June 24, 2009

Interview starts with a perfunctory, “how are you doing,” and segues into:

Quik: Man, I’m feeling great. We just finishing up lunch—drinking these Italian beers, you ever had a Menabrea. It’s like a cross between an Amber and a coffee-colored ale. We Patron heads so usually don’t drink much beer, but we feeling great.

How did you guys come together to make BlaQKout?

Kurupt: We was working on this record for Snoop’s album, and it was so banging we figured we should just make a whole album together. Quik was like, we can really do this, so we just locked up in the studio whenever we had the time and were off the road. It’s definitely got that classic Quik production, but I like that he took a different turn with his sound, and there’s just that chemistry between us that’s so good.

Quik: The first thing that I remember hearing from Kurupt was this song called “Sooo Much Style.” I was like this dude is hard. I knew Dogg Pound was going to blow and we toured and did all those shows together with 2Pac. But then it really hit me when I heard his collaboration with Battlecat on “We Can Freak It.” I had a $25,000 sound system in the trunk of my Ford Explorer. I think that record busted all the sub-woofers. I was a little mad at Battlecat for that.

I never lost that respect for him. He makes the kind of records that get better with time like a Pinot Noir, a real dope red wine. You can’t catch lightning in a bottle twice, so we tried to make our own Tesla Coil and bottle our own lightning.

Listening to BlaQKout, you get the sense that you guys were trying to impress the other when creating the album. Is that a fair assessment?

Quik: Knowing that I was working with Kurupt, Young Gotti, Gotti Sinatra, knowing that I’m working with one of those top-caliber MC’s made me want to dig deeper and bring him diamonds that I knew he’d like. Without being pretentious, I didn’t want to give him Cubic Zirconium, I wanted to bring him diamonds. I always thought of the beats as jewels, some you sell, some you don’t. I do this from the heart—they’re real, and they’re fast, and they’re different.

I tried to make the sort of stuff I wanted to rap to. I didn’t want to waste his time. The fact that he was there to challenge me made me develop them and finish them and keep them, and that’s what I like about Kurupt—he’s got this disciplinarian instinct. He’s not going to rap over some bullshit.

Where would you rank Kurupt among the great rappers of all-time?
Quik: He’s not just a great West Coast MC, he’s a great MC. If I had to rank them, I’d say the God Rakim, Nas, 2Pac, Biggie, Jay-Z, Kurupt, Snoop and Ice Cube, not in any order. Those is my motherfuckers and that’s what it is.

Kurupt, where would you place Quik?
Kurupt: You’ve got some producers that you’re going to have to bring it because they only make heaters. There are those dudes where you just have to do you and hand in the proper record, and from there, you know they’re going to bring it home like the Lakers. I’ve worked with so many great producers, but Dre and Quik is of a different caliber.

What about Pete Rock, you had the opportunity to work with him on that “Yessir” and on the Soul Survivors album. How does he compare?

Pete’s my guy. He’s also one of those producers who’s going to bring it home. Me and Pete have been working since he sent me the beat that we did with Deck. He always sends me heaters. We’re planning on doing our own album in the future because he’s on another level too.

[Quik interrupts.]

Quik: Kurupt, I’ve got another idea. I think I can get a Premier beat and I can mix it and you can rap on it.

Kurupt: Primo is dumb off the top. I wouldn’t even think twice about doing that.

Quik: Also recently, I had the opportunity to make a beat with J Dilla’s old drum machines. I was working with Illa J, Terrence Martin, and Frank Nitty, and we were working with the stuff that Dilla left to his younger brother. I was completely in awe. I didn’t want to mess with his stuff, he was just the greatest.

What was it about Dilla’s music that you felt so intensely?
Quik: This dude was just inspired. We helped start this hip-hop thing, I was making beats way before Dilla, but when I first heard Dilla, you just knew he was something special. His pocket was so different and unique. I still listen to his old beats all the time and wish he was here.

Kurupt: I had the opportunity to work with him on the first Slum Village album.

Quik: I’m very jealous of you Kurupt. Remember when we first hooked into Slum Village, it was just like when we got into The Brand New Heavies and didn’t want to listen to anything else.

Kurupt: That sound was crazy.

Quik: How did he do that and where did it come from? I didn’t know Midwest people could work it like that. It was a movement that Slum Village shit. It changed my whole hook up, it got me into Kweli and Hi-Tek. I was really fucking with Hi-Tek, I went deep cover. I felt the movement happening without my help. That shit was underground and I had to stick my head underground like an ostrich to see what for going on.

But in a way, even though much of your careers were spent on major labels, you and Kurupt have always seemed to be underground artists? How were you able to retain that balance?

