“Mustard on the beat!”
Anyone dancing in a club that plays urban music, listening to Top 40 radio or browsing hip-hop blogs has certainly heard it. Depending on whether the song in which it is applied to is a dirty or clean edit, the tagline may or may not be followed by an enthusiastic reference to women as a common gardening tool.
Either way, the vocal sample is stamped on a wide array of artists’ songs. The refrain is hard to miss, tucked tightly in the introduction of dozens of tunes just before their beat drops. If a song bears this mark, it is meant to denote that the song is produced by 24-year-old California beat maestro, DiJon McFarlane, known to the music world as DJ Mustard.
The DJ-turned-producer learned the craft of beat composing while working and living closely with CTE/Def Jam artist, YG. At the age of 18, McFarlane studied YouTube tutorials in order to learn how to use an MPC beat machine and play the piano. Existing within a triumvirate alongside budding stars YG and Ty Dolla $ign, Mustard honed his craft, lending his club-banging beats to Los Angeles area artists for mixtapes and street singles.
Mustard’s sound isn’t indigenous to the southern California rap scene, however. He avoided the breezy, mushroom jazz of alternative L.A. hip-hop stars like Aceyalone and Murs as well as ditching the regional West Coast G-Funk made popular by past producers like Dr. Dre and DJ Quik.
Mustard looked north to the San Francisco Bay Area for inspiration. His beats resemble the signature sound of the hyphy movement, which boomed in popularity in the early 2000s, seen as California’s answer to crunk music in the South. The tradition of Bay Area rap is deeper, however, than the party rocking records associated with hyphy, such as E-40’s “Tell Me When to Go” or Too $hort’s “Shake That Monkey” and “Blow the Whistle,” all three produced by Southern crunk pioneer, Lil’ Jon.
Before kids in the Bay were “ghost-riding the whip” and wearing “stunna shades,” Too $hort appropriated early hip-hop culture to the streets of Oakland through his knack for vivid, sing-along storytelling about pimping and the pitfalls of the inner city.
The deep, rumbling bass of 1980s Too $hort staples like “Freaky Tales” and “Life Is…Too Short” serve as precursors to the sprawling boom frequently found in Mustard’s current repertoire. Keak da Sneak, E-40, Rappin’ 4-Tay and Spice 1 kept the Too $hort style competitive with the growing popularity of Bay Area rap’s sonic sister: Southern California’s G-Funk style of gangster rap. Bay Area rap enjoyed its biggest co-sign when part-time Oaklander, 2Pac, featured Bay superstars 4-Tay, E-40, B-Legit and Richie Rich on his love letter to California and final studio album while alive, “All Eyez On Me.”
After the scene faded in areas outside of the region, Mac Dre, a Vallejo MC emerged as a leader, helping to scale the sound of the Bay down to service big drums and even bigger parties. Along with booming systems, Mac Dre and his crew created hype music that went hand-in-hand with flashy vehicles, flashy clothing and rap’s early introduction to recreational uses of MDMA or “Molly,” referred to in the Bay as “thizz,” a term Dre coined.
Rap in the Bay continued to grow, even after Dre’s death in a shooting in 2004. Young stars The Pack (which included Lil’ B) and The A’z rejuvenated the sound as well as the careers of past artists. “Vans,” The Pack’s breakout single, dominated summer 2007. Just as quickly as it exploded, however, Bay area rap disappeared from national playlists.
It wasn’t until Los Angeles-based Lil’ Wayne protégé, Tyga, released “Rack City” in December 2011 that the hyphy spirit returned to rap radio. Made from a haunting, three-note keyboard riff that anchors the entire song, “Rack City” peaked at number 2 on Billboard’s “Hot Rap Songs” list. The record’s drums are accompanied by hollow snaps, claps and an infectious chant of “Hey! Hey! Hey!” that causes heads to bobble in nightclubs even today. Although notable at the time for its impressive use of audible negative space, it’s more notable as the first single DJ Mustard ever made that accrued him royalties.
Very quickly, rap fans would be hard-pressed to turn on any radio broadcast without it being littered with material from DJ Mustard’s assembly line-like creative factory. Young Jeezy’s “R.I.P.” and 2 Chainz’ “I’m Different” propelled Mustard into the limelight in 2012, making him the producer-to-watch for artists looking for the newest sound, following successful runs by Atlanta-based producers Drumma Boy, Zaytoven, Lex Luger, and MikeWiLLMadeIt. 2013 marked Mustard’s true breakout year with B.o.B.’s “Headband,” YG’s “My Hitta,” Kid Ink’s “Show Me” and T-Pain’s comeback record “Up Down (Do This All Day),” gaining attention for Mustard’s brand as a beat maker and a DJ.
DJ Mustard’s work continued this year. He executive produced YG’s debut album, “My Krazy Life,” which received mass acclaim. The hits are still plentiful, with Tinashé’s “2 On” picking up momentum.
Last November, Mustard signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation music label, which released his debut album “10 Summers” in August 2014. The album’s name, he stated in numerous interviews after announcing the title, is an inspirational device, as he hopes to be the leading producer in rap for at least 10 summers.
His success has come with controversy, however.
Claims that Bay Area artist, Mistah F.A.B. and P-Lo had taken offense to Mustard’s similarities to the style indigenous to their area moved around the rap industry.
Speaking with David Drake from Complex.com Mustard said, “I get tired of people being like, ‘Mustard, Mustard, Mustard, Mustard,’ like I’m the bad guy.”
When asked about specific artists from the San Francisco Bay Area, he lashed out: “I don’t have no hate for them, but even if I did do that, why are you focused on that?”
Furthermore, many songs on the radio have DJs and fans alike confused of exactly how much music actually belongs to Mustard. A host of songs on urban radio today bear close resemblance to the sound Mustard calls “ratchet music.” “Act Right” by Yo Gotti, “Fight Night” by Migos and, most notably, “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea even include Mustard’s go-to “Hey! Hey! Hey!” vocal sample.
“Loyal,” a summer anthem by Chris Brown and another Mustard-clone, actually charted higher than any song Mustard has ever personally produced. Similarly, IamSu and Sage the Gemini, two actual Bay Area artists seem to have gotten lucky by their association with the sound that Mustard redefined, allowing their songs “Up!” and “Red Nose” to stay afloat in the rap climate.
The conversation around DJ Mustard’s stripped down, repetitive methodology in the studio rages on between rap music critics and fans on message boards.
Mustard has even offered his take on things.
“Everybody say it’s so easy to make my beats,” he Tweeted Aug. 26 in conjunction with the release of his album. “(Well) take a swing at it you should be rich (in) no time ‘cause I am.”