Written by Frances Capell
Photographs by GL Askew II
If you weren't looking for Burbank, CA, recording studio Little Big Room, you might never know it was there. Nestled next to a plumbing supply store on a sun-baked stretch of West Burbank Avenue, its oatmeal-colored walls, steel door and foggy block windows offer no indication of what lies within. When it comes to studios, the spots where magic happens are often incognito. This is where West Coast legend DJ Quik recorded 2014’s The Midnight Life—a triumphant return from a creative slump and, if all goes according to plan, the penultimate piece in a 10-album legacy spanning a colorful career and turbulent personal life. “Everybody has their lulls where they ain't poppin’ and shit's not that funky,” he says. “I just went through that for too long, so I came back to the studio and set fire to my sound. Now it's everything I want it to be.” Today, with a lustrous, youthful complexion that contradicts his 25 years in the game, the Compton-bred Quik is here to produce his first remix in roughly a decade.
The track on the chopping block is “Inside Out,” a highlight from Austin, Texas, rockers Spoon’s latest LP They Want My Soul. On paper, it’s a strange combination, but delve into the song’s backstory and things begin to make sense. Featuring melodic keyboard jabs atop sampled kicks and snares, the instrumentation was heavily inspired by the iconic sounds of Dr. Dre’s 2001. “They did this as an ode to the Dr. Dre-era sound that he doesn't even do anymore,” says Quik, who slid into the Death Row family during its wildest years, although his contributions on projects like Tupac’s All Eyez On Me are largely listed under government name David Blake due to tension with his first label Profile Records. “I miss that shit too,” he says.
The walls are grape-jelly purple in the studio’s charming control room, where one glance at its dauntingly vast mixing board reveals why Quik loves to record here. When he speaks with Spoon’s Britt Daniels, it’s in a dialect understood only by music industry lifers. Quik knows the big drum sound Britt wants; he feels out the groove, starts the pattern, lays the down the foundation so a keyboardist and guitarist can write while he orchestrates. “The vocals are great, and that's it,” he says. “It's like the song's done, and I just get to draw another picture of music around it.”
Three West Coast rappers are hand-picked to enter that picture: Death Row veteran Kurupt, HBK Gang’s lovable leader IAMSU! and Compton’s rising new talent, Boogie. Quik is family to Kurupt, who affectionately refers to him as Unk. “I consider [him] one of the first guys to ever drop a mixtape, because we got it on the streets in the '80s,” he says, referring to 1987’s underground release The Red Tape. “There's just certain producers who you know when you work with them, a hit's gonna be made. He gives me an opportunity to be me.” Almost as quickly as he steps into the booth, it’s a wrap on his verse; Uncle Quik’s got that voice on speed dial after years of collaboration, leaving them more time to reminisce over pizza and Patrón.
For the younger guys, this is a more pivotal moment. The East Bay’s Su, currently enjoying the accolades of his city and more widespread acclaim with each radio hit, has been putting in tons of studio hours lately and it shows. He’s calm, comfy in sweats, calculated in his harmonies and
ad-libs. He’s remarkably tall, yet speaks softly, perking up when he finds a moment to attach his name to a sound in Quik’s mental rolodex. Yes, that was Su on Sage the Gemini’s “Gas Pedal,” and
E-40’s “Function” remix, and does he remember LoveRance’s “Up?” Su produced and penned the hook on that one. A beautiful moment of recognition follows—the legend delivering props to the newcomer.
The pressure that 25-year-old Boogie carries with him today is visible. It’s January, and though he’s still feeling the momentum of last year’s excellent Thirst 48 mixtape, it will be three months before he releases his runaway single “Oh My.” For now, each passing minute is spent hyper-focused on translating his talent into food on the table for five-year-old son Darius. “I gotta be able to provide for him with what I'm doing,” he says. “Because he didn't ask to be here.”
He’s quiet, hunched over with headphones on as the instrumental loops in his ears and he strings lyrics together in his mind. Concentration breaks only when Quik re-enters the room. “Every time he was talking, I caught myself putting my headphones down trying to figure out what he's saying,” Boogie says. For the rapper, whose verse describes feeling like bait in his dangerous neighborhood, Quik is more than an icon—he’s a fellow high school dropout from Compton with Piru Blood ties, and a blueprint for one way out. “At the end of the day, I still gotta go back to where I'm at, and somebody that I see walking down the street's probably gonna bang on me,” he reminds us. I gotta be the king, he declares in the booth, slipping into the easy and natural singing voice of someone who first found music through the church. He’s still got a long way to go, but the path is clear and, today, he’s only getting closer.