DJ Mustard has never been hotter. This week's YG album is one of the best albums to come out on a major label in some time, and it features ten (!) Mustard beats. The Los Angeles-based producer has taken over the charts, with four songs (Kid Ink's "Show Me," YG's "My Hitta," Ty Dolla $ign's "Paranoid," and Trey Songz's "Nana") in the hip-hop airplay top ten (and a fifth, T-Pain's "Up Down (Do This All Day)," at No. 11). His is hip-hop's sound of Now, the way Mike Will's was a year previous.
As if that's not enough, Mustard not only stole the crown from Mike Will, but from Atlanta as a whole. It's been years since a producer so redefined the industry's dominant beat style from outside Atlanta
Part of what Mustard accomplished was to unite California under one sound. From SoCal to the Bay Area, everyone's riding the same slumping, delayed snap beat. It's a smart move; when everyone is locked into the same groove, DJs are more likely to play tracks that will fit into that sound, which forces other producers to follow suit and compete on your terrain. (Remember when everyone was blending "The Motto" into "Rack City" over and over?)
So how did Mustard reach these heights? His homie Ty Dolla $ign said he was responsible for gifting Mustard the bulk of the drums he uses, although he was careful to add, "You can't take nothing from nobody." After all, it was Mustard who used those drums to make hit records. Mustard has branded his stripped-down club sound "ratchet"—itself a term borrowed from Baton Rouge.
But while Mustard's sound is popular throughout Cali, some in the Bay Area seem to feel he's borrowed their sound. Bay Area hip-hop crew HBK Gang—including IamSu, Chief, P-Lo, Sage the Gemini, Kool John, and others, were recently profiled by Naomi Zeichner in The FADER.
HBK feels Mustard lifted that sound partly from the Bay, sans attribution. They talk candidly about his making a trip to town and asking P-Lo for drum samples, and say Mustard once borrowed liberally from the melody of "I Bangz," a 2009 song by their friend Young Bari. "Some people out there right now are influenced by us but don't really want to say it," Sage says with tempered agitation. "If you went to the Bay Area, slept there and got a dream there, don't try and sell that dream back to me."
We spoke with DJ Mustard about making YG's My Krazy Life, the relationship between DJing and production, and much more.
Interview by David Drake (@somanyshrimp)
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What were you guys trying to go for with YG's My Krazy Life?
When Dre and Snoop got together it was classic, West Coast real rap-type shit. We tried to recreate that, because our generation is way different than what it was back then. We just focused on making a real West Coast album, and bring to the table the YG lifestyle. Everybody knows YG is a turnt up dude that can't nobody control. So he wanted to take them through his lifestyle—show them what it would be like to spend a day in Compton. So they would know what it was like to be him for a day.
What is your favorite track that you did on the album?
I can't say I have one favorite. The thing about the album was to make as many singles as we possibly could. I feel like I like almost every record. I don't think there's a record on there I don't like. I don't think I have a favorite because I like all of them the same.
You've obviously got a bunch of hits circulating right now—one of my favorites is the T-Pain record—what do you think was different about your music that made it stand out?
I'm into the club scene. I'm into having a good time and showing people you can have fun. Because for a long time, the West Coast, it wasn't about having fun. It was about gang banging, it just wasn't fun no more. So now I'm bringing fun back.
The thing about the album was to make as many singles as we possibly could. I feel like I like almost every record.
We don't have Lil Jon anymore. Lil Jon, he's doing another thing right now. He left that side alone. So I feel like there was nobody out like that. You have the Mike Wills, you've got the Young Chops, you've got people that make the down south [music]. You've got the Metro Boomins, there's a lot of them. 808 Mafias and stuff like that. And there's nobody that can do the up-tempo. For a long time there were no 90 BPM [beats per minute, a measure of a song's tempo] records in the club. For a while, it was 70 and 60, slow BPMs. Once I seen that lane was open and started creating my own little style, I kind of took it to the next level.
You started DJing before you were producing, right?
How did you get started DJing?
