The producer is one of the most crucial yet anonymous figures in all of music. Every other week, with Beat Construction, an extension of our column in the magazine, we aim to illuminate the role producers are playing in creating some of our favorite music. For this installment we talked to DJ Mustard, the 22-year-old Los Angeleno perhaps best known for Tyga's megahit "Rack City.” But Mustard's legacy has already expanded well beyond that initial success, as he's brought his self-defined "ratchet music" sound—a sparse but sometimes spastic aesthetic defined by haunting synths, thumping 808 kicks and flurries of claps—to national acts like 2 Chainz and Meek Mill while still holding down the boards for hometown stars like YG and Ty$.
When did the music thing start for you? This all came from DJing. I've been DJing since I was 11 and I just kept going. Probably about two years ago I started doing beats for my homeboy YG and that's how it really took off.
How'd you get into DJing at such a young age? My uncle, he's a big DJ out here in LA. His name is DJ Tee; he's got a bar in Westchester. He actually left me [to DJ] at a party when I was eleven. I didn't know what I was doing, I just did what had watched him do. I picked it up from there and ever since then I kept DJing.
What was it that inspired you to make that transition from DJing to producing? I know what people like to hear in the club. When I'm DJing I'm playing for the crowd, not for what I want to hear. So it's kinda easy to make music, you make it for [what everybody else wants to hear]. I just make it for everybody to have fun to…You gotta like it too. If you don't like it I'm pretty sure that nobody's gonna like it.
Between DJing and producing, do you prefer one to the other? They both come hand in hand. I've been DJing longer so it's easier for me to go out and DJ a party and not have a problem, with producing I'm still learning and I'm still new. I'm still trying to get it.
What type of gear do you use for production? I use this program called Reason. I change every year. I had Reason 5 when I first started, then I went to Reason 6 and now I'm at Reason 6.5. And that's the only thing I use to make beats.
How'd you go about learning that? I had a friend who knew a little bit about it, his name is Mike Lee. He helped me get the basics and when I got the basics I just put it all together and kept messing with it until I finally got it.
You've developed a very distinctive sound for someone who hasn't been doing it that long. Yeah, I just try to be as creative as possible. It's not about just having the same sound every time you make a beat, it's about coming new and making [people say], "Wow I didn't know he could do something like that!" I always reinvent myself and make everything better than what I did the last time.
One thing that I closely associate with your sound are those heavy attacks of claps. Where did that come from? I just think it gives music a party feel. Anytime you throw claps back to back on a song it makes everybody want to get up and have fun. It's a fun sound.
Yeah, it seems like you're helping to spearhead a return to fun in mainstream rap. Yeah, like Lil Jon. That's who I look up to. Lil Jon and Dr. Dre.
I know you came up in that whole jerkin era of LA rap. How did that scene influence you? Jerkin, it came and it went. I was a part of the jerkin movement, I did a lot of stuff in the jerkin movement. I never really produced any jerkin records, but I used to DJ, and I kinda got the feel of it from just doing what I did. The difference between now and jerkin… this ain't just jerkin. With this ratchet music I'm trying to create my own sound. I want to make this to where it can't leave, this is something that everybody's gonna get used to. Like how everybody got used to Lil Jon or Luke. I don't want it to be something that comes and goes, I want it to be something that's here forever like a real culture.
Did you expect "Rack City" to become such a big hit? I didn't really know, but I kinda had a feeling. The record was really for YG at first. He had came in and was like "Tyga need a beat" and I didn't know what to send him. Because Tyga didn't really used to do music like that. So [YG was] like "send him that." I'm like "you're sure?" So I sent him that beat on a Tuesday and it came out on a Thursday. And the reaction was just so big.
Did that blow you up as far as who was reaching out for beats? Of course, of course. That was a big thing for my career as well as for Tyga's career. We gave each other a boost. And ever since then everybody wants the same sound. Everything sounds like "Rack City" right now and that's perfectly fine with me. As long as they doing what I'm doing it means I'm doing something right. I can say I was the first with it, can't nobody take that from me. And that's why I said before, you gotta keep reinventing yourself. If you keep reinventing they gonna keep copying.
