Compton's DJ Quik began his career in the early '90s as a fairly standard producer-for-hire, making music in the conventional gangsta-rap mold. Over the years, however, his production has matured, and he's traded the sample-intensive style of his early work for an airier, more effervescent sound built around live instrumentation. A gifted multi-instrumentalist, Quik discovered, as Too $hort did before him, that it's far more interesting and rewarding (not to mention cheaper) to make original music in the P-Funk vein using conventional instruments than to merely sample George Clinton's much-abused body of work. Quik may still rap like Eazy-E's slightly less cartoonish younger brother, but Balance & Options, like his stellar rhythm-al-ism, finds the rapper-producer moving away from gangsta-oriented lyrics in favor of a more self-consciously "positive" worldview. But Quik isn't about to join Black Star any time soon, as Balance & Options finds the occasional socially conscious lyric mingling freely with rampant misogyny and homophobia—sometimes within the same song—that's too pervasive and persistent to be incidental. As with Dr. Dre's otherwise brilliant 2001, these moments aren't just ideologically troubling; they detract from the album's overall feel, injecting bad vibes into an otherwise upbeat and celebratory album. Also like 2001, the most hateful songs on B&O tend to be the least inspired. One example: "You Ain't Fresh," a vitriolic gay-baiting attack on an unnamed but suspiciously Dr. Dre-like producer that's further undermined by an uncharacteristically spare, repetitive beat. Still, the album gets off to a good start and scatters strong moments throughout. "Sexuality" isn't exactly progressive, but its dense P-Funk groove is undeniable, while "Do Whatchu Want" showcases Quik and Digital Underground at their irreverent best. The instrumental "Quik's Groove" is sure-footed enough to buck the self-indulgence that plagues most instrumentals by rappers, while the melancholy "Tha Divorce Song," co-written and sung by James DeBarge, hints at intellectual and emotional growth. Balance & Options is a mixed bag, but Quik is such a talented producer that even when he's not at his best, he's still superior to the vast majority of his peers.

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