Quik: For me, being a welfare kid I always wanted to keep a low profile and that transitioned into my character. I became underground by being a creature of habit. I always wanted to be a DJ not the MC. I wanted to put artists out in front of me; I wanted to do their beats and watch them perform and blow up. I ended up having to be an MC, but I always thought of myself as an MC coach who performed at the same time. I like to be underground, making music. I’ve spent a lot of time in the basement trying to music, do beats.

Not to go back to being up in Illa J’s house and playing records from Amoeba, and listening to them and digging through the crates with Stanton vinyl and playing them on the Technics 1200. That’s underground to me, that’s still the realest.

One of the most interesting things about the new record is that some of the beats rank among the most uniquely weird that you’ve ever done—in a good way. How did a record like “Jupiter’s Critic and the Mind of Mars” come about?

Quik: That was the solo record. I could’ve done a funk record, or a perverted rap record, but I didn’t feel like it. It’s about expression, you’ve got to look at it from a comical sense. Roger Troutman used the talk box because he didn’t like his voice, so he used it to create a caricature of himself. That’s what the T-Pains and Wayne’s of the world do. If you get tired of it, then they’ll stop clowning around with the auto tune and fuck you up. To me, it’s another medium, it’s another tool, it’s a three headed bridge.

Kurupt: That’s that new thing. Quik didn’t stick to the regular old sound or what’s hot right now. We made our own. That’s “Jupiter’s Critic and the Mind of Mars.”

Quik: It’s me talking about hip hop without being me. I’m the critic, the journalist online. I’m the blogger who can say dumb things that he would never say to your face. He’s not a known journalist on TV, having to stand beyond his words. He’s a blogger in the musical world. It’s a new technology, I made that using batteries. I could’ve used auto-tune, I was taught the voice box by Roger Troutman. Instead, I used a ring modulator, and disguised my voice using an envelope trigger. There are crazy things that you do do if you do a little thought and get involved. You have to be weird. It’s like riding a motorcycle and popping a wheelie at 90 mph.

How can you really rap serious at that tempo? You’ve got to make yourself a caricature at that speed. It’s like doing the funnies and drawing a big George Bush with huge ears and clowning.

Kurupt: The crazy thing about that record is that Quik used a Geiger counter to make it. How did you make music out of a radiator thing? That’s very creative?

Quik: It’s like what I’m eating now, a filet of sole with really dope mushroom sauce, she’s having linguine cacciatore and I’m having some spaghetti marinara.

Kurupt: Ah man, you trying to make Jeff and me hungry?

[Quik cracks up.]

Quik: Man, it was just really dope to make. I put a battery in it, and put the R-test Plugin rocking the Pro Tools and it worked out. I was just trying to keep it funny. My kids love that record.

What do you guys think about the next generation of LA rappers coming up right now. Kurupt, did you hear “Kurupted,” the tribute song that K-Dot put out a little while ago?

Kurupt: Yup, K-Dot’s my dude. Him, Nipsey Hussle and Jay Rock putting their foot in this thing makes me proud to be from the West and have this talent game really setting it off again.

Quik: And the Game, as much as I disagree with his decision making, he definitely helped usher it in. He’s built on your mainframe Kurupt. I don’t think Dre would’ve given him the time of day unless he was close to what he was getting in terms of your talent.

Kurupt: One thing about the East Coast is that there’s a lot of feeding, everyone’s using the same energy and just like how we got started by feeding of Quik and Eazy, that’s the way I look at Game. He’s one of the tightest MC’s in the world, and it feels good when I hear his music. He reminds me of myself.

Quik: He earned it. I had the opportunity to tour with Snoop in Europe on the How the West was Won tour and I watched Kurupt make Game a man onstage.

Kurupt: Man, me and Game had a ball. Everyone was enjoying themselves.

Quik: We live for that as hip hop heads.: Y’all made magic that was unique just for that tour. It hasn’t been even been put on record yet.

Kurupt: Snoop and Game’s chemistry is off the charts. That’s what made that such a great tour. Just to work with legends like that makes me feel proud.

Quik: Remember when I introduced Game to Snoop. I did that, I watched them shake hands for the first time.

Kurupt: History is all around the board. It feels good to see the type of West Coast love. We all worked hard to get to this point and earn some respect, not just for the music but to also get respect for the artistry.

Quik: It’s a craft.

Kurupt: What I like about K-Dot, Nipsey and Jay Rock is that you can hear the hunger in their voices, and that’s what it’s about. There was a time when we didn’t get a lot of respect. Personally, I think DJ Quik is one of the most underrated MC’s in the ballgame.