My uncle named DJ Tee, he—I don't want to say it was forced on me, it was a family thing. Me and my little cousin DJ John John, we used to always be DJing in the house. We never took it seriously. So one day I went to a party with him—he used to have a lot of gigs on Saturday—and he left something at the house. He had to go get it and couldn't find nobody to cover the party, so he was like, "Yo, you think you can do it?" I'm like, "Yeah." People called my mom and were like, "Yo, your son's amazing." I was so young and I was playing Frankie Beverly and Maze, Earth, Wind and Fire.
Once they called my mom, my uncle seen I had something, and he started setting me up for all my own little parties. And before you know it, I was DJing all the L.A. Unified School District parties and everybody's sweet 16's and proms.
How old were you when that story happened?
I started DJing when I was like 11. That story happened when I was 11. I DJ'd a lot of middle school parties and when I got to high school it was on. That's when I started DJing everything. It took a couple of years for me to get my name to everybody. People to start being like, "I want Mustard to DJ my parties." But once I got that name, it was by high school so I was like 15, 16 years old. I was going to proms before I was able to go to prom.
Do you remember the first check you got as a DJ?
It was cash. I got $250, and then I had to pay for the gas in the car. It was like a job, so much responsibility. It kind of taught me how to be a man. My uncle would charge $250 for parties and I would get $100 and we'd put $50 in the van and my uncle would get $100. It was like a job. For an 11 year old or 15 year old to get $100 and you do two parties a night, or you do a daytime party and a night time party? Everything was worked for. Me and my cousin even used to do construction at my uncle's house, and it would buy the Sidekicks [phones]. I worked for everything I got.
What were the places you used to DJ at like?
I would DJ from the hoodest of hoodest parties to like the rich—I wasn't born with money like that. I grew up in South Central, King & Crenshaw, so I would DJ parties for all the high schools districts. Dorsey School Distirct, Westchester School District, even though Westchester, they had a little more money, Fairfax would have a little more money, Palisades. Everybody at Palisades High School, I DJ'd everybody's Sweet 16. I don't think there's anybody at Palisades High School that I didn't DJ their sweet 16. All of those. Then I ended up DJing the prom for that same class.
What kind of jams were you playing?
Everything. We had different movements. We had the hyphy movement and moved on to the jerk movement. Throughout all that I just played what a normal hip-hop DJ would play. I was younger.
When was this?
This was when I was in high school. Like 9th grade or 10th grade. I graduated in 2008 so 2004.
Were you guys playing a lot of the Bay Area stuff?
Hell yeah! I mean, that was the West Coast.
What were the big songs that you'd play at that time?
You had Mac Dre, Keak the Sneak, you had The Federation, Mr. Fab, it was a lot, yo.
Was there one song that would always set it off?
Keak the Sneak "That's My Word" ["Super Hyphy"]. That was one underground one that everybody knew.
You didn't start producing until much later, right?
Yeah, I started producing because YG didn't have any beats. It wasn't like a goal of mine to be a big producer, but I found a love for it after I started realizing like, "Damn, I can really take this somewhere." I wanted to be like DJ Drama [Laughs]. That was my main goal. I wanted to be like Drama and host mixtapes and shit.
When did you realize that you liked doing it? "Rack City" was one of your first beats, is that right?
Yeah but before that I had a gang of shit. I did "Bitches Ain't Shit" for YG. I did "I'm Good" for YG. We did a whole mixtape [2008's 4Fingaz] before that. When I did "Rack City," that's when I was getting really, really into the producer thing. I liked this shit. I stopped Djing for a while because I only did shows for YG. I wasn't doing no clubs. I was doing shows and producing. Once I did that, I found a love for producing.
Did your experience DJing affect the way you would make beats?
DJing helped me learn a lot about music. I knew certain things about the music, so it goes and in hand. You can DJ a party and it can show you when you start making beats what the crowd wants and what it don't want. Not to say that it's easy, nothing like that but you know.
One thing I noticed is your stuff has a similar rhythmic feel to it. Is that intentional?
Nah it wasn't ever on purpose. None of this shit was on purpose. I'm still not where I want to be. I'm still doing a lot of other shit. It's not perfect. Nothing's planned it's just me doing what I want to do. I just want good music. Whatever I feel is good music, that's what I'm going to do.
Can you tell me what your five favorite beats are that you've done?
"My Nigga," the new single "Vato" is probably one of my favorite beats, YG album song called "BPT," there's another song "Let's Play House," and then "Who Do You Love" with YG and Drake.