What artists have you been working with lately? I just did the "I'm Different" record for 2 Chainz' album that just dropped. I did four beats on Bow Wow's new album. I got a record coming out with Jeezy. I've been working with everybody, I ain't discriminating. Who ever I can work with I'm working with.
At the same time it's good to see you still holding down for the more LA-centric underground artists, like with the Ty$ and Joe Moses' Whoop! tape you did recently. Ty and Joe Moses are my boys. I had a record that me and Ty did with Joe Moses called "Go Bitch" a long time ago. I just keep messing with the same people that I came in it with. I don't got no manager. It's just me and my publicist and my lawyer. Other than that I stick to the same people, I don't switch off or nothing. At the end of the day I just want to see the whole LA winning. I don't hate on nobody, I ain't got no problems with nobody. I just want everybody in LA to make it.
When you make a tape like Whoop or YG's 4 Hunnid Degreez, where you're handling most of the production, do you approach it differently than when you're just doing a one off beat? With me and YG, that's one of my best friends. I can only say I got a handful of homeboys like that so working with him is easy, that's how I started making beats. I'm comfortable with going into the studio with him and just knocking them out. We don't send each other records. I'll go book a studio session and he gon' come through and we gon' knock out a song. And before you know it we're five songs in.
How many beats do you usually make in, say, a week? I just had a son so I slowed down, but probably like twenty. I made about twenty this week as we speak. Thirty on a good week.
What type of music do you listen to in your free time? Are you a strictly rap fan or do you reach outside of that for influences? I'm a big fan of Future, I listen to a lot of Drake. I really listen to R&B more than I would rap music. I don't really like listening to so much rap because I like to have my mind focused on what I'm doing, instead of worrying about what everybody else is doing.
One of the things I like about your production is that you seem to have a real understanding for the history of rap, and West Coast rap in particular. Like I'll hear bits and pieces of DJ Quik coming through. I mean I grew up DJing, so I know. I recently had a studio session with DJ Quik and he was like "Man, I love your work." I was like, Damn! He's one of the greats. He's one of the best at mixing records and [producing]. That's crazy! I was just like… happy.
Do you see your work as an extension of that era of gangsta rap? Kinda sorta. It is, but that's just the West Coast in general. In LA it's a lot of gangbanging, so that kinda grows on us. But what I try to do take it from not so much gangbanging to where everybody can just have fun. I don't want anybody to go in the club and be thinking about if somebody gonna shoot up the club. All want people to do is just dance and have a good time.
That seems like a very West Coast mentality in a way as well. I've been out here in Oakland lately and… A lot of my music is Oakland influenced too! My 808s and stuff. I'm not afraid to give respect to them because they came with the 808s. The hyphy movement… [My sound] is just the whole West Coast sound. I try to keep it all the same and bring something new to the table.
Let's talk about the drop. Are you tired of people saying MUSTARD ON THE BEAT HOE to you yet? Everywhere I go I hear that! That actually came from a YG song, "I'm Good." I took it from that song and put it on one beat and I was like "well this is catchy." Then it happened to stick.
Where does the name Mustard come from? My real name is Dijon. My mom named me Dijon so everybody used to call me Mustard. I just put DJ in front and ran with it.
Do you like mustard? Uh… not really. I mean, sometimes. It depends on what I'm eating.
10 DJ Mustard Beats You Might've Missed"
1. Meek Mill - "I'm Rollin"
2. Ty$ & Joe Moses - "Weekend"
3. Lil Twist - "Gettin Crazy"
4. Teyana Taylor f/ Honey Cocaine - "Bad Boy"
5. YG f/ Dom Kennedy & Riko - "Cali Living"
6. Joe Moses - "Ratchets"
7. Iamsu f/ Kool John - "Face Time"
8. TeeCee4800 - "Money"
9. E-40 f/ Too $hort & Droop-E - "Over Here"
10. PC f/ Dubb - "Murder The Pussy"