An Interview With DJ Quik and JasonMartin (FKA Problem)

Steven Louis speaks with the West Coast legends behind Chupacapbra, and learns how the duo inadvertently made a modern-day L.A. classic.
By    June 13, 2024

Image via Estevan Oriol

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Steven Louis will pick you up from the airport, because “LAXit” is a crime against the city.

There’s a dry, rustling silence across the ranch. We’re at an undisclosed location north of Los Angeles County, but it might as well be a 20th-century Maynard Dixon canvas preserved across time. One of the most decorated producers in hip-hop, if not all contemporary music, rides up on an American Saddlebred, which we’ll assume is named either Sweet Black Horsey or Bombudd III.

Dusted spurs, fraying leather jacket, sunburnt solitude – this was the retirement plan for DJ Quik, before a crimson Compton seal flashed across the sky and a call of “whaaaaaaaat!” bellowed from beyond the mountains. Before Quik even had furniture moved into his new house, there was JasonMartin, the rapper formerly known as Problem who co-starred on 2017’s collaborative Rosecrans album. A laptop listening session in the barren living room became a month-long impromptu studio kickback; the retirement ranch became a working G-funk bunker for the likes of Game, Jay Worthy and an ensemble of battle-tested L.A. veterans. Just when Quik thought he was out, they pulled him back in, etc.

The resulting Chupacabra is groovy, textured, hypnotic and even hilarious. “Eazy Call” finds the duo hitting three-wheel motion in the coupe, sliding across Crenshaw and Jefferson. “Cold Ass 2 Step” pressurizes a discordant funk, as if one trillion flies were buzzing around open malt liquor inside a Chevy Impala. “Workout” is a block party smash that sources sounds from 1987, and 2003, and the 31st century.

The guest list is inspired and efficient. Suga Free rides up and proudly declares that Pope Francis couldn’t save him even if he tried; Larry June drives over from the Marriott, where he’s doing pilates and eating sushi with his rotating concubines; George Clinton spits game about plagued livestock and mythical bloodsuckers. Game sounds rejuvenated, clocking in on three of the first four tracks, and Quik has immaculate chemistry with more plush musicians like Thundercat, Channel Tres, and the Free Nationals.

The anchoring force is JasonMartin, whose flow is malleable, spry and punchy across Quik’s intricate and golden beatwork. On “Since I Was Lil,” a west-meets-south cypher boasting all-time chillers in Bun B, Curren$y and Jay Worthy, it’s Jason that sounds the iciest. Quik rapping again is thrilling stuff, as he calls himself the horse-powered matador for a plethora of haters. In conversation, the Comptonites crack jokes – at one point, Jason attributes poor vision to his “vintage eyes,” while Quik and I snicker about the name Susie Thundertussy – but both keep bringing up their commitments to professionalism established through past decades.

The chupacabra is a trippy piece of folklore, but it’s also an instructive mascot for their shared artistry – vampiric and alien, scaring the goats out of their skeletons, rarely talked about as much as it should be. Chupacabra deserves to be on the short list for rap album of the year, all the more so when we learn that it was created by accident. We spoke to them about the new music, the sacred art of sampling, mushrooms, “bloops” of tequila and the 1984 Olympics in LA.

​​(This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.)

As the album makes its way out to the people, how do you guys size up Los Angeles in 2024? Where do you think the city is going, in terms of its music and culture?

JasonMartin: I’m anxious to see where it’s gonna go, in a good way. Our music scene seems to always be in the dark. In California, the world only looks over here when there’s a dance record starting up. It happened with Hammer, it happened with “Teach Me How to Dougie” and jerking, maybe it’s happening now with 310 Babii and that “Soak City.” What Dot [Kendrick Lamar] just did on “Not Like Us” is great for the sport, too, but I’m biased there for Compton. Cali and the Coast overall is super active, and LA looks like it’s in good shape going forward. But it always deserves even better, and the city needed this one from us.

