DJ Quik: “I Already Know What The Planets Sound Like”

JLBarrow • May 31, 2011 • 2 Comments

DJ Quik has a dream. One day we will just be able to close our eyes and the music will flow freely. “I would make a drum machine where all you’d have to do is think your music,” he replies when asked what his dream piece of gear would be. “Don’t trademark this either. It’ll be called The BPC-1. People have called me crazy, they’ve insulted me. You are entitled to your opinion but we’ll see who’s crazy when you hear my words repeat themselves in your head. I say things that come to pass. I’m like a prophet. I’m Quikstradamus. I enjoy my power.”

Whether you’re a casual fan of DJ Quik or a diehard owner of The Red Tape, statements like that should come as no surprise. The man is a genius. As one of the most talented and successful rapper/producers in hip-hop Mr. David Blake has done more in his 20 + career in music than any of his peers. This year he dropped his eighth studio album The Book Of David on the HTC friendly 4/20. While the CD was lead off by high heel and short-skirt fair like “Real Women” and “Luv Of My Life” Mr. Blake is a gangster and a gentleman. (Give “Poppin” and “Across The Map” a spin for proof.) Nodfactor was granted an audience with one of the best to ever do it and while the convo was a mere 20 minutes it was long on game.

Nodfactor.com:You made the Flexitone a signature part of your sound at one point but it’s nowhere on this new album. Where did you first hear it?

DJ Quik: There was a group called One Way with Al Hudson. It was a big 80s group and they were signed to MCA records. They discovered Alicia Myers, an unsung hero in R&B. She could sing Anita Baker under the table. They had a song called “Cutie Pie.” It was a pop locking record. One of the percussion players on there used it and I believe his name was Carl Butch Small. He inspired me to buy one of those flexitones. Basically because you flex it to make the pitch change. I used it more prominently on my Rhthym-al-ism album but I introduced it on “Let’s Get Down” with Tony!Toni!Tone!

I didn’t want to lean too heavily on that sound because I over did it. And people started overdoing it after me, it was like the Talk Box. Out of respect for Rodger Troutman I don’t want to exploit it. You gotta be in the mood for it. Outside of that sound there will be more new sounds on this album. But the gangsta shit on The Book Of David is too hot or radio.

You started working on this album a while ago. How old are the singles?

Those are really fresh records. The whole album should have come out last year but I had to clear samples so they held me up for six months. It still seams like forever. They (literally) held me up. Clear the sample so I can make you guys rich.

Which sample was giving you problems?

Greased Lighting (used on “Hydromatic.”) But I’m not complaining. I love those people. The fact that they even considered letting my black ass use that shit. Greased Lightning is an iconic movie.

Do you think it’s harder to clear samples now?

I think that rightfully so that the people that own those intellectual properties should be concerned about how they are being manipulated, exploited, etc.

What was the resistance on their part?

I don’t think it was financial. There’s a scale at which these things work. There is a sliding scale and I agreed to all of it. We smoothed it out. It was just because we had to clear it through the UK and we’re on different time schedules and some of the communication was [hard]. But now we’re great. They cleared it for me thank God. On to the next one.

Tell me more about “Real Women and “Love of My Life”

Who doesn’t love John B? The last record we’ve heard him on was Tupac’s “Are You Still Down?” That’s not fair. John B means more to R&B than that, so why wouldn’t I support my brother and put him back on the radio where he belongs. It’s an ode to the women we really admire. I admire Sylvia Rone. She’s beautiful to me. Deborah Lee at BET. Cathy Hughes. We did it for women like that. Even though they’re a little out of my range, they got me in cougar town, but I still look up to fine women.

Is that indicative of the sound of the album?

I didn’t want to promote my gangster records. There are some gangster ass records on there but they’re too hot for television. I figured we play it safe at radio with Love of My Life but at the same time showing what we like. Me, I’m materialistic. I ain’t even gonna front. I’m just like Kanye, I buy shit I can’t even pronounce. And it introduced CIFT. He’s a talented kid from Detroit who is about to make waves.

I got to speak with Dr. Dre last year and while we wait for baited breath on Detox, he mentioned wanting to do an instrumental album based on the sound of the planets. What do you think of that?

I’m not gonna refute anything the good Dr. says because when I say things people read too much into it. I’m gonna be plain and simple and say that is a good concept but I already know how the planets sound. They emit radio waves that we receive. They have sound but they are received as feelings. They play on your skin as opposed to your ear auditorily. We’re all related. This is string theory. We’re particles and waves. That’s the general theory of relativity.

That sounds similar to something Hank Shocklee said years ago about the analog vibration.

