DJ Quik and Kurupt have clocked in close to 40 years in the rap industry between them. Both are perennially under-rated artists—with the possible exception of Kurupt showing up 7th on Eminem’s G.O.A.T. list from The Eminem Show’s “Till I Collapse,” one spot ahead of Nas—each with their commercial peaks behind them. DJ Quik spent the 90’s turning in gold and platinum albums for Profile Records, and racking up production credits with 2Pac and Shaquille O’Neal. Kurupt guested on The Chronic before coming up as a member of Tha Dogg Pound. In 2005, both Quik and Kurupt put out albums fully entrenched in their respective mid-90’s mindsets—Quik with the Roger Troutman-fixated, if bangable, Trauma, featuring Nate Dogg and Wyclef; Kurupt with Tha Dogg Pound’s reminder that Daz Dillinger is still alive, Cali Iz Active, featuring production by Swizz Beats and Ryan Leslie, aching for some radio play. A mere half-decade later, no one—No. One.—expected either of these dudes to make the most forward-thinking mainstream rap album since Stankonia.
To be entirely fair, BlaQKout is not progressive due to its lyrical content. Quik and Kurupt still rhyme like they’re on the Above the Rim soundtrack; no vagina joke goes untold. Still, the two emcees have strong, workmanlike flows that serve to strengthen the production, as Quik goes absolutely binoculars with his beats. Fittingly, Kurupt’s best line on the whole album is, ““This beat is bananas/ It hits your antennas/ Cause DJ Quik’s more gifted than Santa.” There’s a good amount of G-Funk spread around BlaQKout, but it’s a retro-futurist G-Funk. Call and response choruses get tricked out with peals of fuzzy synthesizer. Low end gets replaced with high end. The reference points on songs like “Ohh!” and “Jupiter’s Critic and the Mind of Mars” are more “Doo Doo Chasers” than “Flashlight.” Quik’s beats tend to overtly call attention to themselves, mostly in the chopped up vocal samples he uses. You can practically hear the ProTools breaks, and yet Quik manages an intense amount of diversity out of the approach. On the album’s two standout tracks, “Hey Playa!” and “9x Outta 10,” Quik deconstructs a Moroccan tune lifted from a TV show and an opera passage, respectively. In each song, the snippets swirl into a tornado, anchored only by Quik & Kurupt’s verses.
In many ways, BlaQKout comes off like a side-project rather than the real show, but it’s the rare type of side-project where the players inspire each other to make some of the loosest music of their careers. Mostly, it’s a reminder of how locked in artists can get—to a persona, to a style, to a message—especially in hip-hop, and how fun it can be to witness them color outside the lines. Kurupt told justrhymes.com in an interview in July, “It’s been a long time since we had fun making a record.” Sounds like they needed this one as much as we did.
-Martin Brown, 2009