Jason raps that he was channeling 50 Cent recording “Wanksta” and “Back Down,” those raw and early tracks. How do you two maintain hunger and ferocity as elder statesmen? On Chupacabra, it feels like you’re NBA vets still logging 30-something minutes every night.

JasonMartin: The thing that pushes me is that I’m not competing with anybody. It’s just me vs. me on the mic, and right now I’m competing with any raps I’ve ever done. I love music, I love the fact that I get to do this as a career, and I really do try to be better and better. Unlike sports, I have the privilege of mostly using my mind – the body deteriorates, but as long as I stay healthy up here, I’ll always be sharp as an artist. To be honest, having six kids has something to do with it, too. When you’re the bark of the family tree, you have to hold everything together. And at the end of the day, shit – I get to work with this guy! Who the fuck is not gonna be excited to rap when DJ Quik is mixing and mastering, telling you when right and wrong?

DJ Quik: I moved to this crib over here to kick back, separate myself from my whole family. I just wanted to live by myself and ride off into the sunset, like “fuck music.” You know, I was spending too much money on equipment and wasn’t getting a return, literally turning dollars into pennies. I tried to put a couple of records out last year with some people that don’t have the same drive I do. It was all, “pay for this, pay for this,” and that’s not how shit works. If it’s dollars into pennies, I’m keeping my dollars. So, I slid off. And Jason must have felt it in the air, like the Bat Signal got turned on. What you on, what you on?! [Laughing] He came over here, and I was in retirement, looking like a rancher. I was gonna buy a horse to ride around my neighborhood.

JasonMartin: He can still buy the horse, but we’re gonna do these jams.

DJ Quik: I really was done. You know what I’m saying? I announced my retirement last year at the Grammys hip-hop tribute function. We did a party, Rakim and Big Daddy Kane showed up, and I told them, “yo, it’s over for me. I’m done, tired of this shit. I’m gonna go save my publishing money and just ride off.” Then my man here was in the living room playing shit on his laptop before I could even put furniture in. And I recognized how dope it sounded, instantly. My ears went, “ding, that’s tough!” I’m gonna show you exactly where we were sitting.

JasonMartin: This man has classic keyboards all around the living room, Michael Jackson and Prince plaques. There was no way in hell I wasn’t digging a mic out of the garage.

DJ Quik: Even before my computer and tower came, it was like a think-tank over here. We were just fucking around. We got motherfuckers over there on the table smoking big weed and drinking champagne; motherfuckers playing bass and guitar and adding to the tracks over there. Suddenly, we had an album in less than a month, and a double album in 45 days. I had never worked like that. I need to retire more often.

And this was 20 years after your first contemplation of retirement, right?

DJ Quik: Yeah. I wanted to quit a long time ago. It just wasn’t fun, and the records weren’t selling no more as the business changed. I’m too long in the tooth for streaming, that’s a kid’s game. They were telling me I had to get with certain artists and do a younger sound. Fuck that. That’s not what I’m on, that’s walking down the freeway backward. It would be counterintuitive.

I got chills when I heard the sample for “No More Parties in LA” repurposed – and improved – on “Dern and Spruce.”

DJ Quik: Yessir, that’s “Suzie Thundertussy!” Are you laughing at “Thundertussy?” [I was] What a great record to begin with by Junie Morrison, rest in peace. No disrespect to Kanye and them, but I cleaned it up and did it the way it’s supposed to sound. Funky, all outdoors. That record means a lot to me. I think this sample is the dog whistle for LA hip hop.

JasonMartin: We had Jay Worthy come over to get some authentic whoop whoops in [laughing]. The song wasn’t done yet, the beat was going and we just had a mic up. I’m here drinking and partying – bro, I got black-out drunk and still had to record. When I came over the next day, I recognized that we had something hot and used that take as a reference. Bro, I had too much tequila. I had about 40 bloops of tequila.