How did you and YG first meet?
We met through my older homeboy, Big B. I used to be DJing their record pool meetings. That was for DJs to come and get new music. I used to DJ that shit and play all the new music for the DJs. Big B used to always to tell my uncle, "Ayo, I'ma get your nephew. I got a plan. I got a plan."
So once he found YG he called me and he just gave me YG's CD because, like I said, I wanted to be like Drama so I fucking did a mixtape on some Drama shit and once I did that, me and YG been cool ever since.
What did you think of his rap style once you heard it?
I was from L.A. He was already crackin' in L.A. I had already heard his music in L.A. I was doing teen clubs and he was performing in teen clubs, so we had already seen each other, we just never had met.
They used to tell us that a lot of our records was regional. But they was just sleeping on us.
What did people say about him?
The same shit, "This nigga crackin'." He always been like this, just now the world is getting to see it, but as far as L.A., he always is performing and having like regional records—well, they used to tell us that a lot of our records was regional. But they was just sleeping on us. Like Def Jam,—someone that don't work at Def Jam no more. His name Max Gousse. He told us our record was regional and that this shit ain't going to be what it was. He fired now though. [Laughs]
I interviewed Ty Dolla $ign, and one of the things he mentioned, he said when you started producing he had given you some drum sounds. Is that true?
That's definitely true. I made the same shit off of his drum sounds, I still use his drum sounds right now. [Laughs]. I found my own drums within the drums that he was using. I don't know if he was using them or not. But I know he gave me the pack of sounds. That's my big bro. I made a lot of records off that shit.
Did he teach you a lot about music? I know he's been doing it for a long time.
It was like having an older bro. I'm the type of person that I could watch you do something and if I watch you long enough, I would be able to do it myself. So I used to go up there and I used to watch Ty make beats. Because at the time I was I was lazy. I used to just watch Ty. I used to just watch that nigga make beats all day, go to his house. I wasn't doing shit, I was just sitting there at his house watching him. Him, G. Casso—Rest in Peace G Casso, he passed away—Chordz, those were the three. But I used to just watch him make beats. Finally I'm just like, "Yo I'm trying to make some beats."
Me and Ty never used to the same program until now. I use the MPC now, I know Ty uses that shit because it makes shit bang more, but we never used the same programs or nothing like that. I found my own program. Me and my little brother Mike Lee, and once we found out how to use that shit... We were making backpack rapper beats, some Talib Kweli-type shit. Once I found out how to use the same program he was using, I started making turnt up shit and it went from there. Once we did that it was like, "Shit, time to go," and I just took off.
Where do you think your sound came from? Who were you first trying to compete with when you started making club beats?
I wasn't trying to compete with nobody. I was trying to compete with myself. I don't pay attention to nobody, I don't got time for that shit. But I used to listen to a lot of Lil Jon. Dr. Dre and Lil Jon, those two people were like, shit, they went hard. They was making my type of music. I liked Timbaland, too but he didn't make my type of shit, he made a different type [of music], but Timbaland's dope.
I listen to Lil Jon and Dr. Dre a lot. That's where I got my influence from. I love Too Short a lot too. Everybody always say I took my style from the Bay but I didn't take my style from there. I got my style from fucking myself. People are just weird. If I took anything from the Bay it was Too Short.
Your beats have a swing to them that I don't hear in Lil Jon's stuff. When I talked to Ty he mentioned a mix of Cali music, snap music and jerk.
At one point in time there was a jerk movement and that inspired me a lot too. But I don't do jerk beats. At that time it inspired me. I take a lot of shit that I do now from the jerk shit and it works.
As far as the Bay guys there was a recent FADER article, some of the guys said you took drum samples from P-Lo.
P-Lo?! I've never sampled not one joint from P-Lo. What type of dumb shit is that?
They said the melody from the song "I Bangz," the 2009 song by Young Bari.
The funny shit is I've never heard that song in my life. I promise to God I've never heard that song in my life. I'm not a hater. I'll show respect to whoever. I didn't say nothing when they took my "Rack City" shit and made it their own Bay shit. I get tired of people being like, "Mustard, Mustard, Mustard, Mustard," like I'm the bad guy.
