In this series, we’ll be making the case for specific rappers to be included in “greatest of all-time” discussions. The more obvious choices (such as André 3000, Lil Wayne, Eminem, Jay-Z, Nas, Biggie, 2Pac) will be ignored in favor of artists who tend to get overlooked these days, for one reason or another. Previously, one of our writers made the case for Ice Cube. Today, we’re going to bat for DJ Quik.
David Marvin Blake, the man who later become known as DJ Quik, once taunted his audience by calling himself “America’s Most Complete Artist.” This nature is particular to DJ Quik, he’d make a big deal out of his status as a musical artist before making the brags your typical rapper might profess, ones about material items or criminal achievements. For the past 30 years, DJ Quik has been an artist who has engaged, entertained, inspired and infuriated with equal ability. As one of the first people to put, not only Los Angeles, but the entire West Coast, on the map for hip-hop– both as an MC and as a producer– to say he’s a legend would be putting it lightly. And frankly, if you’re talking about some of the greatest rappers of all time? DJ Quik should be right up at the top of anyone’s list, if you were familiar.
Let’s start at the beginning, naturally, with the infamous Red Tape, Quik’s demo from 1987. Most of the demo would later get rewritten and reworked into his 1991 debut album Quik Is The Name, where it swiftly gained critical and commercial respect as some of the highest quality rap music to emerge out of L.A., easily equal in quality of the material coming out of the N.W.A. camp, or from more established names at the time, like King Tee and Ice T, or taking it a step further, as Bay Area legends like E-40 and Too Short. But, consider the fact that by 1987, Quik had already mastered production and rapping at a time when pickier audiences, who were more accustomed to the dominant East Coast aesthetic, often derided the rest of the nation for seeming a step behind. Even at this early point, when N.W.A were still emulating the minimal crunch of Schoolly D and “Miuzi”-era Public Enemy, Quik was assembling densely layered silky grooves that weren’t too hard or too smooth. There’s a reason why, when the early 2000s rolled around, and most of Dre’s contemporaries failed to age onward into the commercial sphere, it was Quik who ended up being one of his most frequent ‘go-to’ partners in the Aftermath-era.
But as much as the beats were, and still are, an immediate point of interest with Quik, he wasn’t merely heads-and-shoulders above the competition as a producer, but on the microphone as well. When Quik In The Name was finally released, it revealed Quik had everything you could want out of a rapper and more; wit, engaging storytelling, and a charismatic personality. As his career evolved out of the gangster rap trend from the sly Way Too Fonky and the lush hedonism of Safe + Sound, Quik’s albums tended to feel less like a bunch of records by a rapper and more like a journey. Whether it was rapping about sex, sensimilla, or threatening very specific foes, Quik managed to keep up a party atmosphere in his music that always engaged and entertained with a purpose, on top of sounding like a particularly prissy sort of champion. Listen to Quik on the somber “Jus Lyke Compton,” the vicious “Dollaz + Sense” (his classic salvo in his infamous feud with fellow LA Rap pioneer MC Eiht), or the blissed out “Summer Breeze,” and you can see exactly why Quik was considered one of the major forces out of the scene. By the time of his third album Rhythym-al-Ism, not only did he have the cream of the crop in the G-Funk scene appearing on his albums, names such as Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg, but he’d scored collaborations with R&B and Funk veterans such as Gary Shider of the Parliament-Funkadelic collective and El DeBarge.
And it wasn’t just his own work that earned him a reputation for genius. With Quik’s debut many of his friends and affiliates would get their own showcase off the merits of Quik’s production patronage. From that initial wave, the likes of AMG, Hi-C and 2nd II None would emerge, names who, while, they don’t often come up in lists of the most memorable West Coast artists these days, still have records which stand up to the test of time; hell, you can’t go more than two years without some rapper sampling or remaking “Bitch Betta Have My Money.” While his initial camp and him would fall in and out of favor (a recurring pattern in Quik’s career), he still would go on to produce cult classic debuts for the Penthouse Playas Clique and the iconic Suga Free, all the time working on his own material. That still leaves room to acknowledge his brief but iconic production work for the disparate likes of Tupac, Truth Hurts or Tony! Toni! Tone! Even as the ’90s faded away and the West Coast’s popularity ebbed further, to make room for the resurgence of East Coast rap as well as the slow build of the South, Quik still managed to keep himself as an essential member of any album’s production roster. Few men seemed as logical behind the boards for names as different as Xzibit, Jay-Z and 8Ball & MJG, after all.
However, while Quik remained productive, and his sound never quite dating as he transitioned into the new millenia, his mentality did go through some drastic changes. Label politics and personal issues (namely a history with family drama that would make a season of Empire look tame in comparison) saw him eventually release the infamous Trauma independently on his own Mad Science records. Whereas the prior albums had moved away from aggressive content into records obsessed with his own musicianship (not unlike, of all possible inheritors, Tyler, The Creator who’s gone on record citing both Balance and Options and Under the Influence as early favorites of his), Trauma was marked with a nosedive into intense paranoia and scathing remarks, in which he aired out colorful family business which led him to a brief stint in jail. Trauma features straightforward commercial material slotted up uncomfortably next to records like “Catch 22” and “Til Jesus Comes,” where over lush, complex orchestrated production Quik seethed with hate and intensity in a way few rappers can sound, without falling into cartoonish faux menace.
Such a flameout and tragedy might have simply been the end of Quik’s career, and had he decided to retire from music formally at this point, he’d still have provided one of the more memorable careers in rap. Yet, upon his freedom from the majors and from incarceration, he was back on the scene. He briefly reunited with AMG under the name “The Fixxers” for an album which was thwarted by bootlegging and more politics, but proceeded on to help work with old friend Snoop as an integral player on his classic Ego Trippin album. From these sessions, Quik would partner up with Dogg Pound member and fellow Death Row alumni, Kurupt, and drop the critically-lauded joint album with Blaqkout. This, along with a return to his own solo work, would see him earn a new audience who viewed Quik with the respect of a pioneer and a legacy artist, one that never managed to let himself settle into comfort and complacency. The rotating cast of characters in his circle of affiliates would switch up now and again (often leaving with some pointed remarks on wax targeting them), but DJ Quik continued to remain a musical mastermind and an intrepid lyricist, when whole generations of MCs from the West Coast (and beyond) would come and go in the blink of an eye. His most recent project, the Rosecrans joint album with fellow Compton representer Problem, saw Quik continue to push his artistic limits as a producer, and hold his own against the younger talent with ease in a way that you’d never imagine that one half of the project was approaching his 50s.
As of now, DJ Quik’s discography stands about 9 solo albums deep, if you ignore his live record at the House of Blues or his collaborative projects (not to mention the dozens and dozens of records in rap and R&B he’s loaned his gifts to), and it still doesn’t feel like he’s reached the end of his rope creatively. The imprint he’s made on rap is indelible, despite it not being as high-profile as someone like, say, Dr. Dre. Not only is he part of the reason that the West Coast have been a defining force for various eras of Rap’s history, but as one of the most talented rapper/producers in the game bar-none. DJ Quik’s influence is not only felt through the likes of your Kendrick Lamars and your YGs, your Terrace Martins and your Tyler the Creators. A musical genius who’s worked with a who’s who in the rap game and has a catalog of his own that has stood the test of time. But if you yourself haven’t gotten a chance to familiarize yourself with the work of America’s Most Complete Artist, then there’s no time like the present.