DJ Quik and Problem on Making Timeless Rap, Remembering Prince
Nineties West Coast pioneer DJ Quik has experienced a late-career renaissance on the strength of solo albums like 2011′s The Book of David and 2014′s The Midnight Life, as well as collaborative projects like 2009′s Blaqkout with Kurupt. His latest release, the Rosecrans EP with Compton MC Problem, is at turns adventurous, historically minded and just plain fun — a record which prefers not to follow any rulebook.
Problem has had numerous successes over the years — his single “I’m Toe Up” earned him a record deal, and he’s appeared on hits like E-40′s “Function.” Quik, meanwhile, has spent decades as a performer of singular talents, a quirky experimentalist whose restless ear is unafraid of pushing against our expectations. Rolling Stone spoke with both Quik and Problem about recording their new tape and their fond memories of Prince.
How did you first start working together?
Quik: It was [Snoop Dogg’s] Ego Trippin’ project. I go and … kick it with him, and he’s got Teddy Riley in the studio. He’s like, “I want to start a production company with us three, QDT — Quik, Dogg and Teddy. And we’re going to produce records.” The first project was Ego Trippin’. He’s like, “Quik, this is Problem. He’s a writer.” … They gave Problem his first big check and he was excited. He drank some champagne. [Laughs.]
Problem: I fell on my back, I kept the champagne bottle up. I felt so paid that day. [Laughs.]
Quik: He was coming down out of the control room at Encore, and he was walking down the stairs and he just missed his step, and fell in slow motion with the check and a bottle in his hand. Hit the floor like, Boom! And didn’t break nothing. [Laughs.]
Problem: You know how they say you’re never supposed to meet your hero because it’s only downhill after that? This is one of the few times it didn’t happen.… I came in there as a writer and left with one of the hottest records in L.A., “I’m Toe Up,” and I had a deal. Just from the game and knowledge that they gave me. [Quik has] never made me feel like I’m less than him. No matter what the status of what’s going on he’s always been this same person that’s on this phone right now.
Did you guys have a favorite record you did on Rosecrans?
Quik: I look at it as one big piece of work. But if I could only play one, I like “A New Nite.” Someone had tried to sample my song “Tonite,” a Top 20 record in ’91. And when I heard it, it was so stingy, so lazy, I denied the sample clearance for it just because it didn’t make that much sense to me. And I just decided that if someone was going to do my music over — I still have the original master tapes from that song. I also still have the original floppy discs that all the original samples and drums are on from the SP-1200. So I pulled it into the studio, spread the song out technically and did it myself. Problem heard it, came to the studio, listened to it, and was like, “I got something for this.” And he just started killing the chorus live, no paper.
As we were recording it, these musicians were still in the studio. They started to come in, so it was like a party. My guys started to gather around the equipment, and we all started to just jam together, and my engineer, having enough wit, started recording our accompaniment. How we just jammed like a band. It ended up taking on a life of its own. Things that people don’t do any more. Everything is so synchronized, quantized [today].
Problem: This is the one spat we had on this project. We only had one disagreement, which was this song. And me being the new — “You know, I think we should edit this track.” He hopped up out his seat, “No! That’s not the way we do things.” I was like, “You know what? You right, I’m outta here.” [Laughs.]
What does Rosecrans bring to hip-hop, in 2016?
Problem: The calls that I’ve received as an artist — Snoop, Tyrese — the fact that they say it feels so good to hear music like this from Quik. I got that several times. People were holding me up, like, “How in the fuck did you get him to do this with you?” [Laughs.] I had someone tell me “I’ve been trying to get a beat from this nigga for 15 years, how’d you get a project with him?”
This is the only genre where it’s frowned upon to age gracefully. We’re going to change that shit. I’m going to sample old records from old hip-hop people, and we’re going to throw them together like they do in rock, and how they do in country music.… I’m going to a Snoop concert until he’s 88. And I’m gonna be there in the front and I’m gonna sing them songs just like my momma gonna see the Temptations.
