by Kenneth Hicks
Los Angeles has produced a lot of great Hip-Hop in the past and several artists today maintain the city’s rep. This lineage is in full-force on Rosecrans, the collaborative album from DJ Quik and Problem. DJ Quik is a legend, and this project finds him working with one of the artists he’s partly responsible for in Problem. The duo first released an EP together in 2016, but they’ve extended the project into a full-length album, and we all should thank them for it. Rosecrans, like many other projects in Rap, is flying under the radar while fans focus on the big names that dominate their timelines. But Rosecrans deserves much more attention. The cross-generational exchange between Problem and Quik is one of the strongest releases of the year so far.
The album is a reminder of DJ Quik’s greatness. He’s an unsung architect of the Funk-based sound that’s synonymous with the West Coast. Dr. Dre rightfully gets a lot of credit for how LA established its identity in Rap, but Quik should be regarded in the same light. Hits like “Tonite” and “Dollaz + Sense” are clear evidence of his impact, and Quik lives up to his standard with the production on Rosecrans. A prime example is “A New Nite (Rosecrans Groove).” The song ends with a beat breakdown that lasts about 6 minutes but progresses in a way that holds your attention to the end. The breakdown moves from turntable scratches to drums with the rhythm of a hand clap; from guitar play that sounds like a deep-water dive to a short refrain that’s reminiscent of Roger Troutman and his talkbox. The song shows that the musicality of DJ Quik’s work still sets him apart from other producers in Hip-Hop. A lot of his peers are beatmakers, but Quik’s a full-fledged musician.
DJ Quik impresses on Rosecrans not only as a producer but as an emcee as well. This comes across on the album’s first song, “European Vacation.” Quik’s verse is filled with punchlines as he says things like his music gets you “high enough to run from Big Worm,” the character from the movie Friday. Quik has a voice and charisma that makes his presence strong on songs like this, so it’s not easy for rappers to work with him and still stand out in their own right. Yet, Problem rises to the challenge throughout the album. I’ll be honest—I used to think Problem was just a turn-up rapper. His ad-libs would stand out more to me than his rhymes. Before listening to Rosecrans, I knew Problem had personality as an emcee, but I didn’t know what else to expect from him. I was pleasantly surprised by him throughout the project; he turned me into a fan.
Problem delivers some strong choruses on the album, especially those on “Bad Azz” and “Funny How Niggas Gon Change Things.” His accent blends with his melodies in a way that makes the hooks hard to forget. As for his verses, they show his depth as an artist. One example is “You Are Everything,” where Problem reveals some of his motivations. He says, “Since my mom in the bed, [I] probably laid on the floor/ Fell asleep thinking like I gotta go get us more/ Gotta go make it better, gotta go be the best/ Make sure every time I speak I say it with my fuckin' chest.” Problem delivers these rhymes with a passion that come across clearly, helping you feel how his humble beginnings drive him to this day. His desire for his loved ones—not just himself—to have better lives resonates with me and probably many other listeners.
Problem and Quik’s performances carry the album, but they get great help from the guest features. AMG starts the album with an acapella rhyme that comes in suddenly with no build-up, striking you like a slap to the face. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Brittany Barber provides the smoothest moment on the album with the song “Chachi’s Ride,” as her voice sounds as silky as the instrumentation beneath it. And Suga Free is as comical as ever on the album’s final song. I’d quote some of his lines, but it wouldn’t do justice to that man’s brashness—you have to hear the things he says to believe it.
The title of Quik and Problem’s album is fitting because it embodies the streets that they grew up on. From the calm of a nighttime ride around the city to the chaos of neighborhood rivalries, everyone that appears on the project depicts the scenes that are emblems of life in LA. Furthermore, Quik and Problem let us know how their surroundings shape their perspectives on life. One of the best things Hip-Hop can do is bring you into the world that a rapper comes from, and Rosecrans does just that.
Kenneth Hicks is a writer born and raised in the Bronx.
Twitter - @KenHicks_