Quik: When I die they’re going to finally give me props, like I’m Rembrandt or Jim Morrison.

Was it frustrating to you that no matter how much love the West Coast showed you, you never earned steady radio play in the East?

Quik: The east Coast didn’t start playing my records until I formed the Fixxers. That was my biggest record over there. Although, when the Source ran the biggest hip-hop records of all time, they said “Tonite” was 21, and “C.R.E.A.M.” by Wu-Tang was 28, and you know how big “Cream” was. It was so high voltage out here though when I did “Tonite,” I don’t know what it did over there, but L.A. was so turped up whenever they’d heard that record.

Kurupt: I’m from the world where I had Quik’s first mixtape. That’s what they also don’t know. He put out a mixtape first for the underground heads and they was tearing up the streets, eating us alive. Quik’s always been a trendsetter. Whenever we do our shows, he and I just turn the place into a crazy party.

Quik: It’s left-right, left-right like Muhammed Ali’s hands. He’s the aggressive one, and I’m the party dude. When you hear the records on-stage, you can feel that left vibe. We’re opposites, yin and yang, and it works well. People just straight party at our shows. Sometimes, we’ll have a live band and start writing new songs right up there on-stage.

It seems like live bands are in vogue in rap right now, but Quik, you’ve been working with bands for years both live and in the studio. Do you feel ahead of the curve in that regard?

I’m humbled, and don’t want to let my nuts hang. I grew up watching bands. I was a big fan of the whole battle of the bands thing and that’s how you find your niche. There are some people that can go solo and others have to do the whole band thing. But it’s really about the camaraderie with you and your band, and making sure the crowd is into it. I remember watching Earth, Wind and Fire and Parliament just cranking it out and killing shit.

I always felt that I could do the same thing, even though I’m not a great singer. I wouldn’t put myself in the top 10 or 12 as a rapper either. But I’m a producer—now I’m a music director. The full band allows you to express yourself. Music is the only language that doesn’t need to be translated. It feeds people’s families too. We’re all jazz musicians at heart—it feeds talented people, allows them to have a burger and a glass of red wine. At the end of the day, that’s how I see myself, as a jazz musician.

There were rumors that you and Suga Free were going to go back to working with each other again? Is there any truth to them?

We haven’t worked together yet, but we’ve buried the hatchet. Truthfully, right now, I’m kind of busy. I just started working on my next solo record, but there ain’t no hate there. It may happen if the right opportunity presents itself. I did discover the guy after all. He’s an incredibly talented and funny MC. But right now, Kurupt threw me a big old gigantic football and I’m going to run with it. Not to diss Suga Free, but working with him just gets me the West Coast. Working with Kurupt gets me the whole world. I know I’m working with cats like Illa J, J Dilla’s little brother just as a result of working with Kurupt.

You guys both worked extensively with 2Pac. How did his influence affect both of you?

Kurupt: When Pac came to Death Row, it totally shifted the entire ballgame for us. Our work habits completely changed.

Quik: I saw it happen.

Kurupt: It used to be that we’d sit there the entire day in the studio, just partying and smoking blunts, and we’d only get one verse or a song done. Pac came in with a military mindset, he made us realize that this ain’t a game, and it’s about making all the music you can make in the short time you have on earth. He helped us get into a pattern where we started making two or three records a day. It was so much fun, he changed our entire mindset, he lit that fire, and made us say, ‘lets go for the championship. Let’s make this happen. We all loved him so much

Quik: Before I met Pac, I saw his tenacity, which was insanely fierce toward the end of his life. I always saw my songs one at a time, until I recorded with him and I started making 14 a day just fucking with him. I’d been doing my thing for a long time at that point and I was like, “Who is this fire starter to get me to change the way I did my business?” He really made me figure out the best usage of my available time, and got me on a wholly new personal clock directed toward constantly making music.

He fertilized us with his influence. He was one of those growing crazy growers, the way that n***a spread his game. I always looking forward to working with him. Whenever he was in the studio, he’d rap for an hour straight. Suddenly, whereas it took me six to eight hours to make beats, I was making them it in two.

What do you think it was about him beyond mere work ethic that yielded such a dramatic influence on everyone from artists to fans.

He didn’t come from a place where it was about money, he worked hard the money would come later. He’d get his revenge in his work. He was about changing the world, and he let people know, it’s okay to be eccentric, it’s okay to be weird, it’s okay to express yourself. People would say that he was crazy or bipolar. My experiences with him didn’t show not, it was like he knew that he wouldn’t be here forever, but wanted to make sure that every second that you were in his presence you’d never forget it, and I never have—whether we here drunk in the club, or smoking the biggest blunts of that purple shit. He was a general.

