[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
Hip hop is constantly inventing new slang for getting down and dirty. You could get buck, crunk, and freaky. Wild out or act a fool. This summer was the season of the ratchet, and the rajah of ratchet music is 22-year-old, South Central L.A.-raised producer DJ Mustard.
"Ratchet has a lot of meanings. You can be a bad ratchet or a good ratchet. You can have fun, be ghetto and get ratchet. Or it can be bad, where a ratchet is a hoe," says the Dorsey High graduate, born Dijon McFarlane.
We aren't talking about gardening tools inside Burbank's Boom Boom Room, a lavish studio that comes complete with a chef who cooks twice daily. It's surrounded by Valley strip malls and sports bars and could be the least ratchet spot in the city if not for the fullback-sized and tattooed Mustard, who wears a crisp tee, black jeans and matching Nikes. The only signs that he's getting $20,000 per beat these days are his 24-karat gold watch and earrings.
His breakthrough was Tyga's "Rack City," a quintessential summer jam with a minimal-funky bassline, snaps, and cold-blooded 808 drums. It detonated stripper poles and satisfied the "menace quotient" for guys who'd prefer death by rockslide to dancing to radio trance-rap. Mustard's beats bang hard enough for the hood and catchy enough for the Top 40.
It makes sense considering his background. He grew up in "The Jungle" in the Crenshaw District, spinning at the sweet 16's of the magnet kids at LACES (Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies). After graduation, he linked with YG, a Compton rapper whose Mustard-hosted mixtapes soundtracked innumerable South L.A. house parties and jerkin' dance functions, ultimately landing YG a deal at Def Jam.
Jerkin faded a few years ago, but its ideas about party music survived. Whereas the previous generation wanted to be Gs, kids now wanted to get ratchet or get with a ratchet, preferably both.
"The gangbanging shit is over. You can't have fun because of it," Mustard says. "I create my music so you can go to the club and have fun. There's too many girls in the club for niggas to be banging and shit."
The slang's origins are neither local nor new. The etymology traces to Mandingo of Shreveport's Lava House Records. "Ratchet" was the Louisiana city's version of "Jig," the ecstasy-fueled, tear-the-club-up rap that ruled Baton Rouge during the middle aughts. When they enlisted the messianically popular Lil Boosie for the "Do the Ratchet" remix, the song became a Southern club staple. It's influence filtered to the then-high school-aged Mustard, and he samples it on a forthcoming collaboration with the Rejectz.
"Anyone who says that they heard about "ratchet" from anyone other than Boosie is probably lying," says Mustard, whose debut producer compilation, Mustard on Da Beat Hoe comes out on Oct. 15. "That whole sound comes from Boosie and [the Trill Ent. producer] Mouse. It's something that I put my swag on and reinvented."
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The trend isn't merely endemic to Southern California. Atlanta's Mike Will has made ratchet rainmakers for Juicy J and Future. "Ratchet" is less sound than intent and no one is more ruthlessly effective than Mustard. This summer was "Rack City" and Joe Moses' "Do it for the Ratchets." Right now, it's 2 Chainz's new hit "I'm Different." And Beyonce, Lil Wayne and Drake have all requested beats.
"I don't want to be known for only making ratchet music," says Mustard, well aware of pop culture whims. "It's a formula and it'll be used up soon enough and I'll move on to different ingredients and use them for the next ten years."