It’s called the third harmonic distortion…That’s what it is. The first and third harmonic above any note is distorted so pleasantly that it’s like a marshmallow effect. It’s like a parachute effect. It gives you this safe kind of emotion. What tape did, it compressed all of the things that are harsh and bitter about music and gave them softer tones. It pretty much gave them a haircut. If tones are wild hair, tape gave it an edge up. It stopped transients and saturated (warmed up) the low end. It’s an amazing effect. When records went more digital we all felt it as less energy and more transients. We started to get all those spikey high ends and piercing 6.5 k-tones that hurt you. Real engineers have to harness digital for its efficiency and still be able to manipulate it in our analog world. There are plugins out there now UAFF. Bill Putnam Jr is doing serious mathematical replications of all of our classic gear that we did sound design with. Now we can do sound design like we used to back at Westlake where Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones and Rod Temperton did “Rock With You” and “Billly Jean”, etc. We got that technology back. That’s what you hear on my album. What you don’t hear is the harshness of digital. You can turn it up loud and play it forever. It sounds good.

Is that why you program your music to the tempo of people walking? That human connection?

You gotta have your swag. Prince did that. You could walk to “Let’s Work.” That’s a stride song. Tempos of records [are at] the rhythm of a person walking. I learned how to make records from watching Soul Train. I knew which records were stride records. I knew which records were too fast and too slow. My tempos are always between 93 and 94 bpms and 104.5, 105.7 BPMS. 94bpms is the rhythm of your heart beat. That shit is fluid.

Do you set the tempos before you start a record?

Nope, nope, nope! If I set the tempo before I do the record it’s automatically contrived. That’s like saying I’m gonna hit a tree right now and then I pull the trigger. The melody in my head tells me what to do. My songs now pretty much write themselves. Whereas we used to sample on the SP-1200 and you put the tempo in…all you had to do was be close in an SP-1200 and you’d make the perfect loop. Nothing sounds like 12-bit 25K sample quality and the SP-1200 had that in spades. It was like a pre-amp, DJ Mixer and recording console and tape machine all in one. Imagine that.

Nate Dogg was a great friend and collaborator of yours. My condolences…

I miss Nate everyday. I feel his absence everyday but I’m glad he’s on the spirit side. I’m glad he’s not suffering.

What did you learn from him in the studio?

I learned how to take the singing approach to hip-hop records more seriously and try to make timeless records. Hooks take time to develop in the studio. Choruses are not easy. I did a couple of things Nate didn’t like. He felt his vocals should have been louder on “Medley For a V” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTIObl7ZhTI) and he was very vocal about it. And I apologized. Maybe I did drop the ball because I didn’t pay attention to his high end because I was so used to hearing him in his baritone. I didn’t know he had such a flowing high end that when we did “Black Mercedes” for my Trauma album he blew me way. He shocked the shit out of me. I didn’t know he was a virtuoso fucking singer like that. When he just belted that shit out it was incredible to me. He sang it like a temptation.

I watched an interview where you described creating flavors and colors with your music. Can you expound on that?

I use the flavor analogy because I cook. My life is based on my taste. There are more sonic colors on this record than I’m used to using. They’re complex, they’re moody, they’re emotive but they’re fun at the same time.

What does the color red sound like?

It sounds like…I think of records like Donnie Hathaway….they have real red tones in them. And peuce. They’re minor 9ths so they’re colorful and they make you feel something as soon as you hear em. As opposed to a C major or C minor chord, those are like blue notes in a sense. B Flats. In hip-hop “Sweet Black P*ssy” is a red record. “Tonight” is a bluish record it’s a like a burgundy bluish. “A Boy Raised InCOmpton” is brown. It’s Isaac Hayes, his skin color and his record label. Just brown because that groove is so funky. The first Barkay’s band did that. The ones that crashed in that plane with Otis Redding. That’s where I sampled that shit from. They were the house band at Staxx. Smoking. Records like “Love of My Life” are reddish, greenish, orange. “Proper Woman” is clear, it’s colorless. It’s a white diaomond. I sampled that from Dave Grushen and Angela Bofield. Don’t you love my range and my diversity?

Absolutely. After this album are you going any freelance work?

I’m not really sure. I got where the demand is. If people really want that from me and they respect what I do I’ll give it to them. But I’m not gonna be like “hey I’m producing beats now, wanna buy some?” If my soul kitchen is bubbling the soup line will form. I’m just making music that Curtis Mayfield would be proud of, but with a gangsta edge that Eazy-E would be proud of. We’re all just balls of energy trying to connect with like minds. That’s pretty much it.

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