It’s almost impossible to remember when DJ Quik wasn’t as ingrained in L.A. life as tacos and traffic snarls. An hour rarely elapses on KDAY without the high-octane freeway funk of “America’z Complete Artist.” 2Pac, Dr. Dre and Snoop are the most internationally revered faces of West Coast rap, but Quik inspires as fierce a regional devotion as In-N-Out and Angelyne sightings.
If those aforementioned hip-hop icons belong to the world, Quik is ours. He’s an uncategorizable genius too funky to be properly understood in cold weather. A mad scientist with Super Fly hair, often profane and profound in consecutive bars, blending the best of Dre and Eazy-E into a “Bombudd”-toking, 8-Ball–sipping original.
In January 1991, the Quiksta dropped his official debut, Quik Is the Name. He’s celebrating the 25th anniversary this Saturday at the Novo (formerly Club Nokia) in downtown L.A., alongside longtime collaborators Suga Free, AMG, 2nd II None and Hi-C. Among recent ’90s reunions, this ranks significantly higher than Fuller House and The X-Files.
Quik’s best-selling album, Quik Is the Name emerged during a transitional period between the first wave of gangsta rap and the ascension of G-funk. Every label relentlessly trawled Compton and South Central for the next would-be superstar. Freestyle Fellowship lampooned “Sunshine Men,” non-native rappers who adopted Southern California slang to rebrand themselves as more marketable West Coast gangsta rappers.
No one could ever question Quik’s authenticity. Before his official debut, his Red mixtape dominated tape decks from Spruce Street in Compton to Salt Lake City. A bidding war broke out.
“It was surreal. The most I ever had at that point was $280,” Quik told me in a 2011 interview for L.A. Weekly. “Everything was lining up. I looked at myself in the mirror and wasn’t a geeky little kid anymore. I had facial hair. I was growing into myself as a man. Then Profile [Records] offered $125,000 and I jumped up and down, screaming like James Brown.”
Having already laid down the demos, the rapper-producer cut Quik Is the Name in just 20 weed-clouded days.
“My Jheri curl was down to here,” Quik says, motioning to his shoulders. “I was feeling myself like Samson.”
Quik remembers those months between his debut’s recording and its eventual release as some of the best of his life. He rented a house in Gardena and threw wild parties. He bought a Jetta, guns and a gigantic Christmas tree.
The debut single, “Born and Raised in Compton,” premiered shortly after New Year’s Day 1991 on the Bay Area’s KMEL, heralding the next hero from the Hub City.
“The phones immediately lit up and they were calling me to do radio interviews,” Quik remembers. “I was just sitting at home with my Compton homeboys and my SP-1200.”
Quik describes the immediate rush thereafter. The record assumed a life of its own, selling more than 2,100 copies in Inglewood alone the first few days. It boomed from every subwoofer, flew off the racks at the Slauson Swap Meet and eventually went platinum.
A quarter-century later, Quik Is the Name remains an indelible coming-of-age rap album, filled with raunchy tales and silky refinement. Already a production sorcerer, Quik chopped loops from Kleeer and Cameo, Betty Wright and Blowfly, adding scratched hooks and nimble cadences. It’s the gangsta-rap iteration of every teenager’s dreams: awash in easy money, Givenchy sweatsuits, beautiful women and all the illicit substances you can imbibe.
This might be the closest thing we’ll ever get to a Compton college-rap album, if fraternity life was replaced by narratives of Pirus and pimping, over obscenely funky instrumentals. The man born David Blake only had to tell us once that Quik was the name — it isn’t something you’d ever forget.
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DJ QUIK | The Novo | 800 W. Olympic Blvd., downtown | Saturday, March 26, 9 p.m. | $25 | all ages | thenovodtla.com
An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com.