One Down, Nine to Go: DJ Mustard Talks 10 Summers, Building His Sound, and Taking Over Everything
It’s about 12:45 a.m. on a warm summer night in Los Angeles, and the writer of this article has just jumped into an Uber after leaving a listening event for DJ Mustard’s latest release, 10 Summers. No less than 5 minutes go by during the commute when Trey Songz “Na Na,” produced by the same DJ Mustard, invades the airspace. Reaffirming a topic of discussion held only a few hours prior, the same writer says quietly to himself, “Wow…DJ Mustard really is everywhere.” His companion in the back seat emphatically replies, “Yup.”, as they both casually bounce their shoulders throughout the ride home.
To say that DJ Mustard has grown in popularity would be a gross understatement. He is the producer at the moment, with his sound being ubiquitous on just about every urban radio station (more on that later) and club in the country. Ever since landing a mega hit with Tyga’s “Rack City,” Mustard has continued to pound out tracks, creating a trademark sound that has been in demand by the hottest artists in the industry. He has produced for the likes of 2 Chainz, Young Jeezy, and T-Pain to name a few, and is largely responsible for the success of YG’s “My Krazy Life”, arguably this year’s hottest hip-hop release. During an interview with Hard Knock TV back in the spring, Mustard revealed that he had eight songs produced by him in the Billboard Top 100…at the same time. When asked whether he had ever reached his goal of owning “ten percent of the Top 100,” he replied, “Hell no, still at 8. It should happen though. I’m probably at 9…I just don’t check no more. I don’t want to get caught up in that shit.”
Caught up or not, all of Mustard’s recent success landed him an album deal with Roc Nation, and the opportunity to finally put out a project that would expand upon his acclaimed mixtapes. Mustard has attempted to solidify his reputation with 10 Summers, an appropriately titled release for the season, even if it did come out a bit later than planned. “I wasn’t completely ready in June, so we pushed it back and that’s why we decided to do the deal with Google where it’s free to everybody…because I feel we should have had it out already, and that was my fault,” Mustard explains, while answering questions for an intimate group of bloggers and journalists after detailing the twelve track release.
The listening session, hosted by Brisk Bodega, reveals some insight into the process behind Mustard’s first album. Though there is a bevy of big names featured on the release including Big Sean, Lil Wayne, and Rick Ross, Mustard notes that there was another objective in mind. “I wanted to put a lot of people that is ‘not on’, or who are not big artists that’s from our camp, so that they get a platform…so they can start their own shit so the West Coast can be real bigger [sic].” The artists in reference include West Coast rappers such as Jay 305, Tee Cee, and RJ, who rhyme shoulder to shoulder with artists like Nipsey Hussle, Dom Kennedy, and a slew of others that have aided the resurgence of the L.A. rap scene. In response to a question as to whether there were any challenges in getting some of the lesser known artists on the project, Mustard confidently explains how his label situation at Roc Nation allows him the freedom to command his music. “I do what I want. It’s like, more of a partnership. A lot of people don’t know about Roc Nation. It ain’t that many people on Roc Nation. So it’s like, when you’re with them, they’re more hands on. I can get in touch with Jay-Z faster than somebody can get in touch with the head of their label. I like where I’m at…they give me the freedom to do whatever and however.”
In addition to the A-list features and the promotion of new talent, Mustard also took a moment to play on the idea of his music constantly being everywhere (as evidenced in the opening paragraph to this piece). He made it a point to assemble an extended skit, where a hater is clearly frustrated by hearing a DJ Mustard produced song on every station that his girl switches to. It’s clear that Mustard knows he’s on top, and that with that position comes any number of haters and imitators. To avoid falling into the trap of being too easy to replicate, Mustard decided to incorporate a slightly different approach while creating the music for 10 Summers. “If you listen to it, its real bass players and people actually playing the keyboards, people that really know how to play. So I would make a beat in the box or on the computer, and make the drums out the box on the mpc, and then have the keyboard player or the guitar player and bass player play what I play that sounds like the real thing…then make them play the real thing over, if you get what I mean. So it’s all real instruments. Same thing with YG’s album…I did everything in the box and then Terrace Martin came and he played everything that I already played, over, with the real sound that I was actually playing in the computer.”
Self-awareness is a trait that far too many producers lack when it comes to the longevity of their careers, and though Mustard has been criticized for having his songs sound all too familiar, he appears to be searching for growth as a producer. Incorporating live instrumentation when the casual listener probably wouldn’t know the difference is evidence of that, but Mustard reinforces the notion by stating, “It’s really about like, building my sound. It can’t always be the same. It’s just kind of one of the best moves to make it new, because so many people are trying to do the same thing I’m doing, I’m just trying to turn it up a notch. You gotta reinvent yourself…if you don’t, you’ll fall.”
Doing what he does best has worked for him to this point. Mustard recently has seen a new demographic appreciate his music while DJing for several thousand EDM goers at the HARD Summer Festival in Los Angeles, and he will also be joining Skrillex on tour in the fall. Make no mistake about it, Mustard has little interest in crossing over to EDM, as much as he does trying to create a forum for hip-hop DJ’s similar to the mega events EDM fans enjoy. “That’s not my focus on being an EDM DJ…I’m trying to branch out to make it to where hip hop DJ’s can do what the EDM DJ’s do. There’s no hip hop DJ show…there’s no hip hop DJ festivals, know what I’m saying?”
Given the body of work thus far, it is surprising to hear Mustard’s response when asked the ever popular question as to who he would want to work with that he hasn’t already. “I like Calvin Harris and John Mayer, but I haven’t like, reached out yet or nothing…Disclosure too.” Given the aforementioned, it seems Mustard has a good enough understanding of his place in music, and just how far he can take it if he doesn’t become self-limiting. “I see myself doing everything. I don’t think there’s nothing I can’t do, you know what I’m saying. And there’s nothing I don’t want to do. I’m really trying to take over everything, there’s nothing I can’t take over…I’m just having fun.”
Interview by: Mark Anthony Jenkins
Photos by: Celeste Mendez