Photos courtesy of Red Bull
When DJ Quik released his debut album, Quik Is The Name, on January 15, 1991 on renowned hip-hop label Profile Records (home to artists including Run DMC, Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock, and Camp Lo), his goals for the record were modest: “I just wanted to sell 10,000 copies so I could get a Jetta.”
Led by the success of the album’s first two singles, “Born And Raised In Compton” and “Tonight,” Quik Is The Name went platinum, and the Compton born and raised artist quickly became in high demand. Speaking to a room full of up-and-coming producers and artists attending this year’s Red Bull Music Academy Bass Camp in a conversation facilitated by Toronto producer Johnny Hockin, the 45-year old Quik (whose real name is David Blake) was energetic and warm—especially considering he played an hour long set the night before at Le Belmont with Mannie Fresh and Montreal’s Shash’U.
Over the course of his 25-year career, he’s produced for artists including Eazy E, Jay Z, Nate Dogg, Tupac, Tony! Toni! Toné!, Snoop Dogg, and more. He's released nine studio albums (including last year’s excellent The Midnight Life) and worked on the soundtracks for films including Menace II Society and Training Day. During the two-hour lecture he discussed everything from his beginnings playing soul and funk records for his older sisters, to his early work with groups 2nd II None and Penthouse Players Clique, to meeting Suge Knight and becoming Death Row’s in-house engineer.
His relationship with Knight is how he ended up working with Tupac on the New York rapper’s 1996 album All Eyez On Me. “I ended up mixing 14 songs in two days, I don’t think I went home, I must have smelled like a goat,” says Quik, who also received a production credit for “Heartz Of Men”.
“He’d come in the studio, light a blunt, grab a pen and paper, cross his legs, and 30 minutes later he’d be like, ‘Okay, ready’,” he says. “I’m like, ‘Who writes these songs so fast?’ He was so important to culture, and I don’t think he realized it.” Quik says his decision to switch to mainly producing was prompted by the desire to share his bass-heavy sound with other artists (“I wanted to be like Jam Master Jay”), which he achieved by working with musicians in the studio like members of Parliament Funkadelic and Quik’s longtime friend and collaborator, guitarist Rob “Fonsksta” Bacon.
When asked what artists he’d like to work with still, he admits that many of his dream collaborators have passed away (Aaliyah, Biggie, Curtis Mayfield), with one surprising exception. “I fuck with Ed Sheeran,” says Quik of the chart-topping English singersongwriter. “The first time I heard him, I said, ‘Damn this guy can sing.’”
He also nodded to the current crop of rappers carrying the torch for West Coast hip-hop, including Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q, adding that a track he produced in 2000 for late Compton emcee Mausberg, “Get Nekkid” is sampled on a song on Kendrick’s forthcoming album. Just don’t expect to hear his contributions to a certain mythically revered hip-hop album any time soon.
“The best way to describe Detox is avant-garde. It’s really out-of-box,” says Quik, who was asked to contribute to the album via a handwritten note from Dr. Dre himself. “And I can see why that might have scared him. I don’t believe he’s going to release it, and not because he’s made a billion dollars off headphones, but why would you scar your perfect record?”
As for his future plans, reports of his retirement have been greatly exaggerated, though he confesses to lamenting the current state of the music industry. Recent monetization changes to services like Spotify and YouTube have him more optimistic about continuing to make a living as an artist, and he’s intent on making sure his legacy continues after he’s gone.
“I started writing a biography while I was incarcerated [referring to the five month sentence he received in 2006 after being convicted for assaulting his sister in 2003], but I made it 15, 20 pages and it was just so sad, I was crying,” he says with a laugh. Without missing a beat, he adds, “I’m holding out for a movie.”
Max Merten's life is a movie being played on Twitter.