A veteran of 20 years in the rap game, DJ Quik will hit Australian shores for the first time in March! He might have eight studio albums and a long line of LA classics to his name, but Amerika'z Most Complete artist is still searching for the perfect sneaker. In preparation for the tour, we spoke to the west coast veteran about Compton dress codes, gang affiliated footwear and checker board Vans.
So let's start by talking sneakers. Through various references in your tracks, it's clear you've been a sneakerhead since day one.
Let me tell you like this; sneakers and cars get the same priority from me. I think of shoes like tyres. We actually use the analogy that when you put new rims on a car, you say 'I just put some new shoes on the car'. I've always been the type of dude that respected the way you rock your sneakers. I'm obsessive compulsive sometimes about my sneakers. I like to see them clean, they give me a cool sense of well-being. I got hundreds of pairs; Nike, adidas, I got Prada stuff, Reebok … For some reason, I believe that when people look at your outfit, they fixate on the shoes for longer than the shirt and the pants. I think they're the most important piece of an outfit.
So we'll start with the earlier part of your career, the early 90s. What sneakers were really poppin' at that time in Compton, or specifically in the Treetops?
The hot shoes were Air Max. When the Air Max first came out, everybody was on it. The price didn't even deter people, you had to be a baller to have them. Nike Cortez will always be a classic shoe, and everyone was into them, but my favourite Nike shoe was the Huarache Trainer. They were like $125 back in 1991, and they were the lightest and most comfortable shoe you could ever wear. It felt like you were wearing house shoes. They were porous so they let the air flow through, and you could jump super high in them. They were the best shoe in the game, to me.
There was another shoe though, that all the ballers used to wear, the Diadoras, people used wear a lot of Diadora. Fila, Ellesse, everybody loved court shoes, that European tennis shoe vibe … that was it.
Did a shoe determine your status or role in the neighbourhood?
It did. People judged you by your shoes and it determined your status. You knew when people were starting to ball when they had cowboy boots with some crocodile; real fancy shoes. In the sneaker world, it was real icy white shoes – Air Force 1s. Even though Air Force 1s kinda went out for a minute and it was hard to find 'em, when they came back, they came back bigger and better than ever. So Air Force 1s kind of defined you, they put you in a category.
Cortez were associated with drug dealers, the Air Max was associated with hustlers, which is kinda the same thing, and obviously the first Flights, like the Jordan Flights, meant you were a basketball player. Shell toes were a part of hip hop gear, you know with the sweatsuits and everything. Even though they were generally for athletic purposes and warm-ups, people out here rocked them like they were suits. The shoes really defined you, you were gonna be categorised by what you wear.
What about the shoe strings? Were people flipping their own style there too?
Yea, back then it was all about how creative you could be with the lace-up. People used to go across and do the straight lace-up, you know like the breakdancers, which was always a little complicated for me to do, but it was dope. Or people would do double shoe strings, which made your shoes hard to get on and off, but it still made you fly. It made you different to the guy who just laced up his Converse. But if you were rocking a pair of shell toes with the big red fat laces, everybody knew you were the hip hop guy, you wanted to breakdance. So it was just that extra little step that people took to define themselves.
Did particular neighbourhoods affiliate with specific brands or styles?
Do you remember British Knights? The Crips used to wear them because of the two initials; BK - which meant Blood Killer. If you ever crossed anybody in British Knights, you automatically knew they were a Crip. When Calvin Klein gear came out, with the CK initials, you automatically knew that person was a Blood. But sometimes Crips would wear Calvin Klein stuff just to trick Bloods, and vice versa. It's kinda weird, I'm making light of it, but it was real serious.
Looking back, it was pretty damn ignorant. It seemed like the shoe companies were buying into the gang fad and catering to the gangs to sell product. They knew these kids had money; they were selling drugs and getting it how they were getting it, so why not sell your brand to these inner-city people? They're gonna kill themselves anyway, why not let them kill themselves with your BK or CK sneakers on?