Wait, what’s a bloop?

JasonMartin: What you’ve got right there [the rest of a bottle of Slurricane (18 percent ABV), gifted for my birthday by fellow Passionillionaire Yousef Srour] is like 50 bloops worth. A bloop is like a quarter of an ounce, just a lil snidge. Anyway, I was blooped up. And we were all just trying to figure the vibe out. Open mic, beautiful baked and fried foods coming out from the kitchen, all the homies kickin’ it. I’m so glad we let ourselves do our thing, because once we sobered up, we recognized that we had fire. I asked Quik the next morning, “where’d that come from?” He’s like, “it came from you!”

I feel like there are a lot of references to casual shrooming on this album.

JasonMartin: I’m a real flower child. My mother has been growing shrooms for a long time. Weed too. I’m so of the earth it’s crazy, and I think I’m one of the healthiest people among my group of friends. Whenever I visit my mom, she’ll give me a bag of shrooms to take home. I usually don’t get to try them, because everyone takes them from me. Oh, this is Quik’s mushroom business right here!

[Quik displays his custom-branded psilocybin, and after conceding that I broke the seal with the Slurricane, he takes a few capsules]

JasonMartin: I’d love to do a shroomy doomy interview once the album is out, summertime vibes, for sure.

DJ Quik: Shroomy doomy oomy!

Quik, you’ve been a counterculture figure for like three decades now, and Jason, you’re a flower child. A whole generation of LA knows folks that were incarcerated for possession. Does it trip you guys out to see legal weed selling for $80 an eighth downtown, and suburban moms doing mushroom microdoses? Is there anything exciting about it?

DJ Quik: For me, I thought this shit was gonna be on the fringes and in the shadows forever. It’s nice to, you know, smoke a J down the street and not worry about going to jail. That’s a small thing, but it’s surreal.

JasonMartin: I agree with everything he said. My main quarrel would be that the quality is gonna suffer at some point. That’s what happens when you mass produce. It’s just like music – now that it’s so easy for anyone to put out anything, the overall quality dips. But then you get a new kind of fun in finding the fire stuff. Like how it feels to dig in the crates for good songs, that’s how I feel finding good weed. I like to find the best of the best, and I consider myself a connoisseur of good things.

DJ Quik: And it’s funny – in hip-hop, you get judged on your taste. If you put together your top five favorite rappers, it’s gonna get debated and hated by everybody. And that’s a narrative too that needs to stop. Let me ask you, do you think we should stop making people pick between names and choosing “the king” or “Rushmore” of hip-hop?

For sure, because I think it’s reductive at best and kinda racist at worst. It’s not like you have an annual limit on how many concert tickets or vinyls you can buy. There are so many miraculous acts in this music, and we should celebrate all of them. When I make lists these days, they’re usually 30-40 deep, because if you care about this culture and this history, it’s impossible to not immediately come up with all these names. And even though every answer will get debated, it’s hard to have a straight-up bad choice for favorite rapper.

DJ Quik: Yup. “Favorite” is just personal opinions at the end of the day, I just wish they would be, uh, correct [laughing]? If you’re gonna make a list, specify whether it’s for skill level or selling records or whatever else. There’s people that sold a jillion records that I’d never consider great MCs. Now, they have great business sense and they have great teams and great songs. But when you go about top rappers and top producers, I got to actually see you touch something for me to have that conversation about you. I have to know that if we left you in the room, something’s gonna come out. That’s me. You get what I’m saying? But we don’t make the lists, and the fans are gonna fan, and that’s that. I just don’t like these lists justifying how we get remembered and how much respect we get.

This reminds me of “Quik’s Message” on the album. You rap, “XXL wanna erase me from history / what is DJ Quik, a mystery?” It seems like you’re affected by these lists.