Put this in the article: jump off my d*ck and get you some hit records.
Put this in the article: jump off my dick and get you some hit records because I don't got time. I'm not the nigga for that. I don't have no hate for them, but even if I did do that, why are you focused on that? You should be focused on what's your next hit record because that's all I'm focused on. I don't think about no P-Lo or none of them. No disrespect to them but I don't think about no other man. That's crazy. What song did they say I remade that in?
It just says you "once borrowed liberally from the melody of "I Bangz," a 2009 song by their friend Young Bari." It doesn't say which one.
That's crazy. I've never heard that song. I'm going to go listen to it now though. [Laughs] I got to see what the fuck they're talking about because I never heard that. I wonder why these people say that shit out loud. Just say it to me. Like you should've at least came and got some publishing like, "Hey bro, I think you stole this." And I would've been like, "No. I've never heard that." You don't have to go in a magazine or some shit like that. That's weird shit.
Are there any current Bay dudes whose music you've enjoyed lately?
I like Sage [The Gemini]. I actually met Sage before he took off. He's still the same dude. I met him, he was like, "Yo. I fuck with you and YG. I want to be down." I was like "That's cool, man. We fuck with you too," and after that, nigga just sprouted. He blew up out of nowhere. You really never know who you could be talking to. I could be talking to you and tomorrow you could be fucking Jay Z. You never know. I fuck with Sage and I think he goes hard as fuck.
A lot of the Bay cats go hard, they just need to focus on them though. I focus on nobody else. Don't worry about nobody else. Do your music.
The FADER article doesn't mention who it was that said that. It just said somebody from the Gang.
My people can say a whole lot of shit about people there. Like, who's got the most money? Who's got the most shows? Who's wearing the 30,000 rolexes? Who's taking care of their people? That's what matters to me. That's boss shit. Who ride around in these $130,000 cars? That's what matters to me.
Who makes sure their kids get taken care of? Who's baby mamas or girlfriends driving around in $70,000 cars? Who's 23 years old and got their own house? That's what matters to me. That other sh*t? That don't matter.
Who makes sure their kids get taken care of? Who's baby mamas or girlfriends driving around in $70,000 cars? Who's 23 years old and got their own house? That's what matters to me. That other shit? That don't matter. Who's got the most records on the Hot 100? That's what matters. Don't nothing else matter. I don't have no hatred for them. I like what they're doing for the West Coast. I think it's all good. But who's getting the money? You can be the star player but if your team's losing then you're fucked. That's all I'm saying. I fuck with people from the Bay. I hope everybody get rich and famous and everything but what matters to me is whose numbers are on the board. The boards don't lie.
Who are your favorite rappers right now out of California?
I fuck with Nipsey, YG, Dom [Kennedy], he goes incredibly hard. I like Tyga. Right now that's probably it. Oh, RJ! RJ! RJ! He fucking a lot of people up. He finna fuck niggas heads up. Put that in capital letters: RJ IS UP NEXT. That nigga is going to fuck the streets up.
Those are all my questions—
Tell them to download my single, too. "Vato."
When is the album dropping?
The album, ain't no telling. Summer time, though. I'm coming in the summer time and it's going to be on some real turnt up shit so be ready to turn up.
How do you think the YG record is going to sell?
I'm confident. I'm not thinking about presales or pre-orders or whatever you call them. I feel like when people buy the album the first day, whoever buys it, then word of mouth, everybody will go get it. I'm not worried. I'm not stressing over it. He's not either. He's good. He out here at SXSW turning everything up.
That's dope. You hoping to catch Boosie while you there?
Hell yeah! I think he going to be at the Illmore. He really coming though? I keep hearing that shit too. If he is I'm there. I'm in that man. Hell yeah. Nigga, what? Boosie. That's going to be crazy!
Have they reached out to you for a beat yet?
I was supposed to go down there last Tuesday. I don't know what happened. I know we going to work for sure. We going to work for sure. He's asked to work with me. I've asked to work with him but he's been in jail. I been like, "When he gets out of jail. I got a batch waiting for him. Fire bangers!" [Laughs]. They reached out. It's going to be coming soon.
So it hasn't been set yet? You're going to meet soon.
Yeah, we're supposed to meet up soon. We haven't done nothing yet, though.