Q&A With DJ Quik: "I Still Got My Talent. That's Not Going Anywhere."
DJ Quik is feeling jovial. He's in New York for a pair of shows at the Knitting Factory and an appearance on Jimmy Fallon, all on the back of his masterful 2011 record The Book Of David. David isn't just the rap record of the year; it's one of the most accomplished albums in his far-too-long overlooked catalog, and he beams with the knowledge. "It's one of the only albums in my catalog I can listen to without fast-forwarding, which is the first time that's happened since my first album," he says matter-of-factly.
Quik has played the role of Unsung West Coast Rap Hero for a long time. There are ups and downs to being a rap-nerd secret handshake; he's universally respected, but he's also done unpaid work on the kind of records that are supposed to fund your great-grandkids' college tuition. And that's to say nothing of the troubling family issues that have dogged him over the past ten yearsissues he addresses with unsettling frankness on The Book Of David.
But none of that seems to be bothering him at the moment. Over the course of a giddy hour, we touch on his love of Harold Ramis ("him and John Landis? That shit is brilliant"), his intermittent asthma ("I think I cured that shit myself, just by making myself perform live") and his allergy to repeating himself. "You know, the brain detects loops, and you'll be off some shit in a minute if it's repetitive. I didn't want two soundalike records on this record at all. Repetition is my enemy. Even though that's an oxymoron, because my career is based on loops. So you see, I live in a fuckin' paradox; I try not to drive myself crazy."
You spent a few years living in New York City around the time of 2005's Trauma, right?
When I came out here to NYC for those three years (from 2003-2005), it changed things for me. I was just putting myself through a New York lesson, you know? Learning the grind. I looked at the game from both sides, and I think if I had not had the New York experience, my music wouldn't affect people in the same way it does now. There's an intensity that's like no other. People honestly need what goes on out here. I needed this place. Everything here was the polar opposite of my comfort zone. Out in L.A., I got blunts, bitches, and free equipment sometimes. I was getting spoiled. But out here, nobody gives a fuck about you. You gotta earn everything. You gotta earn your respect all over again. I think it made me take everything more seriously.
You self-identify as a producer first, but I always thought you don't get enough credit for your rapping. Your word choices are always so interesting"I'm malignant, you benign," rhyming "acumen" with "vacuumin'." You seem like a thesaurus guy.
Straight up, that's how I learned to rap. When I was 18 or 19, I would write rhymes like "I knew a girl named Kandi from the Lower West Side/I called her house at five and said, let's go for a ride." And I said to myself, there's gotta be a better way to express that, a way that's not so bubblegum. So I spent time with the thesaurus. My man Playa Hamm's mom was a librarian; after my mom lost her house I was living there. I'm sitting at this dope mahogany wood table with this encyclopedia set and all these books. I stayed away from the rhyming dictionary, though; if you need to use a rhyming dictionary, get another job.
Did you carry a rhyme book around, any of that geeky Freestyle Fellowship shit?
I carried around a rhyme book for awhile; I think we all did. And then you go back and look, and some of that shit is embarrassing. I can't write anymore, anyway, because I have some shit that hasn't even been diagnosed yet by neurologists. I have, like, double-ADHD. I can't sit still long enough to write out 48 bars of rhyme. It's easier to just think about it. I will write maybe one line, just so I don't get lost. And that'll be the start of it, and I hear the other fifteen in my head.
You've addressed your family issues on record in the past, but you're particularly direct on this one.
I tried not to! But how could I be plastic and pretend everything was hunky-dory and perfect? These motherfuckers had me getting up in the morning to go to court; that's the most indignant shit ever. To get up at fuckin' 6 a.m. to face a judge? And for nothing! For shit that I didn't even do. These motherfuckers are all fucked-up and dysfunctional, and I'm the breadwinner and the voice of reason; I'm trying to keep people cool. I just realized: these motherfuckers are self-destructive, and if I keep riding with them, I'm gonna get destroyed.
My accountant used to always tell me, "You know, your family is your Achilles Heel. You could be rich; you could be just like Eric Wright. But your siblings are bleeding you dry. You've gotta get rid of them." It seemed harsh, but I took a step back and looked at them on day, like, "Y'all motherfuckers are wicked. Y'all got to go."