“He was a diamond in the rough,” says DJ Quik regarding his friend and protégé, Johnny “Mausberg” Burns, a burgeoning 21-year-old rapper from Compton, CA, who was tragically murdered on July 4, 2000.
Quik and Maus met at a local concert in 1997. Impressed by the young MC’s polished flow and swagger on the mic, Quik took Maus under his wing and the two instantly formed a bond. Their first collaboration came a year later with “Down, Down, Down,” a track from Quik’s fourth album, Rhythm-al-ism. With Maus’ buzz slowly building, the new-jack teamed up with Quik and fellow West Coast artists Hi-C and Suga Free to release the 1999 indie compilation The Konnectid Project. The LP was well received and caught the attention of Snoop Dogg, who asked the newbie to appear on “Don’t Tell,” a track off his 1999 LP, No Limit Top Dogg. The future was bright for Mausberg who had spent the last few months of his life working on his solo debut, Non Fiction. The day before the album was to be completed, Maus’ was robbed and shot to death.
XXLMag.com pays tribute to the “Biggie of the West Coast” by speaking with DJ Quik about the life, death and legacy of Mausberg, a budding MC gone too soon.
How did you meet Mausberg?
I met him at a concert in ’97. It was just before I started doing Rhythm-al-ism. A guy named Stan [Sheppard] introduced me to him. He was talkin’ about signing him to his label, Sheppard Lane. So I was like, “Yeah, I’d like to meet him.” I met him, we talked a little bit and he seemed cool enough. Then I heard his music and [I] was like, “Oh, fuck! That’s crazy.” I wanted to work with him on some music, so we started working on this little soundtrack called The Konnectid Project. That was like a warm-up, something to put out before [his] album came out. [Then] he started doing his music tapes and started to bubble. People liked his stuff and then he started to help me write. We became real big buddies, man. He would spend the night over at my place a couple of times. We’d wake up in the morning [and] do music. He was just a real humble kid, man.
Where were you when you found out about Mausberg’s passing?
I was in bed. We had just dropped him off. [It was] July 3 and we had been working all day. He took the Fourth of July off so he could be with his family. I was at a family reunion [on the 4th], but I felt that something was wrong. I wanted to go pick him up on my motorcycle, but people were like, “Nah, man. He’s chillin’.” So I went home and [went] to sleep around midnight. I got a call at 1:30 a.m. saying… uh, uh, well, you know, just, “Mausberg is dead.” He [was just] a young man. Fuck being a rap artist; he’s a human being. Who did he piss off so bad to take his life? That resentment could have been fixed with an apology or two men having an understanding. Why kill him? Why didn’t he get his money from the record company? He had already started to generate income. Why didn’t he get enough money to move out of the hood? Being in the hood causes jealousy sometimes when you start being popular. Why didn’t Stan Sheppard and them give him his money to move out of the neighborhood so he could be safe? He was just a child. It’s sad to hear that, but I couldn’t even go to the hospital to see him. They said he died with tears in his eyes, man. Damn, tears in his eyes. That’s life.
On your DVD, Visualism, there’s a very moving tribute to Mausberg where you’re shown reminiscing about him. How often do you think about him?
How often would you think about your dead brother? I think about him every day. Even if I don’t, constant things just cross my mind. I’ve got him tattooed on my arm. I’ll never forget about him. I got his name big as shit on my right forearm. That’s something that will never go away. It’s unfortunate you learn to love people and yet you live in a society where love ain’t important. The society systems are all fucked up. He gets his life taken and for nothin’. He didn’t get robbed. He didn’t get jacked. He wasn’t caught in bed with somebody’s wife. Muthafuckas can get killed for nothin’, man. It’s just such bullshit. It’s enough to make you say, “Fuck this industry.”
What is your fondest memory of Mausberg?
Performing with him on stage at UCLA and watching him rock. He had a bottle of Moet and he was celebrating. He was such a big talent. He was bigger than life. He shined bright. Just talkin’ to him off the record, in between this music, I got to hear what he wanted to do. Just hearing his take on life. He didn’t just wanna rap. He wanted to take his people out the hood. He was the kind of person that wanted to build a hospital. That was the kind of stuff Mausberg wanted to do. He was really about helping. He didn’t like that ghetto shit. Take the fact that he wanted to build a hospital. Most niggas would say they wanted to build a mansion with 30 rooms with bitches in all of them. This nigga said he wanted to build a hospital. Come on, how big is that?
Mausberg’s album, Non Fiction, was released posthumously in 2000 on Sheppard Lane Records. Were you happy with the final product?
Oh, no, not at all! I wasn’t satisfied with the mastering. I spent a lot of money personally; maybe 40 grand in the studio [to] produce it right. When I finally mixed the record, I gave it to Stan Sheppard. He took them to this hole in the wall mastering plant. It made the whole album sound like an MP3 as opposed to the big, lush, analog albums we are known to make. So of course I was unhappy. We can’t even find Stan Sheppard to get the original master tapes.
You don’t even have backup copies?
If you think about it, July 3 we were in the studio recording. [Mausberg] is happy, he’s chillin’, trying to become a star. July 4 we take off to take a break. He died July 4. Then, the night of July 5 I have to be in the studio and finish recording the record we were working on because I’ve got the studio booked. I’m in there listening to this dude’s vocals as if my friend is going to come in the room and finish performing his backgrounds and shit. I didn’t have enough sense, wit or mental capacity to dump the master tapes and make copies of them so I could finish it outside of the shady business deal that was going on. It was a pretty shady thing to happen when his album got mastered. That’s because of Stan Sheppard. If they’d given [Mausberg] his money, he could have moved out of the hood.
Is there anything you would have done differently if you could?
If I would’ve been the label head, I would have definitely given [Mausberg] the chance when he got his publishing deal. Do you know what they did? They stripped the pig down and threw him into the lion’s den. That’s what you do to somebody who is going to be hot. You keep him in the hood and take their money from him. You set him up for all kinds of shit. I hope whoever got his money from his publishing [or] a kickback on any of those record sales, I would hope they paid for themselves to have a real good, happy, satisfied life. I hope they did well with his money. I hope they spent his money on something good. I hope they say, “Mausberg’s money bought me this Porsche. Mausberg’s money means I can enjoy this barbeque with my wife and pay my mistress.” [Long silence] I have to get off the phone now. [Quik hangs up the phone].
Snoop Dogg ft. Warren G, Mauseburg, & Nate Dogg “Don’t Tell” No Limit Top Dogg, 1999
DJ Quik ft. Suga Free, Mausberg & AMG “Down, Down, Down” Rhythm-al-ism, 1998
Dj Quik ft. Wanya Morris “50 Ways” Under Tha Influence, 2002