EMPIREBLAKE ENTERPRISESDIAMOND LANE MUSIC GROUP, INC. • 2016
by Jay Balfour
FIND IT AT: Amoeba Music
On a new shared EP, ’90s G-funk legend DJ Quik and Problem, a rapper a generation younger, find a breezy, lazy rhythm together.
“Rosencrans” [Ft. The Game and Candace Boyd] —
DJ Quik and Problem have been sporadic collaborators for years, but news of a shared EP called Rosecrans arrived as a relative surprise. Quik, the ’90s G-funk legend who continues making some of the best music of his career well into his 40s, has been quiet since his last album, The Midnight Life, was released in 2014. Over the same time period Problem, a generation younger than Quik but from the same city, has released a handful of mixtapes pining after the commercial peak he reached in 2013 with a single called “Like Whaaat.” At six songs, the duo’s breezes by as a loosely fitting tribute to a shared hometown.
“Y’all know what Rosecrans is, it’s a long ass avenue that go from the beach to the streets,” DJ Quik says coolly on the first song, describing the famous Compton throughway that the EP could soundtrack a drive down on a lazy day. Rosecrans was co-produced by Quik and Problem together but it’s the veteran’s genius that shines through in the music. For decades Quik has injected an anything-can-be-funky sensibility into his catalog and into hip-hop more generally, but his legend rests also on an understated musicality that he provides himself and enlists in session instrumentalists. He makes smart music that’s easy to listen to, both clinical and warm at once.
Problem is a practiced and stylish-enough rapper, and he’s noticeably channelled better in short verses here than you’d find on an aimlessly sprawling mixtape. He also seems to have corralled many of the EP’s seven guests. Wiz Khalifa drops in as a mostly forgettable cameo on “This Is Your Moment,” which trades the EP’s frequent live bass for a bottom end programmed for the club, alongside a young and far happier-to-be-here Compton rapper named Buddy. The first verse on the album belongs to Game, who has made a career of reminding listeners he’s from Compton and that he knows a bunch of rappers. He does both here with a word-cloud-like verse that checks off self-implicating references to Dre, Drake, Bompton, and Chuck Taylor’s. Bad Lucc sneaks in on “Take It Off One Time,” a skippable track that sounds like a contemporary-R&B grab Problem brought to the table and Quik tweaked to his liking.
Rosecrans features a pair of instrumentalists that also appeared on Quik’s last album and are billed here alongside the man himself as a trio called SuperDave. (They’re all named David.) David Forman’s bass is both fat and nimble on the shimmering opening title track, while David “Preach” Balfour finesses his keys into a twinkle on top. David Blake is the obvious coordinator, and he talks his shit instead of rapping it here—not that there’s that much difference—introducing himself as “the abominable DJ Quik.” Quik has always considered himself a producer first, but as a rapper he’s one of hip-hop’s great acquired tastes, and carries the ability to revolt and charm in a single conversational bar.
The EP’s crown jewel comes early with “A New Nite / Rosecrans Grove,” which seems to function as a sort of nostalgic retread on one of Quik’s earliest hits, 1991’s “Tonite.” Vocalist Shy Carter does a bit of a Nate Dogg impression on the hook, but the beauty is in the laid back and eventually rearranged groove. “Now this the kinda beat that I might need Dre on,” Quik raps truthfully before promising, “I’mma stay on.” It’s the blippy, chiptune synth that rises above the fray and catches the ear though. The seemingly out-of-place sound—”Is that my fucking pager going off?” Problem wonders during the intro—becomes the meandering centerpiece of the track, oscillating from choppily plucked out funk to the sounds you might expect from a prancing Mario as he pockets strings of coins in a hidden level. Later, after more dissection and a vocoder has set the mood, the synth somehow shifts into a wailing police siren with a European accent. The groove never breaks, but the synth throws things off-kilter. It’s another Quik trademark: an unexpected sound twisted to surprisingly versatile depths, the same magic he’s been using to steer his still-winding career.