When an up-and-coming L.A. artist has writing credits with the likes of Snoop Dogg and E-40, their entrance onto the scene should almost be inevitable. Meet Problem, a 26-year-old out of Compton, who has finally gotten his chance to showcase his own talent, and plans to do it his own way. After years of sitting back and taking notes, the rapper, producer and engineer is ready to make his own waves with his recently released mixtape, “Welcome to Mollywood.”
VIBE: Is your name as apparent as it seems? Is it simply that your rhymes are a problem, or is there more to it than that?
Problem: I mean, it’s kind of a simpler meaning. I got that name from playing basketball. I got the name form one of my brothers, he was like “You givin’ dudes problems on the court,” and it just kind of stuck. I had the name for a while and when I started rapping, I figured 'Aye, this would be dope, I could play off of it a little bit.' [People have] been calling mine that before I was rapping. Yeah, it’s from sports; I’m a good guy, I’m not a mean person [laughs].
Hey, Problem sounds like you might have a problem with Problem.
Nah, I’m a problem to the industry. I’m trying to show something new, that’s all.
You have writing credits with major artists like Snoop Dogg, Jim Jones, E-40, etc. What finally made you decide to come out with your own music?
I had always wanted to, it was just about not having the proper backing and no having the real know-how as far as what to do as an artist. I took my writing thing as like a class. I got to watch great artists and superstars, and how they moved, recorded, acted in interviews, and I took things from it. I always told myself when I was ready that I would get out there and do it. Then Diamond Lane Music Group came along and really pushed the button on me. So now, here we go.
So how has the transition been? You say you picked up things from other artists as far as performing, who did you look to, and what inspired you from them?
Snoop Dogg was a big influence because he was one of the first people that really took a chance on me. H e gave me some money for what I was doing, and really just used to talk to me a lot like: “Don’t be nervous. We like you, so you’re good. You’re in,” “If we’re in the studio and you gotta take your clothes off to get that right sound out, do that,” “Walk like this.” He really used to talk to me and kind of groomed me. E-40 is the same way. I was recording with him and he told me that pronunciation is the key. You know, I just take any and every little thing I could get.
What were the difficulties with coming from behind-the-scenes and into your own?
Just the lack of knowledge on how to do it, what to do and who to talk to and things like that. The music really wasn’t the issue. It’s just about aligning yourself with the proper team and trusting people to do their job while you’re doing your job to the fullest.
Did that have anything to do with the end of the Universal deal and your coming to Diamond Lane: How did that happen?
Well I got the Universal deal off of a record I had called “I’m Fucked Up” a while ago and it was a two-single deal. I learned so much going through that process that I figured the only was to go would be independent. I can’t say it was difficult, I just didn’t know [the business], so that situation didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to turn out.
You mentioned in a previous interview that you didn’t want to be boxed in and that you wanted to be able to do “whatever the fuck you wanted to do.” How important is it to do what you want, and how do you plan to keep that control as you move forward?
The importance of being able to do what you want to do is that you feel that freedom in the music, man. That’s how people like Prince are created. That’s how people like Kanye are created. That’s the goal I want to get to. Nobody can tell me I can’t sing. Nobody can’t tell me that I can’t stop and play a flute [laughs]. Why? ‘Cause this is my music. Let me do what I want to do. That’s why we have options; if you don’t like it, that’s fine, maybe put in something else until I do something you do like. But I cannot be boxed in because I feel like music shouldn’t be. Ray Charles put out a country album for Christ’s sake! And why not? The only way to keep that is to have a strong team behind you that believes in you. That’s why Diamond Lane is perfect for me.
Coming from L.A., do you feel the pressure of legends like Snoop and Dre? Do you feel pressure to live up to those guys?
