|Photo by Ted Soqui|
THE HIP AND THE INFORMED HAVE COME TO regard gangsta rap as an irradicable virus created by fabulously wealthy producers and entrepreneurs, long gone from the ghetto (if they were ever there in the first place), now living in gated communities in Calabasas, pandering to dopey white heartland teens (75 percent of the market, according to Soundscan) who call each other "niggaz," "dawgz," "bitches" and even "killaz." Meanwhile, many folks who really live in the hood huddle in fear of the real-life domestic terrorists who are exalted to sainthood in G-rap mythology for wholesale narcotics distribution and ice-cold recreational slaughter in the same community the rappers claim to be "representin'" and "givin' love to."
If one may draw an analogy between gangsta rap and gangster movies whose auteurs became wealthy by endlessly glamorizing an earlier all-male East Coast coven of murderin' dirtbags then Dr. Dre is Coppola, and DJ Quik (a.k.a. David Blake of Compton) is Scorsese. Like those filmmakers, Quik himself is no G: "A gangster I'm not . . . there's a difference between bein' a thug and bein' down," he once rapped. "I'm a musician . . . who went from rider to provider. Just because I kick it with killaz don't mean that I do it."
During a recent cell-phone conversation, Quik offers the stock rationalization for his chosen profession: "Every neighborhood has people that get murdered. I lost a lot of friends, too. That's life, and you can't change that. No effect of the music I do will affect somebody. If somebody wants to kill somebody, they gonna kill 'em."
Now 32, Quik has seen it all since his teens: gang rumbles (during a brief fling with the Treetop Piru Bloods); diss wars (his MC Eiht face-off back in '96 ended with somebody getting iced at El Rey); the horrors of the music biz; and the pointless assassinations of a collaborator (MC Mausberg) and two mentor-idols (Jam Master Jay and Roger Troutman).
"It sucks," says Quik. "[Jay's death] reverberated into all branches of hip-hop, man. You'd think that somebody would have more respect for him, for what he brought into the world of hip-hop. Because of Jay, I wanted to be a DJ. Every time I perform live, whether it's an arena with 20K people or just a club with a few hundred, I ask for a moment of silence out of respect."
A brilliant DJ, musician, producer, writer, rapper and craftsman of the funk, as well as a family man (he has a wife and two young daughters), Quik is as much an architect of the classic West Coast G-sound as Dre and the entire extended LBC Dogg pack who took over the airwaves during the '90s, recycling sleek George Clinton and Roger Troutman grooves while tapping the best new digital technology. At the same time, the movement created a new hip-hop archetype: super-rich big-time lab-rat "studio gangstas" who live quiet home lives, driving their kids to private schools between recording sessions, where great music is created to accompany rhymes about localized terrorism, the nurturing of addiction, child murder, prostitution and the degradation of the people they left behind in the ghetto for the entertainment of individuals who live everywhere else. But Quik was the sunny side of Compton, writing about hoo-bangin' and loc-in' in the park while Cube and N.W.A rhymed about desperation and death.
"Things haven't changed," says Quik, his voice gurgling from his cell phone like an underwater Darth Vader. "We here to sell records the more rugged and raw, the more popular it is."
DJ Quik is arguably the best documentarian of the West Coastin' rap scene, both lyrically and sonically. His sharp, clipped rapping voice, as much as Cube's, Dre's, Eazy-E's, Snoop's or Nate D's, has pervaded hip-hop's consciousness of Los Angeles for over a decade. His yarns, Eazy-E-inflected but without the nasal, helium-high Joe Pesci tone, are concise, detailed, reflective, "journalistic" in many ways, rhymed from the perspective of an observer over the sleaziest, filthiest, dopest, most booty-to-the-sky bass and keyboard riffs you'll ever hear.
The new Best of DJ Quik (Arista/BMG Heritage), technically his seventh album as a solo artist (he's been involved with 75 albums total), is a greatest-hits comp covering an 11-year career from '91 on his first serious retrospective. It's dominated by monster grooves, most played by a group of ace musicians including Dante Blake, George "G-One" Archie (vocals, various instruments); Lasalle Gabrielle, David Foreman (guitar); Robert "Fonksta" Bacon (guitar, bass); Charles "Chaz" Greene (flute); Warryn Campbell, Kenneth Crouch (keyboards); Alex Dunbar, Del Atkins (bass); and Crystal Cerrano, Dionne Knighton, Gary Shider (background vocals). Since Quik rarely samples, his secret weapon is precision musicians so lethal they make people literally take off their clothes in public as I'll explain in a moment.
Whatever your reasons for buying in, Best of DJ Quik is a transcendent anthology written and produced by a pure (if controversial) artist created by the environment in which he once lived. Quik frequently mentions actual dates, and raps about real places and real people, like the episode at El Rey or the killing of Notorious B.I.G.
"I'm a dramatist and an actor," he says. "My writing is like a visualization of my stories. They're projected scenes, like in a movie."
AS ONE WHO OFTEN WORKS as a proletarian mobile/club DJ, I've found Quik's music to be the fulcrum of certain events I've been overpaid to rock. On the Bel-Air party-slut circuit, for instance, I've seen women doff their clothes in front of everyone to the sound of Quik's colossal dopeness. Then there was the time when a drunken woman hiding in a closet behind my decks lifted her miniskirt up high while waggling her tongue at me as I was trying to tend my mixer. Sure enough, another classic Quik take was working its spell.
The joints in question were "Dollaz and Sense" and "Pitch In Ona Party," both certified booty-call standards that show up on Best of DJ Quik. Then you get with "Down, Down, Down" and "You'z a Ganxta" and "Hand in Hand" and "Trouble," plus a bunch of other radio megahits. This collection contains maybe six killer tracks, rounded out by a few duds (inevitable), plus two brand-new joints. And: no lame-shit sketches between tracks!
After my DJ gig, I drive down the hill back to reality, my pockets stuffed with an extra grand in C-notes bestowed by enthralled male guests wanting me to play MORE QUIK. Pandering to the rich with gangsta rap I feel so cheap. And temporarily, so expensive.