The arrows of the Almighty are within me. —Job 6:4
David Blake is the name. Quik is the legend. Job is the parable.
Choose your cycle: the bloodbath of crack-era Compton, the warfare with siblings and rap rivals, the accidental tragedies and closed-casket funerals, the vodka bottles and the label squabbles, the traumas witnessed and the reverberations absorbed.
Like most redemption stories worth telling, this one starts with the lowest point: solitary confinement in the West Valley Penitentiary, where for most of the sweltering summer of 2006 DJ Quik contemplated the cruel arc of his rise and fall.
This wasn't supposed to happen. Twenty years ago, Quik was the Piru Blooded G-Funk pioneer: a Jheri-curled, Compton-hatted, gangsta rap Apollo. He called himself "America'z Most Complete Artist" and had the chops to prove it. He produced, engineered, rapped and played guitar and keyboards. Swagger like Superfly, funk like Roger Troutman, the fearless adrenaline of Eazy-E. In fact, Eazy, the original gangsta, even offered Quik a million bucks to come to Ruthless Records. That gambit left Profile Records so shook up that it sent cease-and-desist letters to protect Quik, its biggest artist since Run-DMC.
But those days were deader than a Discman. Instead, it was the weightless chaos of the void. Naked walls, relentless voltage and cells rattling all night. "I was worried about going irreversibly crazy," Quik says a half-decade later, in his two-story North Hollywood studio, sipping almond Champagne in a Papa Smurf shirt.
That was the punishment for allegedly pistol-whipping his sister in November 2003, a case that earned him a five-month sentence. Quik denies the gun charge but admits to slapping her for threatening to kidnap his children.
"I snapped and blacked out. My schizophrenic sister had convinced her sons to extort $2 million from me or they were going to kidnap and kill my children. I love my kids. It went too far," Quik says.
His staggering successes and emotional bankruptcies disintegrated in the abrasive sun of the San Fernando summer, when an ashen, emaciated Quik was marched into the yard, where inmates plotted his demise, hoping to get a rep before being shipped to the federal pen.
"I waited for them to fuck with me, but they never followed up. I'm not badass, but I ain't gonna take shit from anyone. How am I gonna let someone take my manhood?" Quik speaks like he raps: fast, raw, with agile chord changes.
Becoming a peacemaker, Quik taught prisoners solitaire, practiced yoga and read Deepak Chopra, who allayed his anxiety. Somewhere during those 150 days, Quik started to pen a memoir of his 36 years.
"After a few days, I realized that I'd been subjugating horrible things that had happened since childhood," Quik says. "Every memory was a different trauma. I wondered how I survived."
At destruction and famine thou shalt laugh.
"You can't come through Compton and not know where the bones are buried," Quik says, cruising Tree Top Piru territory in his Mercedes S550.
Quik joined the Bloods as a teenager. He was never formally initiated, but his brains and rising profile made him a set leader. Until the 1965 Watts riots, Compton had been a bedroom community of aerospace workers and Pleasantville street signs. Cedar Street. Cherry Street. Oleander Avenue. But when crack and sherm (PCP's street name) hit, the neighborhood became what Quik calls "Beirut in the suburbs." Kids from blocks named after trees became Tree Tops. A stone's throw north, the Fruit Town Pirus hold things down. Due south are Tree Top's rivals, the Palmer Blocc Crips, who control the blocks leading to Centennial High.
Spruce Street is narrow, and the squat, crooked bungalows sit so close that they seem melted together. On a nearby corner is the church where Quik prayed alone at age 9. His .22 caliber ammunition is still buried in the palm tree that he used to shoot for target practice. There's the back house where he took a friend's girlfriend's sister's virginity.
Quik's old home has been in permanent disrepair since his mom sold it and moved to Louisiana in 1987. He is the youngest of 10 children; his memories are stained by drive-by shootings when older sisters messed with the wrong guys, being bullied by siblings, an older brother turned crack zombie. He met his dad, a member of the Borden Dairy family, twice. Quik remembers a "smart motherfucker who looked just like me."
Music was instinctive. When he was 2 years old, his sisters bet their boyfriends they could pick any song from their mother's record collection and the baby Blake could find and play it. During thunderstorms, his mother could console him only with Curtis Mayfield records. At 12, Blake learned synth, joined a funk band and deejayed school dances. Jobs weren't readily available but drugs were, so he sold scum to buy $149 turntables at the Compton Circuit City.