As the seasons change, hip-hop continues its perennial cycle through popular musical movements. DJ Mustard’s shimmering piano keys haunt every mainstream nook and cranny of the genre in this particular period, and the indubitably talented producer’s moment of glory provides a valuable moment for research into the hip-hop lineage that led to this particular moment, both to build out a deeper musical knowledge base overall and, perhaps more importantly, to try to understand how a talented producer with a unique ear stays in the public’s favor, as has happened to each of the past few years’ producers de jour.
How convenient that DJ Quik has released a master class in producer evolution, at a moment in the genre when sounds fall in and out of vogue faster than Bobby Shmurda’s fitted falls out of the air. The Left Coast mainstay’s new album, entitled The Midnight Life, gives a rare example of what can happen if a producer has the opportunity to mature while people are still paying attention. It’s not as if the Harry Frauds and Young Chops of the world stop making music, and just like with any other craft, one cannot help but improve with more experience. However, the combination of the time to mature and the resources to experiment with new modes of creation is surprisingly rare. Quik’s precision, technical ability, and hunger to find new sounds is nothing new, but the growth continues with each project–his fruitful relationship with a gaggle of studio musicians, which began in earnest on his previous project The Book of David, keeps the vibe warm, but the edges are sharper on The Midnight Life than David, creating that trademark DJ Quik bounce. “The Conduct” demonstrates this exciting growth best–the trademark talkbox effect lives on the hook, but Rob “Fonksta” Bacon’s Slash-like guitar riffs expand Quik’s comfort zone beyond anything he imagined back in his Profile Records days.
Another perk of longevity in the game is that Quik is more relaxed and willing to move loosely through the project. Beginning with the satirical intro proclaiming hip-hop’s need for more banjo, followed by the banjo-led banger “That N****r’s Crazy,” the album feels like a joyous journey through Quik’s cabinet of curiosities. No new jack producer would be willing to bounce from a Migos-ian “Trapped on the Tracks” to a grown and sexy interlude featuring the one and only El Debarge. Every time the listener thinks Quik has finally settled into a singular groove, he flips a few unexpected switches and pulls you around another sweet-sounding corner. Imagine if DJ Mustard jumped into an R&B ballad–would you go along for the ride? He would have to learn how to ease the transition as masterfully as Quik does on The Midnight Life, the result of decades’ worth of stellar creation.
It speaks highly of Quik’s production that his lyricism doesn’t even come up until the very end of this review. He never falls out of his pocket, and the lyrics provide just enough to give each song exactly what they need. His rapping isn’t what makes this project strong, but it certainly does not take away from the tape, and there are moments of genius wordplay that shine through–his first verse on “Puffin the Dragon” features a couple choice quotables, and his “feng shui” verse on “Shine” is braggocio at its hip-hop best. Yet overall, the lyrics do their part, nothing more and nothing less.
Before the snow falls and DJ Mustard becomes a mainstream footnote, it would be advantageous for him to take a look at the work ethic and career arc of DJ Quik. But don’t take my word for it–Mustard himself had Quik mix the supersmash “My Hitta.” Here’s a homework assignment: compare the drums on that track and any other Mustard track. With Quik on board, it hits just a little bit harder.
4 out of 5
You can purchase The Midnight Life on Amazon.