Born Jason Martin in LA’s Compton neighborhood, Problem shifted his focus from basketball to music when he had his first child in high school. Today the father of five, the eldest of whom is 13, he’s got the petite build and spirited bounce of a younger guy but refuses to reveal his own age. “You got all these people you can just Google and click and get all their information,” he says. “I just want you to guess.” Thirty-one? In his typical uniform, inspired by childhood hero Eazy-E—shirt buttoned to the collar, black sunglasses, thin gold rope—he looks at once established and like a loitering, cherubic high schooler.
The whole of Problem’s range can be found on The Separation, a recent mixtape for DJ Drama’s prestigious Gangsta Grillz series. The weed references and cartoon sex talk of earlier work is carefully preserved, but there are also short bursts of sobriety, with Problem exploring past career failures and raising kids with estranged lovers who’ve become friends. “I don’t go in there with the intention, I’m gonna teach these young niggas something today, but as an older dude in music, I’m gonna give you some game,” he says. “I’m gonna tell you something that can help you. I’m gonna tell you what to watch out for. When shit gets real for you, you can live through my story and get it right.” This savvy is why, on a recent stopover in New York, Top 40 pop producer Benny Blanco recruited Problem for a writing session. Perhaps that alliance will find Problem’s blend of wisdom and youthful warmth a wider audience. In the meantime, he’s got “Like Whaaat,” an inescapable hometown hit whose buoyant huuuuuuhs and whaaaaats will cheer on countless summer hookups.