DJ Quik's latest album, Rhythm-Al-Ism, by now is on display at record stores nationwide. But if DJ Quik had his way a few months back, it would still be tucked away among his demos.
According to rapper/producer Quik (born David Blake), he developed so powerful an attachment to Rhythm-Al-Ism while he was working on it that he considered not releasing the disc. He suggested that his reluctance to go public with the recording might be traced to a series of demoralizing traumas that he endured in the past few years.
"I had a bunch of tragedies and a lot of personal stuff that really dampened my spirits," Quik, 28, said earlier this month from his Woodland Hills, Calif., home.
His trials included physical burn-out after recording his 1995 album, Safe & Sound; a brief association as a producer with beleaguered Death Row Records (which has lost a series of its top artists to other labels and whose CEO, Marion "Suge" Knight, currently is serving a nine-year jail term for parole violations); a heated re-negotiation of his contract with Profile Records; and the shooting death in his home of his personal assistant at the hands of his nephew.
"I changed energy, thank God, and made it through all that stuff," Quik said.
When Rhythm-Al-Ism was completed, Quik said he was surprised at his reaction to the project. "I've never been this partial to one of my albums [that] I seriously thought about ... keeping it for myself."
Executives at Profile and his advisors pushed him to release the album. "My people were like, 'Are you an idiot? Everyone needs to hear this record, stupid!' " Quik said. When Profile was purchased by Arista Records earlier this year, Quik realized that it was time for Rhythm-Al-Ism to be released.
Rhythm-Al-Ism, which is Quik's fourth album, displays an evolution of sound and lyrics for the rapper. It continues in the sexually frank rhymes/thick-funk tradition of 1991's Quik Is the Name, 1992's Way 2 Fonky and 1995's Safe & Sound.
But where Quik's previous works sported a few songs that touched on gangsta life and insulted other rappers, Rhythm-Al-Ism keeps its focus on things that feel good: sex, getting high, getting over a heartbreak, going to parties and making music.
Quik can't even listen to some of his older songs because he now thinks they are too negative, he said. "Musically, this is a new thing for me," he explained. "There's a lot of variety there, with a lot of funky stuff, but also some pretty plain, kind-of sparse stuff interwoven."
The album's title refers to mind-altering substances, Quik said. "I named it Rhythm-Al-Ism because sometimes, people call weed 'ism,' and to me, that's the effect this album has."
Early word of the album's positive focus has DJ Quik's fans interested. According to Eric White, 22, "Hand in Hand" (RealAudio excerpt), the first single from the album, shows how the artist's sound has developed since 1995.
"His sex-and-money rhymes have always been on point," White wrote in an e-mail. "I was never convinced when he tried flexing like a gangsta. He's a pretty small guy, you know."
While Rhythm-Al-Ism is notable for its sexually explicit lyrics and funky musicianship, it also boasts a lengthy guest list.
R&B crooners El DeBarge and Nate Dogg and such rappers as Snoop Dogg, Peter Gunz, AMG and Suga Free participated in the recording sessions for the album. DeBarge, who appears on "Hand in Hand," "El's Interlude" and "Medley for a V (The Pussy Medley)" (RealAudio excerpt), was one artist whom Quik especially was excited to work with for personal reasons.
"I lost my virginity listening to a DeBarge song," Quik revealed, "and [he] is such an incredible artist. He's like an alien. He's such a special, special man."
The plush, sexual vibe of the songs created by DeBarge and Quik is most evident in the second half of the album, which begins with a long instrumental jam at the end of "Whateva U Do" and moves through "Thinking About U" into the strictly R&B "El's Interlude" and on to "Medley for a V (The Pussy Medley)." The latter is a star-studded track that also features Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, AMG, 2nd II None and Hi-C.
Quik conceded that the collaboration with DeBarge is memorable, but he said he doesn't exactly remember making "Medley for a V." The piece was performed and recorded during a studio session for Nate Dogg's G-Funk Classics Vol. 1 and 2 album. While the crew worked on "Medley for a V," Quik said he took responsibility for beer runs and made sure the joints were always lit.
"Snoop blazed a blunt, and everyone started passing it, and then I blacked out," Quik said. "Before I knew it, I had a song on the reel, but I sure don't remember making it."
With the addition of DeBarge to the album, many parts of Rhythm-Al-Ism seem far removed from the world of rap and closer to the world of R&B. Quik said that it reflected the way he writes his songs -- music first, rhymes last.
"It's like an artist with an easel," he said. "I can't draw without that musical foundation. I kind-of have fun with the music first.
"There's a fine line between artistry and vanity," he added, "and I don't know when I'm crossing it. I'm just a big dummy. I just happen to be in tune with some big power that allows me to make some great music."