Even gangsta rappers need the occasional vacation.
For the last half-decade, hard-working hedonist Problem has increased Compton’s gross domestic product. Between 2011 and 2013, the father of six dropped seven projects through his independent collective, Diamond Lane Music. Highlights included a DJ Drama mixtape (The Separation), a full-length collaboration with the Bay Area’s Iamsu! (Million Dollar Afro) and breakout single “Like Whaaat,” which flipped a Young Bleed sample into one of the best L.A. rap songs of 2013.
Then, the rapper born Jason Martin essentially vanished for 18 months.
“I took a vacation to put life in perspective and really hone my skills,” Problem says, explaining that last year was less sabbatical and more retrenchment. He became more skilled as a producer and arranger, and re-emerged with a more seasoned approach.
“I needed to get my head straight. Being an independent artist means that we have a whole different type of grind. I needed to put some things in order.”
The rapper who got his start writing for Snoop Dogg is wary to traffic too much in specifics. But his latest two-volume salvo, this month’s Mollywood 3: The Relapse, partially explains his new headspace, most notably on “50 Shades,” which directly addresses fellow Compton rap star YG, whose cold war with Problem has been one of L.A.’s worst-kept secrets.
“There was too much gray area and we needed some black-and-white,” Problem says. “If I have an issue and as a man if I don’t say your name, it’s a lack of respect, and I respect YG and what he’s done.”
Problem might currently reside in the Valley, but his Compton allegiances are deep-rooted. It was perhaps inevitable that a rivalry would emerge from a city so riven with gang violence and territorial alliances.
But what’s relatively new is rival gangs’ active desire for peace before the situation spirals out of control, a stark contrast to the internecine warfare of the 1990s. In “50 Shades,” Problem invokes both “buckets of blood” and “buckets of cash.” He stresses the importance of the latter.
“I’m looking for resolutions when I speak. I might have to start out a little negative to get your attention, but the end result is peace being proposed,” he says. “This is bred off competition and showcasing skill. Let’s keep it there. I don’t wish harm to any man on Earth. I have children and a successful business. I’m about being positive.”
Problem’s stance closely mirrors the latest generation of hardcore rappers. Darkness still lingers — YG got shot earlier this year — but more often, rappers who grew up amidst Blood and Crip culture (Kendrick Lamar, Vince Staples, Schoolboy Q) seek a third way, opting to avoid the early deaths and incarcerations that plagued many of their predecessors.
As for Mollywood 3, it achieves a balance between up-tempo party rap and West Coast rider music (with a slight Southern drawl, inherited from Problem’s family’s Louisiana roots). Problem says that, despite its white-powder reference, the title refers more to the tape’s vibes — though he admits to indulging a few times during its creation.
Beats come from Terrace Martin, Salva and Problem himself. Guest verses include Freddie Gibbs, Iamsu! and Problem’s Diamond Lane labelmates Bad Lucc and StoneyThaDealer.
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“We like to get in the fast cars because we used to be in the bullshit cars. We like woman around us because we grew up with the gangbang shit around us. We don’t want violence because we know violence,” Problem says, summarizing Diamond Lane. “We represent every facet of L.A.: the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s not a fashion thing; it’s an action thing.”
An L.A. native, L.A. Weekly columnist Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com, follow him on Twitter and also check out his archives.