California Love: DJ Mustard
The 25-year-old producer shares why his signature sound isn't regional.
“…Who the fuck said that you needed me? I don’t want you to fucking need me. I’m saying, ‘I grew up on shit like this.’ This is why I’m playing this: I got respect for the Bay. Don’t fucking say dumb shit…I’m showing love, I’m showing respect because I listened to that. I grew up on that.”
Dijon McFarlane is understandably heated. We’re in the middle of discussing two tracks he played during a recent set. The songs just so happened be from two Bay Area legends, which drew the ire of someone on the Internet who said they didn’t need him to do anything in honor of the Bay.
Our conversation started amicably. Professionally known as DJ Mustard, the 25-year-old producer had just wrapped up a meeting before hopping on the phone to discuss his 2016 takeover. Which starts with “Whole Lotta Lovin’.”
“The [song] was for Travis’ album,” Mustard reveals. “He brought it to me to work on for his album, and once he brought it to me…I couldn’t get it right. It missed the deadline for his album, and then I revisited it three months later. I’m like, ‘Man I really like this song,’ so I tried to take it to Kid Ink, and there wasn’t really no spark there. I’m like, ‘Man, I don’t want to give this record to nobody if they don’t believe in it.’” After consulting with his team, someone suggested that Mustard put the record out as his own single.
In hindsight, it’s hard to imagine the track sonically adhering to the ethereal muddle of Travis Scott’s debut album, Rodeo. The record’s most commercially successful single, “Antidote,” seems to lack a regard for traditional structure, starting and stopping repeatedly as Travis responds to his own calls, never making any progress. “Whole Lotta Lovin’,” on the other hand, is a pure pop play. As a stand-alone single, it’s undeniably DJ Mustard’s song, from the pre-chorus clap build to the “AY!s” peppering the drop. And for the uninitiated, the requisite “Mustard on the beat hoe” staccato serves as stamp of authenticity.
While various hands helped mold the record, the final product is the result of DJ Mustard’s commitment and passion. (The obvious pun is that he put a whole lotta of lovin’ into the single.) Some producers would balk at the idea of sharing how a record came together, for fear of accidentally revealing their formula. Mustard’s secret recipe, however, is hard work.
In a 2014 interview, YG revealed a pact he made with DJ Mustard amidst the decaying success of their 2010 hit “Toot It & Boot It,” which the producer wrote with Ty Dolla $ign for the Compton emcee.
The music that I had at the time, I wasn’t feeling it. He wanted to be a producer, too, so we both wanted to be bigger than what we was at the time. So, we said we was gonna lock ourselves in the studio and that’s what we did. He’d find some records that I did to a beat that was whatever, and he took my vocals and made beats to them. We put our time in. We did our homework and shit started happening.
Following the massive success of 2014’s My Krazy Life, the long-time collaborators had a brief-but-heated disagreement, which ended amicably. Since then, DJ Mustard and YG have reportedly parted ways, with the former focusing on his solo career as a DJ and producer, and most recently, a record label owner. While he’s collaborated with numerous artists since launching 10 Summers Records, Mustard emphasizes that there’s only one person on his roster, Ella Mai. “I have other people in talks of doing deals with me…but nobody’s official except for her. Everybody else is family—don’t get me wrong; there’s no bad blood or nothing like that,” he emphasizes. “She’s the first artist off 10 Summers, and she’s the one that I’m focused on right now.”
Two weeks ago, DJ Mustard took over Drake’s OVOSOUND RADIO, budgeting time in his set to thoroughly promote Ella’s new single, “She Don’t,” which features his aforementioned longtime collaborator Ty Dolla $ign (head to the 95:23 mark in the stream above).
The set also featured, quite conspicuously, Mac Dre’s anthem “Feeling Myself.” Considering previous allegations that DJ Mustard stole his sound from the Bay Area, which brings to mind his scuffle with Mistah F.A.B. in 2014, one might question whether the song selection was truly about paying homage to the late legend. Or, was he playfully throwing a jab at his haters? Hearing his tone over the phone, it’s clear to me that DJ Mustard has nothing but love for the Bay. And, he gets love in the Bay.
“I love the Bay Area. I love the whole culture,” DJ Mustard reverently reinforces. “At first, I didn’t understand why they kept saying that I was stealing or biting their sound. That’s not what I was on—I grew up off that. We just California.” His next statement is succinct and unintentionally emblematic of someone from California: “You can’t fault me for being from California, I’m from California.” True.
Mustard continues on, rapidly listing the numerous Bay Area artists he listened to growing up: “I heard E-40, I heard Too Short, I heard Mac Dre. So, when I went on OVO Radio, that was just me just saying, ‘Yo, I got love for the Bay. I got love for the Bay Area music.'” He proceeds to rattle off more names, from icons like Keak Da Sneak to up-and-comers like Nef The Pharaoh. Even D-Lo and Sleepy D receive a shout out.
“I didn’t come in the game like, ‘Yo, I’m trying to steal everything from the Bay, and just act like I’m from the Bay. No, I’m from California. I thought we was all one?”
Scrupulously studying Mustard’s production discography as a whole is reductive to the experience offered by individual tracks that comprise it. Tracks like “Rack City” and “Who Do You Love?” have similar sonic qualities—both also happen to feature Drake—but respectively, they defined disparate moments in rap. Listening to a playlist comprised of DJ Mustard’s greatest hits, basslines blend together, clap breaks become predictable, and chord progressions are seemingly copied and pasted. At least, that was the case for his 2010–2014 run. However, the results of Mustard’s time in the studio since have yet to be fully realized. “Whole Lotta Lovin'” is the proverbial tip of the iceberg with respect to his new direction.
DJ Mustard’s purported formula is a myth. Conversely, he developed a signature sound that simultaneously became a recipe for mainstream success. Unsurprisingly, plenty of generic version have since flooded the shelves (see Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy“). And if there are any relics of a regional sound in DJ Mustard’s production, they’re the result of inspiration, not imitation.
Photo by Lee Burns