Hip-hop music is full of forgotten pioneers, and sometimes DJ Quik is one of them. Other times (every few years) he drops a new CD. Then it's as though he never left. The thing sells a ton—four of Quik's seven studio albums have gone gold or platinum—and spawns a radio-friendly hit you just can't get out of your head, until one day you do. Then it's so gone you can't remember it was ever there—or him, either. For DJ Quik, it's been that way for going on 16 years: on the charts, then off the charts, then out of mind.
That's probably the best that could have been expected for a guy too talented to be ignored, but too complicated to be stereotyped according to hip-hop's star-making machinery. DJ Quik has been gangsta, he's been conscious, he's been a touchy-feely New Age space case, and he's been holdin'-on-til-Jesus-comes Christian. He helped invent the classic West Coast sound in the early 1990s, but has avoided becoming an oldies act by updating his music—shifting focus from the characteristic and often caricatured deep funk to fresh, tight instrumentals.
While none of these identities appear to have been fake, Quik was among the very first to admit that at least one of them was a mistake: "I was very confused when I was doing gangsta rap music," he told me back in 1998. "I really didn't have a feel for what I wanted to do in this business, what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So I was swayed, and I took on a destructive attitude. I was a foot soldier for a bad cause."
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Still, Quik remains mercurial, capable of turning his whip-smart raps into cruel tongue-lashings, his comic speed-dial delivery into dirges of near-despondence—although these days his mood swings seem buttressed by a sense of self-confidence, not bluster. Gone is the nave, million-selling prodigy who got ripped off by major label contracts he signed when he was 20 and turned out platinum discs like Quik Is the Name and Way 2 Fonky. Now, at 36, he's a wised-up, indie-label mainstay who parlays his reputation and work ethic into an ever-extending career, including last year's aptly titled Trauma (released on his own Mad Science label), which made many critical and Top 10 lists and even debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's independent chart.
He also means business: you can sense not only the planning behind Quik's upcoming shows at Anaheim's House of Blues, which coincide with his just-released CD Greatest Hits Live at the House of Blues, but also his cameo role as a Bar Mitzvah entertainer in the new comedy Keeping Up With the Steins—another nice, cross-promotional touch. It's obvious Quik hopes to steal some thunder from an August release of his greatest studio hits by Arista records, the company that dumped him when he stopped putting up huge sales numbers in the late 1990s.
Onstage, though, Quik is simply about the business of pleasure, his own and his audience's. He's still small, skinny and hyperkinetic, dashing about the stage while rattling off strings of bromides and philosophies, curses and comedy in the same, seemingly endless breath. He's old school that way, and don't you forget it.
DJ Quik "Old Skool Set" with Mitchy Slick at House of Blues Anaheim, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583; www.hob.com/anaheim. Thurs.-Fri., June 15-16, 7 p.m. $26-$28.50. All ages.