DJ Mustard: rap’s biggest beatsmith
A deep, minimal bassline pulsates. 808 drums thud, finger clicks snap and hands clap while G-funk synths hover above. Off-beat ‘Hey!’ chants bounce between the gaps and – just before the first rapper jumps on the track – a sampled voice declares that it’s “Mustard on the beat hoe!”
It’s the instantly-gratifying formula of 24 year old Dijon (Dijon – “Mustard” – get it?) McFarlane, and it’s been inspiring hands to raise, hips to drop and asses to shake on an increasingly global scale since Tyga’s mixtape track-turned-breakthrough anthem Rack City blew up in 2011. But 2014 has undoubtedly been DJ Mustard’s biggest year so far. By February, he’d already scored five hits in Billboard’s US RnB/ hip-hop chart, and in April, eight of the top 100 were DJ Mustard-produced tracks. It’s rumoured that, for artists from outside Mustard’s inner-circle, these beats are excruciatingly expensive.
As a child of the 90s growing up around Crenshaw Blvd in California, Mustard’s deep-seated love for a West Coast groove developed in his early years, with “a lot of Dr. Dre, a lot of Snoop Dogg, a lot of Eazy E” burrowing into his ears. “Everybody listened to it, the whole family”, he explains via Skype. He started playing out while still a child (“I was like 11 years old and my uncle let me DJ at a party. There was that adrenaline feeling you get, and that was really cool”), and it wouldn’t be long before a young Mustard got a taste of his neighbourhood’s after hours street culture. “Crenshaw was just like you see in the movies”, he smiles, “low riders, fast cars doing donuts, burnin’ rubber, all types of shit! It’s something you can’t explain, it’s like Boyz N The Hood or something, it’s just like that.”
The 90s hood movie reference is apt. Mustard produced the bulk of his Compton- born rhyming partner YG’s critically and commercially successful 2014 album My Krazy Life, a record which saw the pair wear the influence of gangsta rap’s forefathers with pride. Mustard himself, however, never fell into gang-banging, and having seen so many friends get locked up or lose their lives prematurely, he embraced his talent to help steer him in a different direction. “Yeah, this definitely helped me stay out of trouble, if I wasn’t doing music I’d probably be doing some dumb shit”, he admits.
From the start, the primary function of DJ Mustard’s music has been to make people dance. His sound melts together the aforementioned love of G-funk with inspirations from crunk pioneers Lil Jon and the Ying Yang Twins, and many would describe Mustard’s style as a form of hyphy – the party-orientated genre and scene rooted in the West Coast’s Bay Area. Young artists like Iamsu! and Sage The Gemini of the Heartbreak Gang are successfully flying the flag for the Bay, yet the careers of hyphy pioneers such as Mac Dre, Keak Da Sneak and Too $hort – it’s widely considered – were always criminally overlooked. Of course, there are a few critics out there who accuse DJ Mustard of biting the hyphy style. A few months back, footage emerged (on World Star Hip-Hop, of course) of Mustard being slapped by envious Oakland rapper Mistah F.A.B. mid-DJ set. But Mustard refuses to get caught up in the beef. To him, the Bay is all a part of the West Coast’s rich tapestry for inspiration. He’s even stopped hating on Iggy Azalea mega-hit Fancy, despite the fact that its beat is a shameless imitation of his style that was crafted by London-based production team The Invisible Men.
Around the turn of the last decade, the influence of hyphy drifted from the Bay Area to LA and soundtracked the short-lived Jerkin’ movement. Led by adolescent dance crews, the Jerkin’ scene involved groups of kids taking to the streets to bust elastic moves in tight, often brightly coloured or patterned jeans and retro sneakers. It was here that DJ Mustard began to make a name for himself online after dropping a compilation called Let’s Jerk (for which the low-budget promo videos can still be found online) in 2010. “I wasn’t making beats when jerkin’ came out, I was just around it and I was a DJ involved in it”, he clarifies, “I guess it helped to start the LA thing back up and it gave people a chance to look at us.” He starts to chuckle. “But it was kind of a gift and a curse, because they were always looking at us crazy because we was wearing the tight jeans! It was cool though.” So did he squeeze into the jeans himself? “Yeah”, he sighs, “I did”.
"My neighbourhood was just like you see in the movies, low riders, fast cars doing donuts, burnin' rubber, all types of shit!"
Fast-forward four years and DJ Mustard has released debut album 10 Summers, a title which declares his intent to dominate the radio well into the next decade. The album features a mix of major league rappers like Rick Ross and 2 Chainz alongside lesser-known artists on his Pushaz Ink label. Certain indicators – such as his involvement with the forthcoming Rihanna album and the rise of close affiliate and dirty-minded crooner Ty Dolla $ign – suggest there’s space under the spotlight for Mustard to share with his peers.
While never complacent, DJ Mustard must feel as though he’s already graduated to the same league as his heroes. “I’ve met Dre a couple of times and I always speak to Snoop”, he says casually, “Snoop actually booked me to DJ at his house a while ago for his kids. It was cool, just a group of kids having fun.” And many are eager to list Mustard and YG in the long lineage of classic producer-rapper duos that ranges from Eric B and Rakim to, of course, Dre and Snoop. So how does DJ Mustard feel about it? “Yeah we appreciate that comparison, but we want to be better than them”, he insists. “I got dreams of being better than Dre and I know YG got dreams of being bigger than Snoop Dogg, and I know that Dre and Snoop got dreams of us being bigger than them. Those are two genuine people, so I know they’ll always want us to make history.”
Ten Summers is out now iva Pu$haz Ink / Roc Nation. For more Mustard head to his Soundcloud