On Sunday, March 31st, Nipsey Hussle, a champion of Los Angeles hip-hop and recent feature on YG’s celebrated “FDT,” was fatally shot six times in front of his store, Marathon Clothing. To make matters worse, he was scheduled to have a conversation with the LAPD and Roc Nation on the subject of gang violence in Los Angeles later this week.

According to a New York Times article from this past December, nearly 40,000 people died from gun violence in 2017: the highest rate in over 50 years. It’s one of the nation’s largest epidemics, and if you still think it won’t affect you, type your zip code into this Slate map from 2016 to see all of the shootings that occurred in your area. As relatively safe as where I live is, Slate still reported 34 shootings within a mile of my apartment back in 2016.

The gun crisis is the center of New York-rapper Quelle Chris’s new aptly-titled record, Guns, out on Mello Music Group (the same label that reps sonically similar minded artists such as Oddisee and Open Mike Eagle), and the single/title-track boasts the chorus “I be in your city, coming to a city near you,” mimicking a common advertisement slogan in order to describe the effect of gun violence in America.

The genius of Guns, and Quelle Chris, however, is that he’s able to take the concept a step further. Gun violence is an easy topic, it’s everywhere in rap, let alone the world, and every track on the record, such as “Mind Ya Bidness” or “It’s the Law,” can be read with that headspace. Quelle Chris’ Guns functions as a multi-faceted work; however, as much as one can take away themes of the role guns play in our society, one can also see Quelle Chris struggling with who he wants to be as a musician.

“We as artists are often weaponized,” Chris told FLOOD, “We are weapons, we are guns.” Throughout the record he questions, “How do we choose to use this weapon that we brand? Do we use it to protect people and bring awareness to good things? Or do we use it to shoot people down.”

Like a gun, music (and art in general), is a powerful force, and in the wake of tragedy after tragedy of gun violence, Quelle Chris battles the morality of hip-hop, whether to, as he says, use his music to “protect people and bring awareness,” or “shoot people down” by making hard-hitting, gangsta-rap.

“My music helps a lot of people but it can also be used for dudes trying to jump somebody or something,” Chris explained. “I can help someone make it through the day or my music can be used for robbing. That’s the core question of this record.”

Quelle Chris doesn’t have the answers, the nation’s problems would already be solved if he did, but throughout Guns, he presents a lot of questions regarding how we interact with words and the affect they have on the listener. What’s the best way for an artist to use their words, and if we knew, would it be possible to have a serious discussion about gun violence?

What do you think? Drop your thoughts in the comments below.