The sun is always shining in DJ Quik’s music. You can hear it in his light, affable voice, the bright and exuberant sounds he surrounds it with. But death and rot and despair are always nearby. Estranged family members stalk his lyrics, threatening to bring chaos. He flirts with bitterness and jaundice—”Anything I do in music is never celebrated,” he laments on “Pet Sematary,” from his new album The Midnight Life—but he backs away carefully, with a chuckle. This peculiar brand of pathos, a mixture of the antic and the mournful, should have its own word—”Quikenfreude,” maybe.
And The Midnight Life is rich in Quikenfreude. The album opens with a goofy, self-deprecating skit in which some reverent young rappers ask Quik what the rap game needs, and he responds, to their bewilderment, “a banjo.” It’s a little joke about the West Coast pioneer’s career-long preference for obscure, unfashionable sounds and instruments, and he dials up a banjo sound on the first full song to underline the point. Against this playful backdrop, though, he unleashes a torrent of bile and resentment, lashing out against men, women, fans, and enemies alike. “You’re lucky my security don’t want it to pop/ They looking out for you bastards, if it was me you’d be shot,” he warns. The picture he paints of himself—alone, ridiculed and envied by locals, and preyed upon relentlessly by close friends and associates—is bleak.
The Midnight Life is accordingly sharper and more brittle-sounding than The Book of David from 2011, which glowed with warm horns and jazz piano. But the enlivening Quik touch is everywhere: 25 years into his career, he is still discovering how 2 or 3 sounds can make you momentarily forget how rap songs usually go, the directions they head in. “Trapped On The Tracks” begins like his version of hyphy before rewinding and fast-forwarding itself into something much stranger and unclassifiable. “Shine” is one long loop of piano that keeps doubling back on itself, as if the track is gasping, while warped bells chime like bowed cymbals dipped in water. Even the straightforward rap/R&B hybrids have something startling going on in them.
His records are also increasingly beautiful in his late career, matching pristine clarity with palpable warmth. He loves session musicians, and keeps a small army of them in business— including guitarist Robert “Fonksta” Bacon, whose clipped rhythm guitar murmurs from every corner and who gets his own interlude to stretch out. On “El’s Interlude 2”, bongos start playing, and they are simply the most gorgeously recorded bongos you’ve ever heard in your life. This might sound insanely trivial, but really—you need to hear them. You can hear the thumb callouses.
These little moments are far from trivial for Quik’s music–they comprise its essence. To hear the loving way he treats synths and keys, letting them blur into a composite glimmer, on “Pet Sematary”, is to appreciate what lifelong love, diligently applied, sounds like. Few rap producers have communicated as much visceral joy in the craft of record-making as Quik.”And when I play this guitar, it’s gonna make my dick hard,” he crows on “Life Jacket”, and it might be the most quintessentially Quik line ever.
He’s claimed this is his most carefree, unencumbered record, but if that’s true, free time only makes him fiercer. “I got niggas in my hood that can’t even buy gold/ But swearin’ up and down they ballin out of control/ You niggas is fakin, acting like they got cocaine bakin/ With a fuckin’ day job at the train station,” he sneers on “Pet Sematary”. Enough? No, not quite, as he adds, “And they gotta apply every year for that job.” Nothing summons eloquence from Quik quite like scorn. “Produce Whitney and Janet!/ Oh, you can’t.” Can you shut someone down faster than that?
Quik has been complicit in downplaying his own rapping occasionally—”I almost talk; I don’t even rap,” he observed to Complex—but he’s criminally under-appreciated as a lyricist,and might be the best and most original of his generation of producer/rappers. On “The Conduct”, he’s on his “Third passport, poppin Ambien on international flights.” He pulls the top back on his car on “Puffin Tha Dragon” to “Let the raindrops kiss me on my angelic face.” He’s poetic; he’s hilarious; he’s catchy; he’s poignant. “I’m a geek I suppose/ I’m a freak I suppose/ I’m whatever you want me to be this week I suppose,” he offers slyly on “That Getter”. He’s the tortoise and the hare, impossible to pin down and sure to outlast us all.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1ue6CH6