I’ve been thinking about leaving Los Angeles lately. Admittedly, it’s probably not going to happen. My life, work, family, and friends are here. My grandmothers are in their late 80s and their time is scarce. If I tried to escape, my mom would immediately deluge my inbox with all sorts of research about why people who stay near their families tend to live longer. Besides, I don’t even know where I’d go. Maybe somewhere secluded in the mountains or the forest, where the rent is relatively low and I don’t have to deal with debilitating heat and suffocating traffic, La La Land lames or Vogue articles written by Brooklyn transplants telling me where to find the most Instagrammable “cruffin” in Highland Park.
Sometimes, it gets to be too much. You weigh the costs and the stress and wonder if you’d be temporarily happier somewhere else. This pattern has sporadically repeated since I was old enough to afford the gas money out of town. And invariably, before I ever sublet my apartment, I have one of those weekends where I can’t imagine abandoning this sun-wracked contradiction, a city that can’t decide if it’s surreal comedy or tragic farce.
Over the last several days, I watched G Perico smash everything on the Sunset Strip, surrounded by rowdy kids and solemn O.G.’s in Dodger Blue from 110th and San Pedro, just off Broadway. Went to a party near Olvera Street, thrown by LA Taco on Cinco De Mayo, where a dozen of the best taco alchemists in LA attracted over a thousand people to celebrate Latino culture and food, but also the rarely realized promise of the city as culture clash—watching all ethnicities dance to West Coast rap slashed with cumbia rhythms, offering unified worship to the taco at its platonic ideal. I attended a mini-festival on the steps of City Hall, sponsored by a Korean-American city councilman, featuring exclusively Asian-American artists. Went to Malibu and listened to Rosecrans as the waves collapsed on beaches worth more than my life. It was transcendent.
If you don’t know what Rosecrans is, you aren’t from LA. But because DJ Quik is a patient emissary of the people, he explains it for outsiders: it’s a long ass avenue that goes from the beach to the streets, and it probably ain’t got no potholes in it, cause I know they done fixed them…they got money in Compton now.” As with the street itself, Quik has avoided the pitfalls and potholes of being stuck in ‘92.
You can’t give America’s most complete artist enough credit. No matter how much they revere him from North Pasadena to the CPT, he’s stayed in constant evolution. Even his geographic perceptions refuse stasis. He might live in a house in the Valley so high it causes nosebleeds, but he’s never too far from Spruce Street, aware of the alterations of civic life and sub-woofer boom.
You can hear it all on a record like Rosecrans, one of those albums so LA that you feel like you need to apply sunscreen—with grooves so fluid and rolling that the freeways unfold their iron origami and offer an unbroken 75 mile an hour clarity. If regional music is often used as a pejorative, this is testament to why it’s the best type of rap: as specific to its place as Chandler or Troutman, Didion or Dre. It couldn’t have come from anywhere else, and you might not understand the coordinates, but for those attuned to the pulmonary shifts of the nation’s second largest city, it’s extracted oxygen for our gills.
Is DJ Quik the greatest producer of all-time? The question needs to be asked with most of his iconic peers mired in inertia, semi-retirement or ill-advised collaborations with Interpol.
Regardless of where you rank David Blake on your personal canon, it’s clear that his career lacks few hip-hop precedents. Depending on how you categorize him, Rosecrans could be his fifth career phase or 600th. Since the bootlegged classic Red Tape of the late 80s, the mad scientist has become as crucial as the beach-to-the-streets boulevard that his latest album is named after. He may never be as internationally lauded as Dre, but Dre’s stature means that he’s long been absorbed by the world. To get that popular, you have to relinquish something. Boosie might never have become the national force befitting his talent, but there’s something more substantial to the people of Baton Rouge, those all-too-familiar with the specific intersections and hot dog stands, locally corrupt politicians, dirty cops, and dead friends.
Quik achieves the same localized effect with a polish that ought to be encased under museum glass. All praise due to Problem too, who delivers his finest performance in an already very strong career The pair shout out the Bad Azz of “We Be Puttin’ It Down” Fame, interpolate “Summertime in the LBC,” hop off the 110 freeway, and shout out the late channel 9 newscaster Jerry “From the Desert to the Sea” Dunphy. Still scathing, still hilarious, the abominable Quik disses wrinkled connoisseurs with suits the color of manure — then lets the beat play out like a tangerine sunset.
If Dre’s Compton operated like the last episode of Seinfeld, where all the random characters returned for one final round of stunts, Rosecrans operates from a similar vantage point. No less than AMG returns for the first song, back on the block, having worked out their infamous post-Fixxers feud. Game pops up to name-check everyone from Cedar Piru to Denver Lane to the time he brought Drake to the hood. There’s the younger generation including Compton’s Boogie and Leimert’s Dom Kennedy. Quik even somehow resuscitated “Tonite” to where it feels simultaneously futuristic and retro, absent any empty nostalgia.
There’s “Central Ave,” named after the historic South Central thoroughfare that was once the center of the cool jazz world. In this iteration, MC Eiht screams “Chea” over one of those coruscating Quik synth lines—one of things you’d have sooner thought you’d see Pac resurrected than hear on wax. For the finale, Suga Free hysterically rambles about apology letters to condom factories, Chinese money, and Pendleton shirts. All Quik’s heirs and peers combine to make this as LA as the Randy’s Donuts sign.
Quik has the gift of making drum claps sound like a bottle of champagne exploding in your brain inside a strip club. Talkbox riffs summon Roger via robotic séance. Problem says it succinctly: if you’re from the city, then I know you get it.
This is the sort of album that makes it impossible to skip town. I’d miss the feeling of riding around too much—blasting this at all full volume, soundtrack in idyllic communion with the setting, equally adaptable to cement or the sea. No city is more misunderstood because LA is a code, a cypher waiting for translation, but wary to give away it’s secrets.
Dorothy Parker was wrong. It’s not 72 suburbs in search of a city. It’s 72 small cities that you have to search for because they refuse to reveal themselves to outsiders. This place is a collection of dialects—a congregation with only a few agreed upon ideas—one being that DJ Quik has always understood how to unite the esoteric BPMs, rhythms, grit, beauty and people of this city. That notion that palm tree, pistols, and paradise can exist in the same panorama. This is Rosecrans, classic Quik, the summation of a brilliant career that shows no signs of giving you music that you can’t use—the best product of our environment.