Quik: If I can add too, we bought records from good people that made records back in the day when we were kids. And these guys were old — they were old on the album covers. Receding hairlines, big bushy mustaches. We didn’t care, it was good music. So when I became a producer, it only made sense for me to sample all of those great records that I listened to growing up, that my mother used to make me go buy. So when my first album came out, Quik Is the Name, so many people got paid off of the album, from Betty Wright to Herbie Hancock to Parliament-Funkadelic to Roger Troutman, all these people got paid because I wanted to pay them. I was paying them back for their music. Even Blowfly. This was music that moved me as a kid, and these guys were all in their 40s and 50s when they were doing this shit, outside of Betty Wright.
But for the most part, when you look at hip-hop today, you’re shunned if you have gray hair in your beard. No matter how you sound. Like Ice Cube said it best, you can rap as long as you’ve got teeth in your mouth and a tongue that operates, you can rap. There shouldn’t be no age on it. If you’ve got something to say, and you’ve got an expression, then you should express yourself. That’s what our music was about.
And you lengthened my career too, Problem. To be honest. They was looking at me like, “Yeah, he’s a legend. That’s old school hip-hop. He’s in his 40s now.” Where do you go from there? I didn’t get a second job. There’s no plan B for me. It’s all about this fuckin’ music. You made it relevant to younger people. And the thing is, I don’t sound old on the record.
Problem: The biggest mistake that some of the veterans might make is they try to sound like what’s going on right now. I don’t want Quik fucking rapping like the Migos. Let the Migos rap like the Migos. I wanna hear Quik do Quik. You know who’s great at that? E-40. No matter what song he’s on, you know that’s E-40. He ain’t tryna sound like nobody. Stay in your you.
Quik: I’ll tell you what’s creepy. It’s creepy that now, all of a sudden, at 46, I’m having a resurgence and all my concerts are selling out. Everybody wants to see me now. I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. But why didn’t they do this 15 years ago when I lost my deal with Arista, when I really needed some fan support and love? My shows wasn’t selling. It was almost like I was old news. And I felt that, and I felt bad. I struggled with it and I tried to fight to hold on, but sometimes if you’re falling you do more damage to yourself trying to break the fall instead of just hitting the fucking ground and bouncing back up. I was like, OK, I give up. I’m going to try to take this job over here, do something a little different, try to put my son on and produce other things. And it’s like, “Quik we want you!” I was like, “You sure you want to party with ol’ Eddie King Jr.?”
Problem: [Laughs.] Hey man, “Eddie King, Jr.” is a fuckin’ party animal. Had my ass up until 10 in the morning one night, him and Wiz [Khalifa]. Fuck all that shit he’s talking about, this is a rock star you’re on the phone with. If he’s old, I’m old as shit. I get tired before he do. He’s ready to get out there [laughs].
Tell me your memories of Prince.
Problem: My dad, he used to get tickets for anything going on at the Forum. It was the Sign O’ the Times tour. Set time was at 9:30 p.m. We look up and it’s 12:30, and the lights are still on. Everyone’s booing. This guy walks up with a box on the stage. The light drops and it shines on the little bitty-ass box. Prince hops out this motherfucking box and the house lights come on: Zoom. Zoom. Zoom Zoom Zoom. We go, “ahhhh” and we’re just going crazy. Everybody doesn’t give a fuck about this two and a half hours they sat out there waiting. I heard he went until three or four in the morning. I had to leave at like two because I was very young. Dad got in trouble over the shit.
Quik: I was best friends with an A&R at Warner Brothers when he was making amends with them, going back to sign with them and put out records. We were in the studio together, and I remember everybody had a room in there. Prince saw, in my mic booth, my equipment. I’d been flying back and forth from L.A. to New York producing records and I had flight cases. He asked if he could use my flight cases to film a documentary, to use for background. I say, “Yeah,” like what am I gonna tell Prince, no? Stuff’s gone for about three hours. His security rolls them back in and says, “Prince says thank you. He wants to know what you want, what do you like?” I said, “Well, you can buy me a drink?” He’s like, “What do you drink?” I’m like, “I drink Hennessy XO.” They leave. About 20 minutes later, they come back and bring me the Hennessy. I’m sitting up here going, “This is unreal, Prince, my idol, brought me a bottle of Hennessy.” I didn’t even want to drink it. It took two weeks for us to drink that bottle. It just sat on the console, that was our conversation piece.