DJ Quik: If only because my career is not just what I did for myself. If you look around this room, in the aggregate, I sold 100 million records as a producer before I was 30 years old. And then another three million as an artist. So, collectively, it feels like that shit doesn’t get counted. It feels like I’m a doorstop.

JasonMartin: That’s the whole thing with Chubacapbra. It’s like, we’re these things that you hear about, these legends all the goats are terrified of, because they walk in the room and actually shake this shit up. They actually have the power.

DJ Quik: Bro, I’m a DJ first. I’ve been a DJ since I was one year old. I was touching vinyl, playing records without scratching them by two. I cared about the people coming out of the speakers. I thought the music came from those people on the record cover, and I didn’t want to hurt them. And ever since, I used that to help put a lot of people at the top get back on when they were getting a lil askew. I would give them drum sounds or inject stuff from records, and everyone said, “that’s the hot shit, Quik is on the hot shit, you need to get with that right there.” So I sent people back to the drawing board, and people like Dre sent me back to the drawing board. That’s how this works as a community for staying on top. It’s like we’re not on a team, but we are, you know what I’m saying? I fixed a lot of people’s sounds, coming from a radio background. I helped a lot of people sound more palatable and radio-ready and gave it that extra lil shine, man. That’s all, and I just want my respect for that. There’s probably another 10, 12 million in plaques that I don’t even have on my wall.

Do you feel the same way, Jason, in the rap conversation?

JasonMartin: At this stage of my career, to have conversations with great people like you, to have business going on with great people like Empire, to do things on TV and stand next to Quik and have this relationship, that’s how I know I’ve earned my spot and I ain’t going nowhere. If I put my trust in the people that are picking and choosing what’s gonna lead them, I’m already losing the fucking game. You get what I’m saying? This whole shit got switched all up, bro. It went from us telling you guys – not you in particular – but us telling the people what’s cool in this rap shit, to them telling us what we need to be doing. I admit, I got caught up in it, watching videos and reading editorials and all that. So I clicked that part of out my brain six, seven years ago. When I talk to elite, mega-emcees like Dot, and we can have a conversation about rap, I know I’m straight.

DJ Quik: Plus, this dude is really a beast onstage. He just jumped onstage with me recently and reminded me who the fuck he is. So it’s really an injustice to not have him on a list of top performers.

I went to college in Chicago years ago, and remember seeing you at Subterranean in 2014.

JasonMartin: That’s crazy! So you’re already there if we do some Chupacabra shows.

I’m there. I’ll pull up and drive the lowrider into the ocean, like Game says on “Eazy Call.”

JasonMartin: I would’ve never thought to say some shit like that. But Game came over here, and turned into the producer I never knew he was. We’ve been working for years, we’ve had a good rapport, but this project was different. To bring him in on something we’re doing and to watch him – not only the records he’s on – but you should have seen the influence he had on the ones he’s not. He cared so much that he was over here for hours, I’m talking hours, bro.

DJ Quik: He was happy it didn’t feel like a math problem over here, and told us it was how a recording session should be set up. He was actually playing hooky from a high-profile session to be here.

It seems like he’s rejuvenated this year. I dug the album with Big Hit.

JasonMartin: They did that in one day, seriously, and someone said, “y’all should put this out as an album.” That’s how it should be, bro. The only thing that should be calculated and meticulous is the business side of the stuff. The art should feel as free as it is. You know what I’m saying? Untethered, unprocessed.

DJ Quik: I don’t know if y’all see it in my eyes, but that lil mushroom is hitting already.

[Unmitigated laughter for a good 30 seconds]

I wish I could join you. But honestly, I’m just glad you’re having some fun with this conversation. With the state of editorial as bad as it is, I really don’t blame artists for seeing interviews as a chore. But so many rap interviews come out lifeless and clickbaiting.