Even if you had the hottest shoe in the world, if it was blue - you couldn't really wear it certain places. Or if you had a really dope pair of adidas with red stripes, you couldn't wear that to certain places. I'm glad that's kinda calmed down now, and people are expressing themselves with all the colour. But it was kinda hairy back then in 94, 95, 96.
But the awesome shoes were adidas, the dopeman Cortez, Huarache Trainer, Air Max, the shell toe never went out of style, and also the Gucci tennis shoe was crazy for baller status. The shoe was ultimately what Jay-Z built his S. Carter RBK on, that dope Gucci tennis shoe.
What pair do you remember really wanting for the first time?
Believe it or not, I really wanted a pair of checker-top Vans! hahaha. The black and white ones. They were just different; they were loud, cheap, and that was the 80s. People were expressing themselves. Wham were wearing those lime green colours, and skateboarders and surfers were wearing checkered Vans. My Mom bought me a pair, and I wore them on this field trip to go ice skating. I put them in a locker, and somebody broke into the locker and replaced them with their own beat-up shoes.
Oh shit that's a terrible story!
It's alright, cos I can buy hundreds of pairs now.
One more shoe question, a pair of shoes thrown over the wires, what did that mean in your neighbourhood?
It meant that somebody was murdered on that street, prior to the shoes going up. That's what it meant. Some people used to say that if you saw the shoes on the wire, it meant you could get drugs in the neighbourhood, but I've always known it to mean somebody was murdered.
Was it that particular person's shoes, or just any old shoes?
I don't know if the shoes I've seen hanging on the wires belonged to the person that died, but that's what it was. It was like rest in peace. You're not walking the earth anymore, you're walking in the air.
So let's talk about the upcoming Australian tour.
I'm coming down there to party! I've been setting the world on fire out here, we've been hitting stages, we've done a bunch of sold-out shows. People were trying to tell me that my career was over eight years ago, and then here I am having this crazy resurgence, where I'm doing all these sold-out concerts. I'm back to producing, I'm in the studio with Dr Dre, The Game, Terrace Martin, Snoop and Teddy Riley… how could I be over? This is great man. I didn't see this coming. I had some pretty dark times; I lost my best friend, my family sued me, extorted me, robbed me, stole my jewellery. I went through some pretty dark times. I'd kinda lost my love for what made me popular in the first place. I figured if this makes my family wanna rob me and makes them hate me, why am I doing it?
So with the live show, I have to ask – are you gonna be bringing the talkbox down?
If they wanna see that, I sure could! As a matter of fact, I didn't think about it, cos I was gonna just come with my DJ and do it that way, but if people wanna see the talkbox I'll come down there and bring Roger back alive. I'll pack it up and bring it down, I'll do a Roger solo like Heartbreaker.
You've been working with a band on your live show for years now, but for this tour it's just you and your DJ?
Yea you know what's iffy about the band is that my fans, they're torn between me and the band. They like the music the way they hear it on the radio. They don't really like the band's articulation. I dunno if it's too much music for them or if it's too jazzy, or just too raw. But the way my band plays, it's just so tight, they jam! They're very accomplished musicians. I would love to bring them down there but I don't know if people would understand it.
Yea sometimes the hip hop fans just like 16 bars, 4/4 time. You can lose them with too much riffing.
Right, and I'd rather do it that way. That's what I come from. I like a little bit of music articulation and a whole lot of drums. A whole lot of dirty SP1200-style drums. That's always been my flavour. It's gotta be dirty, and clean at the same time. Unlike sneakers! Sneakers are to be clean all the time!
Catch DJ Quik in Australia on the follow dates!
Melbourne – March 16 at the Prince Of Wales Bandroom. Tickets through Moshtix.
Brisbane – March 14 at The Hi-Fi. Tickets through Moshtix.
Sydney – March 15 at the Gaelic Theatre. Tickets through Oztix.