Is there anyone who reminds you of him in contemporary hip-hop?
Lil Wayne is the only person I could say who reminds me of Pac in terms of his work ethic. I hear a lot of him in Young Gotti. He was as close with Pac as anybody and I see him carrying on his spirit.

You guys have pretty deep catalogues, but do any albums or songs stand out in particular as favorites?

Kurupt: My favorite is Dogg Food. That’s what kicked things to the next gear for me, and it was my first opportunity as an artist to really shine. And it went triple platinum.

Nowadays, a lot of veteran artists turn to the independent game, but with “Kuruption” you were one of the first popular records to turn to the independent record. You must have done pretty well for yourself.

Quik: He had three gold albums, 1.5 million units sold, all under the radar with no overhead.

Kurupt: You know what, it taught me a lot about this game, how to do it on my own. I learned how to do it without all my homies with me, without a crutch. It’s easy to be successful when you have Dre and Snoop with you. When I did those three records it was a big old relief that I could do it alone and still be heard.

Quik: If I had to pick be one album it would be Quik is the Name. My best selling record was Way 2 Fonky, and Safe and Sound might be the purest amalgamation of my sound., while Rhymthmalism and Under the Influence are a whole different thing entirely.

But if there was one record that I could listen to and enjoy the most, it’s basically my first record. That’s record that introduced us all to the world. I brought a bunch of artists along with me who had careers and are eating right now. Although I’m pretty enamored with BlacQKout and the way I’ve been able to use all the new technologies to make music.

What do you think it was about the chemistry between you and Kurupt that allowed for such a seamless blend?

Quik: It’s organic — we created this without a mold. “BlaQKout” wasn’t based on what we’ve done in the past; it was about do we go backward or forward or do we revel in the present?

I wanted to be in the present and figure that people will all get it later. “9 X Out of 10” is a template that reminds me of “Follow the Leader” or even “Move the Crowd,” it reminds me of one of those records where you’re like, “this is crazy.” I remember when I heard “Eric B. for President” for the first time; that was when I knew the world was changing. Or when I heard Slick Rick or Doug E. Fresh or Wreckx-n-Effect. I knew I was hearing something new. Or when I heard the Wu-Tang. I knew that if those got in, we could all be out of business because that was some wild stuff.

Or when I heard Dre, I knew that he had taken everything he knew about music and mixed it with a social political aspect. It was like mixing Nirvana and the Roots. When you hear certain things, sometimes they strike you as, “Why didn’t I think of that?” With the intro to “BlaQKout and “9X Outta 10,” they motivate me to keep going and trailblazing. Guys like Kurupt and Snoop will tell me the truth. The best thing about working with Kurupt is that he won’t rap to something he doesn’t like. He won’t sacrifice his morals and that keeps me disciplined and looking to the future.
What about the beat for “Hey Playa?” Are you a big fan of Moroccan music?
Quik: Actually I listen to a lot of Moroccan and Punjabi music so I can make sense of it when I use it for beats. That’s how I made Truth Hurts “Addictive,” it didn’t make sense until I had a moment of enlightenment and went a-ha and mashed it into a dance floor record.

I’ve been listening to a lot of out of the outside the box music, a lot of jazz, Moroccan, African hip-hop built on ska, but it’s hot.

What are your goals for the future?

Kurupt: We got a lot of things left to do. I’m back having fun at this game and that’s the most important thing to me. Next, I’ve got to finish up my own solo album and then Quik’s and get ready for another record between the two of us.

So we can expect a BlaQKout 2?

Quik: It’s up to Kurupt, it’s not going to be called BlaQKout 2 though, we’re not going to get stuck, we’re going to find a new , not going to be stuck.

Kurupt: It’s always going to be DJ Quik and Kurupt, we’ll hit another plateau and just keep going, being more creative, finding new sounds, we’re not going to stick to one thing. The skies the limit, I feel like I’m on fire now, loving everybody for their support, and excited to do some more music.

Quik: My n***a that’s beautiful—tabernacle. That’s the real meaning, you mix the light one with dark one, and you black out and try to remember it all the next morning.

Download:
MP3: Tha Dogg Pound-“Sooo Much Style”
MP3: Kurupt-“We Can Freak It”
MP3: Erick Sermon ft. DJ Quik & Kurupt-“Focus”

ZIP: DJ Quik-The Red Tape (Quik’s First Mixtape from 1987)
ZIP: America’z Most Complete Artist: The Best of DJ Quik mixed by Matthew Africa

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