JasonMartin: I think people should understand that moments like this will live forever. They just saw how quickly TikTok could be snatched away. I think it’s better to value real moments, and things you have some control over. It’s terrifying for me as an artist to see these kids build up TikTok followings, and then they’ll violate the terms of service for some bullshit, and then it’s gone. That factor alone should let people concentrate on, you know – talking to actual people, having tangible moments!

I think of a song like “Gurbs & Youngs,” which is moving in the opposite direction. You’re excavating a classic gangsta rap song that’s 30 years old, and wasn’t available online for most of this streaming era. It could crumble away if you don’t bring it back for new generations. It’s not trendy, it’s preservation – and it sounds amazing.

JasonMartin: That’s very, very important to me. That’s what hip-hop is. We all need to generate. What would happen if Master P and them don’t do what they do? Where would I be without “Just Lyk Compton”? Our power is built on each other. I was just talking to DJ Battlecat the other day. I was like, “bro, you have to allow people to sample your work.” The way they had the Isley brothers and Roger Troutman, those were the guys for us. We recycle the bag and recycle the swag, and we all move forward. It ensures that nobody gets lost and hip-hop stays in its past and future.

DJ Quik: And to add to that, I’m a person all about patterns. I like numerology and shit like that. Not to be all deep, but I like how numbers work. Being a spectator in hip-hop, you can see that now, everything in sampling is calculated. Like, “it’s time to sample ‘Ms. Fat Booty’ because it’s 25 years after the original.” There’s a whole generation that hasn’t heard that record, so it’s the right time to milk that cow again. But if you’re not paying homage to my man Yasiin Bey, then you’re not doing hip-hop justice. It’s generational. The songs we used to dance to as kids, like Zapp and Parliament Funkadelic, we grow up wanting to rap over those breakbeats. I’ll say this again – certain samples are dog whistles, different grooves for specific generations. But we paid homage in sampling. Now they’re clowning the old heads, but we revered The Temptations back then. We didn’t give a fuck that those people had gray hair. And this hip-hop thing is so new, relatively, that I don’t blame ‘em for still not learning. That’s a cultural thing, too.

JasonMartin: We’re always trying to hate and shit on older things in our culture, and that needs to stop. You know what I’m saying? No one else does that – no other culture or genre, across music and history and life. We’re so divisive. Why do we do that? Why don’t we wanna see everyone get checks?

And the older generations have the money to spend on this stuff! I think last year’s 50 Cent / Busta Rhymes circuit was the top-earning tour in rap.

DJ Quik: Yes, imagine that. For the Get Rich or Die Tryin’ anniversary, right? I forgot, I worked on that album too.

Believe it or not, I think that was the first time I ever heard your music. That or looking through the liner notes booklet for The Eminem Show. Forgive me, I was born in ‘93.

DJ Quik: Man, I’ve got kids older than you. But you good [laughing].

The Loveship sample on “She’s Not Around Part II” is damn near hypnotizing. That whole song is crazy – Game is naming more women than Petey Pablo, hah.

JasonMartin: [rapping like Game] “this for ‘93 Michelle, ‘02 Sadira.” We thought it would be dope to do a part II of someone else’s record. Worthy and June made that sound so fresh and funky. Then Game came through in character and got some shit off his chest. We wanted to do something to differentiate this version, and that was Game rapping against the vocal sample, specifically talking about “when she’s not around.”

DJ Quik: I love how he uses that as a marker. That’s a great record. It made sense to do a part II of a Worthy record, because he had a lot to do with the A&R process of this project. He was calling in all his superfriends who hadn’t worked with us before, like Curren$y and Bun B.

Why do you think all these guests on here sound so refreshed and locked in?

JasonMartin: It’s not that they haven’t been rapping like that. They just haven’t sounded like that. It’s ‘cause once Quik takes it and puts it through his process, you come out sounding better than ever.

