DJ QUIK, "Safe + Sound" ( Profile ) ** 1/2
In the earliest '90s, when Compton rap was in flower, DJ Quik was briefly the freshest thing in hip-hop, a gangsta-rap guy who could both produce and rhyme. He was cute, with a smoldering young-dude rap style that had teen-age girls swooning at love songs as nasty as Too Short's or R. Kelly's. Not even quasi-political, Quik rapped about girls and weed and bottles of malt liquor.
His second album went platinum almost immediately in 1992, but conventional wisdom had it that Quik had crossed over, gone soft. This time around, Quik resurrects the style of his first album. Smooth, attractive beats underpin silky, deftly layered snippets of '70s R&B;, and Quik's high-pitched, highly articulated raps cut through the mix like a soprano sax. The songs tend to be more fully realized than Dr. Dre's productions, but are also weightless and slick where first-rate Dre sounds almost improvised.
But there are sex ballads that could make an ACLU lawyer blush, machine-gun fantasies and a violent rant against fellow Compton rapper MC Eiht as flat and humorless as anything on record. "Safe + Sound" may jump Quik back into the esteem of the street, but it's pretty much no fun.
New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).