Because it’s July in Washington and there’s no A/C backstage, tiny jewels of sweat are forming on DJ Mustard’s brow, decorating the tiny script tattoo on his right temple. “10 Summers,” it reads — the name of his new album, but also his vow to stay relevant for a decade.
One down, nine to go.
Born Dijon McFarlane, the 24-year-old hip-hop and R&B producer is having the summer of his life, with six hits roaming up and down the Billboard Hot 100 — Tinashe’s “2 On,” Jeremih’s “Don’t Tell ’Em,” T.I.’s “No Mediocre,” Trey Songz’s “Na Na,” Ty Dolla Sign’s “Or Nah” and Kid Ink’s “Main Chick” — each of them built from simple pieces, each of them discreetly hypnotic.
“The charts don’t lie,” the Los Angeles native says of his winning brand of minimalism. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I could do this.’ If you could, then you would.”
Some kinda have. Floating higher on the charts than all six Mustard singles is “Fancy” by Australian rapper Iggy Azalea, assisted by Brit singer Charli XCX and the production entities the Invisible Men and the Arcade. Beneath Azalea’s irksome pseudo-drawl, there’s a bouncing electro bass riff, some 808 thunder, some icy finger-snaps — all plucked straight from Mustard’s tool box. But by the time the chorus hits, it’s obvious that “Fancy” is merely a soft-core imitation of Mustard’s pummeling elegance.
And that’s the riddle of his music: how it manages to convey so much energy with just a few gestures. He uses classic hip-hop timbres — G-funk synths, 808 kicks, snaps, claps — and lays them out with an authority that vaporizes any sonic clutter. The magic seems to live in the negative space, those empty pockets of air defining his sound the way the space between bodies defines a dance floor or the space between stars defines a night sky.
“Simplicity means the most to me,” Mustard says. “Simplicity is what makes the sound what it is. It gives rappers an open lane to say what they want to say.”
For singers, the appeal of a Mustard beat might be different. “I don’t necessarily think [simplicity is] what really draws me to that beat,” R&B singer Tinashe says of “2 On,” arguably the sexiest song currently teasing the airwaves. “We wanted a vibe that was fun, with good energy, something I could dance to and vibe out to.”
Danceable beats and strong vibes have been Mustard’s hallmark since the release of his breakout single in 2011, Tyga’s sly, slippery “Rack City.” But Mustard’s most sophisticated work materialized earlier this year on YG’s “My Krazy Life,” easily the strongest rap album of 2014.
Friends and collaborators since they met as teens, the duo still build their songs together in the same room, and from scratch, challenging each other in ways that aren’t all that common in hip-hop.
“I think constructive criticism is rare,” YG says in an e-mail from the road. “Me and Mustard like that because we started working together years ago. As homies. And ain’t too many artists and producers making it like that right now. A random producer with a random artist [is] just working on a product.”
Mustard agrees. “It’s always better to be a team than one player,” he says. “He helps me and I help him.”
As expected, YG lends a few verses to “10 Summers,” holding his own alongside Lil Wayne, Lil Boosie, 2 Chainz, Young Jeezy and others, all of whom sound free, but perhaps a little bit cautious, too. There are “no distractions” in his music, Mustard says, but there’s also nowhere to hide.
“So I would pick and choose who I wanted on what, who would sound the best,” he says of the album. “It was me painting my picture all the way around. . . . And it’s more out of the box, out of the computer. Real sounds, real instruments, real keyboards, session players coming in. So it sounds bigger.”
The simplicity is still there, though, and the music exudes a level of craftsmanship that brings Mustard closer to his legendary California forebears, DJ Quik and Dr. Dre — comparisons he’s flattered by but not interested in fulfilling.
“I want to be known as a legend for what I did, for my own name,” he says. “Not like, ‘He was like this person’ or ‘He was like that person.’ I want people to know who DJ Mustard is.”
Check back in July 2023.
“10 Summers” is available now on Google Play and arrives on other platforms on Aug. 25.