The hip-hop scene in Chattanooga is full of musicians whose work challenges typical expectations. Whether it’s their predilection for unusual and thoughtful arrangements or the ways they approach ideas from uncommon angles, each artist brings an element of wild experimentalism to their music. Among those who thrive in isolated waters is songwriter and poet Jerison Qualls, who goes by the moniker Qualls as he doles out hyperspecific experiences and ideas within various beat-oriented landscapes.
Currently enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University but calling Chattanooga home, Qualls doesn’t have a lot of music to his name, but what he has released is subtly devastating. On his new single, “Trials,” he builds a fractured melody on which he constructs a segmented hip-hop environment, one that owes as much to the wild rhythms of pop and classic R&B as it does to the harder sounds common to early ’90s rap.
Working through layers of percussive nuance and background complexity, he blends a host of patterns and casual grooves into a coherent musical ideology. Produced by J. Rhodan, the track revels in burrowing piano plinks, atmospheric vocals and ethereal keys. Qualls’ voice is clear, delivering wisdom and warning with every breath. There’s a history acutely detailed in its day-to-day explanations of loss, success and frustration.
Qualls is currently gearing up to release some more songs in the near future, with a view toward sharing his debut EP shortly after that. And if “Trials” and “Nani” (another recent single) are any indications, he’s well on his way to establishing a unique and arresting rhythmic perspective, and he’s now got my undivided attention. Hip-hop is shared experience and emotion, and Qualls paints vivid and moving portraits of the struggle between dark impulses, hopeful optimism and their endless battle for control of the mind.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.