DJ Quik: I still buy pre-amps, you know? Everybody else uses the same gear, so they get the same sound, and that’s insanity. You can’t expect different results with the same equipment. So I’ve been geeking off the feeling from this pre-amplification. All the vocals on this record were recorded with shit going on in the background – a lot of video games, both the PlayStation 5 and the coin-operated upright ones. But in the mix, you don’t get that patina, that stain. It;’s not even an ambiance or an echo. You just don’t hear that shit. In my studio, it’s all about isolation. We’re in a barnhouse, but there are no square walls. The right angle is the enemy of sound. It makes everything sound cheap and boxy. A good studio has shapes, like diamonds, because the sound can’t bounce from one solid surface to the other without sounding like garbage. So in here, it’s like a cathedral.

JasonMartin: Quik’s sound is a brand. It’s like the difference between Polo and Versace.

Are there any lessons or statements in Chupacabra for listeners to catch?

JasonMartin: For the most part, nah, this was a party. But I’ve had a running joke for years about how I’ve seen three chupacabras in my life. And I always thought it would be a dope name for a rock album, and the way this came together was very rock and roll, you know what I’m saying? One spot, all up in here, guitars, mics and everything. The takeaway is that we’re some bad motherfuckers, some underground heroes, and that we’re really good at this rap shit. But I also want people to know how Compton’s coming right now. My brother Thundercat out of Compton, Channel Tres out of Compton, they bring a transcendent energy. When it comes to Compton, people choose to just acknowledge the negative. In reality, there’s so many other things happening besides gangbanging. But for some reason, when you hear the name Compton, it’s always got that taste. If it’s not thuggin’, they don’t want to put Compton next to it. Shit, Steve Lacy is from Compton!

DJ Quik: Buddy too. That stuff never gets mentioned.

JasonMartin: So understand this – say we have a movie starring Kevin Costner, and it’s set in Compton, California. Everything changes for the reputation! But that’s why they won’t do that. It’s not that we’re trying to glorify dangerous stuff for kids, it’s that the rest of the world doesn’t want to acknowledge there are other things going on in Compton.

When Americans think of “party cities,” it’s usually like Atlantic City or the Hamptons or Miami Beach. But for a while, everyone and everything in this culture seemed to wanna get down like Compton.

DJ Quik: Man! Compton house parties in the 60s, 70s and 80s were out of control. Who was cleaning that shit up?

JasonMartin: [Laughing] And that’s why when people say we’re from LA, we correct them and say we’re from Compton. It’s just a different situation. I’m not trying to, you know, waive the white flag. There is a lot of bullshit here. But not more than what the outsiders give credit for.

DJ Quik: I put Compton on my back not because it was perfect, but because it was so imperfect. I was like, “people need to know about this city.” Maybe they could help fix it with us, or kick it with us. I never rapped about all the killings on my personal albums. I gave you a party vibe, because we partied in Compton, but our shit was fucked up, Our streets and potholes and shit until the 1984 Olympics came, and they beautified everything because it was on the news. But they haven’t done any improvements like that ever since, you know what I’m saying?

I very much do. I volunteer with a group in the city organizing against the Olympics in LA, because in ‘84, all that really happened was the LAPD getting supercharged and mass arrests in poor neighborhoods.

DJ Quik: Yeah, exactly. That’s what it was – trying to clean it up on the world stage. But for the most part, you know, Compton’s quirks and imperfections are what made it dope to me. The disparities are crazy, and the haves and have-nots are across the street from each other. The city is only 10 square miles, technically 11. Houses with acres and then dope house bungalows. Look, we’re all Reaganomics babies. We didn’t put crack in our city. We didn’t go to Colombia and get that shit. Motherfuckers brought that shit here. That’s all from Sacramento.

It’s certainly no coincidence that Ronald Reagan was governor of California before he became president.

JasonMartin: Real talk.

To close out, who would be playing each of you in the Chupacabra movie?

JasonMartin: I wanna be Bruce Leroy specifically from The Last Dragon.

DJ Quik: Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction. That’s a shroomy choice.

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