DJ Quik

The Midnight Life

DJ QuikThe Midnight Life
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David Blake is how you age gracefully in rap. The 44-year-old DJ Quik — a producer first and emcee second — doesn't flood the Internet with throwaways or chase collaborations with of-the-moment chart-toppers. His nine solo LPs have been spread over 23 years, and The Midnight Life, titled after his hour of peak creativity, marks his first release since 2011. A master of fusing lush R&B sounds with unmistakable Compton wisdom and a sprinkle of F-you, Quik's sound operates in a funkier, cleaner, richer world, irrespective of trends. So when Midnight's first song, "That Nigger's Crazy," uses a damn banjo as its anchor, it's both a middle finger to what you think good rap production should sound like in 2014 and a reminder that Quik is still that guy carving his own lane, even if the Jheri curl juice has long dried.

The cameos — Mack 10, Suga Free, Joi, El Debarge — would be more CD-cover-sticker-worthy 15 years ago, but who cares? Quik is still that guy drinking, smoking and shining despite or because of the haters. And although the rhymes lack the urgency onetime partner Kurupt brought on 2009's overlooked BlaQKout, Quik's always been more feel over substance, anyway. It's about the music as a whole, not a fierce 16. And there are real grooves here: "Puffin the Dragon" brings airy synths over snappy snares, just begging to be played in a convertible in August, while the unpredictable "Trapped on the Tracks" clangs with sampled vocals and steam-engine bass line, unlike any other beat you've heard before. Despite Quik's originality and consistency, he will never get the flood of props he deserves, a fact that he's well aware of.

"The most under-rated/ Some fuckin' hate it/ Anything I do for music's never celebrated," he spits on "Pet Semetary." On paper the words reek of old-vet bitterness, but when delivered over one of his rich funk compositions, there's warmth to his bile. And rap needs more of that. (Mad Science)
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