space funk of “My Contribution to This Scam” finds the life and rap partners mocking one tired trend after another, from early ’90s conscious rappers (“I’m wearin’ overalls one shoulder off, Dwayne Wayne flip glasses”) to YouTubers (“You contributed not a thing—did I stutter?“). There’s a more sinister underlying theme to “Gold Purple Orange,” which finds the duo shooting down closed-minded “conventional wisdom,” Chris positing “Every mixtape gotta be free/ Everybody from the hood gotta be G” in one moment, only to ask “Everything in the news gotta be real, right?” in the next. But things get pretty dark, too, Chris asking “Why we singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ in the 2000s?” on “Breakfast of Champions,” a sobering meditation on police shootings and institutionalized racism.
The pendulum swings pretty far from absurdist parody to incisive social commentary on Everything’s Fine, but it’s all tied together by a consistent stream of incredible production, primarily provided by both Jean and Chris themselves. “Zero” is driven by a psychedelic buzz, while “Scoop of Dirt” balances Madlib-style chop edits with the recurring hilarious sound of Rocky & Bullwinkle villain Boris Badenov asking, “Whaaat?!” And standout single “OhSh” follows a tumbling fusion-funk bassline—occasionally interrupted by the sound of state Sen. Clay Davis’ catchphrase “Sheeeeeeit“—that provides a suitably trippy backing for Buress’ comic stunting: “I ain’t got a fur coat, I got a book bag full of Merlot/ I’m lyin’, I ain’t got no fuckin’ Merlot/ But I do want a fur coat.”
Amid the skepticism, ridicule, satire and heavy sighs, there’s still hope on Everything’s Fine‘s last track, “River.” Elegantly adorned by gorgeous string samples, the track offers a sober perspective that emphasizes the importance of pushing on in the face of adversity: “I’ve seen you die a thousand times and be reborn as something new…We maintain, with no regrets to proudly claim.” This isn’t an album about platitudes or reassurances, but of finding a therapeutic outlet through artistry. Through heavy hearts, vibrant production and lyrical wit, Everything’s Fine makes the world a little more bearable, at least for one hour at a time.
Buy this album at Turntable Lab
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.