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DJ Mustard's Dominance is Moving Past Hip-Hop

DJ Mustard
DJ Mustard
Photo courtesy of Roc Nation

[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. Follow him on twitter and also check out his archives.]

The HARD Summer electronic dance music festival was only slightly different from the South Central high school pep rallies, West L.A. Sweet 16s and ’hood house parties DJ Mustard once rocked. The contrast between them and HARD, which took place earlier this month, was primarily shades of color, considering the latter’s preponderance of white sorority girls in neon bikinis and fishnet stockings hoisted onto the shoulders of fist-pumping bros.

But all good parties are created equal. Since he was an 11-year-old apprentice for his uncle, DJ Tee, the 24-year-old born Dijon McFarlane has mastered the art of crowd movement. The radio-monopolizing producer understands what you want to hear, before you have the chance to request it.

“Apart from working on music, I’d rather play big festivals than almost anything else,” Mustard says, speaking from the wood-paneled studio where he’s recording near the Beverly Center, a few days before setting off a riotous dance party at HARD.

Since signing to Jay Z’s Roc Nation late last year, the Dorsey High graduate has catapulted from hip-hop hitmaker to globetrotting DJ, sharing the stage with the biggest names in EDM, from Skrillex to A-Trak. In the age of the DJ, Mustard is the first hip-hop producer of his generation to cross over so fluidly.

“It’s almost no different as when I was a little DJ playing parties, just a gang of more people going wild. It’s fun,” says Mustard, built sturdy as a tomb, wearing a plain black tee, black jeans and little jewelry.

It’s a stark contrast to his theatrical costume for HARD — an iced-out Mustard chain and custom-made black leather jacket, stitched with the Roc-A-Fella logo, his own name, his Pu$haz Ink crew and 10 Summers, the name of Mustard’s latest album, which features Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and Wiz Khalifa. Released this week, it’s available free until Aug. 26 for a limited time as part of a partnership with Google Play.

“Times have changed. Before, people were all about gangbanging and all that bullshit,” Mustard says, alluding to the South Central and Westside neighborhoods that he grew up in. “Now everyone just wants to have a good time.”

Over the last three years, Mustard has altered the sound of West Coast hip-hop more than any producer since Dr. Dre. The formula is simple: Take the menace, minor piano chords and vocal samples of vintage L.A. gangsta rap; add the creole bounce of Mannie Fresh, the lunar minimal slap of early jerkin’ music and a dash of house; and let it bang. Its simplicity has spawned countless imitators, but Mustard is the Grey Poupon to the faceless generics.

Unlike most stars who assume fame is their birthright, Mustard never even planned on being a producer. He became the DJ for Compton rapper YG toward the end of the ’00s, right as the latter started to become one of L.A.’s most popular street rappers. Mustard’s original goal was to be the West Coast version of mixtape king DJ Drama, but when YG needed beats, the-then novice delivered immediate underground club hits, including “I’m Good” and “Bitches Ain’t Shit.”

After YG passed on the beat for “Rack City,” Tyga took it to No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2012. Ever since, you’d be hard-pressed to go more than 10 minutes on Power 106 without hearing the producer’s tagline, “Mustard on tha beat, hoe!” In 2014 alone, Mustard has had eight R&B and hip-hop tracks crack the Hot 100. He also produced the majority of YG’s acclaimed recent album, My Krazy Life. Put together, it’s led to Ferris Bueller–like popularity. From HARD Summer ravers to the hardest gangbangers, everyone agrees: Mustard is righteous.

“My goal is to be the Jay Z of DJing,” Mustard says. “I told that to Jay the other day, and he said he’s got my back. He told me, ‘You’ve got what it takes. Kill these pedestrians.'”

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