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Interview: Problem

Before embarking on a tour with Iamsu!, LA rapper Problem stopped over in New York for an unexpected BET taping and afternoon hang. At our office, he talked about staying young when you're kind of old, wearing condoms and the "big circle" of California guys who keep him on track.

You were born in Germany. How'd you come to love the West Coast? My parents are both from Louisiana. I was in Germany for the first year of my life. Würzburg, Germany. My dad was in the service. At first I never wanted to go there [as an adult], to keep it real, but now, I’m anxious to go back and see what it looks like. But I grew up in Compton. I was always recording. At first I was signed to my own label, me and my cousin had a little joint. We were bumping our heads a lot cause we didn't really know the business. We were still in the streets, selling stuff, just working. But it didn’t count. We don’t really count it till you start making money. So before 2008, I was just interning. In 2008, that’s when it was like, Okay, this is my job, this is what I do.

How old were you in 2008? I was out of high school in 2008. I’m a little older than people think. I've got 5 children. Kiiiiiidz with a z. My oldest is 13. I started very early. Don’t do this at home. Put on a condom and don't be like me. Having kids will teach your ass to get up and do something. I got 11 kids, it seems like, cause they each have three personalities in them. They want stuff and their mommas want more. So it’s like, I gotta get crackin. Maybe my age will be a mystery like Eazy-E’s age. Remember how no one knew how old he was? Whatever age Juicy J is, I wanna be like that when I’m that age. Whatever he is, I like it. He is going hard.

How'd you make so many friends in the industry? You've popped up on songs with Chris Brown, E-40, Master P, Juicy J, Omarion… I got my first break writing for Snoop. I wrote for his last three rap albums. Not the Snoop Lion though. I was able to see different things, how he interviewed, how he recorded. I got cool with everyone. Kurupt, DJ Quik. We were around each other for like six months straight, working on the album. It just so happens that the people I met while working with Snoop happen to be pretty cracking now. But when I work with them, or new people, I bring my element to whatever we’re doing. It’s all about being cool. I’m not trying to work with you to get the buzz. If I can’t sit around and smoke, if we can’t sit around and have a conversation like you and I are doing now, I can’t work with you. I’m not into the emailing thing.

What happened to your brief major label deal? I was signed, Universal Republic, early 2009. It was a two single deal. It ran its course and I got out of it. Every rapper’s dream is to be signed. You think you can kick your feet up at the point. You can’t. You have to work harder. With a major it’s about numbers, it’s not about, Oh, these people know my song. It’s about, This doesn’t look right on paper. I’d be like, Naw I’m killing the club, I’m killing the club! I’m not gonna say it was a good or bad thing, but at the time I didn’t know how to work it. It wasn’t the label’s fault, it was a lack of knowledge on my part.

What do you mean when you call your current label, Diamond Lane Music Group, a "major independent"? Diamond Lane represents what LA is now. Enjoying the weather, yourself and the people around you. We’re pushing positivity and progression. Really loving what you do and living this life to the fullest. It’s not about hustling. You can be working at McDonald's and you can be in the Diamond Lane. Get out that traffic. Get in the Diamond Lane and go forward. No breaks, no gas, just all full speed ahead. The label is real hands on, when it comes to the business and my look and the way I’m presented. As far as the music goes, though, they pretty much let me roll. You don’t get that at the majors. They want you to do this and that. I don’t have that problem now. And, I can turn my back and know that these these guys—my manager and Diamond Lane’s CEO—have my best interest in mind. Everybody’s got their down moments, but I have a great CEO. I get calls from him, “Get your clothes right, get up here, we got a show.” He’ll put that voice on. Everybody here is about pushing everybody, so you can’t help but to be positive. They’re not on me cause they want me to jump off a bridge. They want to win. They know if I win they win. So it’s like this big circle of cool niggas that are turning up together for one goal. TDE showed the industry that independents can build something. We’re trying to stake our claim now.

Is pushing songs to radio a priority for you? Naw. My priority is just to keep making music. That’s not my job to worry about radio. I have a great team so I don’t have to think about any of that. I just rap, and rap, and rap and rap all damn day. My team gets together and picks out what record goes where. That’s why I seem so happy. I don’t have the stress of being the CEO. A lot of people are in a rush to be bosses and they haven’t ever worked. No knock on then, but you just bump your head a lot when you’re trying to do that. One hundred percent of nothing, I’ve never wanted that. Now I can really focus on music all day.

What’s more important, a great hook or a well-crafted verse?. Just for the artistry of it, I gotta rap. I have to say something. I can’t just nah dah dah duh duh. I have to get the punchlines, the wittiness. We’re selling cleverness, it can’t just be la da di. But beats are very important to me. Without a beat, there’s no hook, there’s not nothing. My process is not a normal process of doing songs. I record myself and I don’t really write much. So I’ll just turn the screens around in the studio and kinda piece a thing together till it gets right. There’s no real method. Sometimes I might do the hook and then the verse, sometimes I might do three verses then do the hook. As long as it bangs by the time it’s done.

Are you a good dancer? I’m Jackson 5 Mike. I can get out here and turn this motherfucker up but this ain’t the time. I do cool dances. I can hold it. I’m not fixing to be off beat. I’m not gonna be in there looking stupid. I can get out there a little bit. You wanna dance?

Is “My Last Molly Song Ever” really your last molly song ever? Well, we all kinda teeter totter a little bit. But with molly, I’ve tamed it a little bit. I’m not here to be an advocate, I’m not here to be up against anything either. That’s just what I was into at that time. There might be a Welcome To Mollywood 3 though.

What's next? The Separation, my Gangsta Grillz tape with DJ Drama, coming out at the top of the summer. Me, the company, the producers, us a whole: we wanna show that we’re not like anything you’ve ever seen before. This is our brand, don’t box us with nothing. All the production is in house, done by myself, League of Stars, Brandon Beatboy and The Invasion family—P-LO, Imasu! We’re all together when we’re doing these records. For a while, people in California were searching for a sound, trying to be this and trying to be that, instead of just owning up to the fact that we’re California artists and this is how we sound. But right now people from California don’t have a problem sounding like they're from California. We represent being happy to be from here, and now there’s more of us that feel that way. "Like Whaaat" wasn’t supposed to be my single. It was just a record that we thought was dope and it caught. Me and Bad Lucc were on the way to the studio and we said, Oh shit! This is on the radio? "Like Whaaat" is the most me type of music I’ve ever dropped. That lets me know, uh oh, I can do me and it works? This is crazy.

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Interview: Problem