Not at all. I don’t wanna be the next them, I’m tryin’ to be the first me. And the fact that I can say I know them, and I;m blessed that I’ve gotten the chance to work with them, they’ve told me: “You got it. Just do you. Be the best you that you can be, and you gonna be alright.” I put more pressure on myself with helping to get this label to where it needs to be. That’s the only pressure I have. [The legends] already got their stuff set in stone, they forever on. I’m tryin’ to get me somewhere on that wall, you know what I’m saying? [Laughs]
With your only competition being yourself, how do you feel you’ve grown since you came into the game?
Because at first I thought I was competing with everybody else. I was paying too much attention to what everybody else is doing instead of what I was doing and what my team was doing. I learned how to not have the cockiness, but the confidence to understand that you were put here to do this. I was blessed with a talent man, and if I don’t use it, it’s my fault. So now I wake up everyday thinking, “I gotta get to the studio. I gotta do something.” I have to do something to progress daily, or there’s no point in having it.
Explain the title of your mixtape “Welcome to Mollywood.”
Mollywood became popular, but it was something I was doing for a minute. Instead of saying “I about to pop this,” my homies would ask me what I was doing and I would say “I’m about to go to Mollywood,” and they would just be laughing at me. So I had a promo run and when I came back, my CEO Fast Lane told me he was gonna let me do the mixtape I had been wanting to do. He said “But here’s the catch: you only got two weeks to get it done.” So I hopped in the studio, I’m doing my thing, and I’m like, “I have to call this Welcome to Mollywood.” The studio sessions were so turned up, everything was fun, it was like this big two-week party of music. That’s the vibe of the record, so that’s where it came from.
So you had to record a mixtape in two weeks. Did you have to sacrifice anything at all with having to do it so fast, or did you get the exact finished product that you wanted?
The crazy thing is we did so many records; I had the chance to pick through about 35 records, and we ended up putting 16 on there. I was very satisfied.
You recorded 35 songs in two weeks? Did you ever leave the studio?
Well I don’t like to leave the studio, there’s no point in that unless I’m with my kids or doing a show. I explained to everybody what I was fittin’ to do, though. And I engineer, so it’s no real time for me to get in there and do it because we don’t have to wait on anybody. Also, the producers in the squad, they’re amazing. So it’s not really that hard.
If someone never heard of Problem, which track on “Welcome to Mollywood” do you think would be the perfect introduction to Problem?
The first track you hear, “Welcome.” You’re getting the rhymes, you’re getting the full Diamond Lane swig, you know what I’m representing. I produced the track too. You’re getting everything, so that’s the best description of me.
Your single “T.O.” was produced by Mr. Rack City, DJ Mustard. How did you get up with him?
Well I’ve been knowing Mustard for a minute, seeing him around and seeing him grinding. He hit me and was like “Yo, I got a beat for you,” and I was like “Come through.” The beat was on, we was chilling, I’m smoking, they was bagging. I really don’t even know how we got the record done because there was so much joking and other activities goin’ on [laughs]. But when it was done, it came out crazy.
Do you think that the fun atmosphere under the two-week crunch contributed to you being so satisfied with the record?
Most definitely. I love being in the studio with other artists; I’m not really into emailing records and things like that. I want you to feel that everybody was in the room, going back and forth off of each other, trading ideas, You can tell on a record if somebody just sent it. I don’t like records that. Now I understand the scheduling thing, if you gotta move around, we gotta do what we gotta do. But if we’re in the same city, in a 20-mile radius, come on.
If there was anything else you could be doing besides music, what would it be?
Nothing. There’s nothing else. Anything else I do know how to do, I would get in trouble for. This is the only option; I’m tunnel vision with this. When you go options, that means your looking around thinking, “This not gonna work.” I’m going straight in.
Last question. What, in your opinion, is the greatest hip-hop album ever made?
I just had this conversation with somebody, it’s crazy. To me, remember this is to me, in my opinion, it was the second Eminem album, “The Marshall Mathers LP.” That’s my favorite, from top to bottom. I could not understand how this man made me wanna do all these crazy things I’ve never done in my life. His single was about a stalker, that’s crazy! That album to me, production-wise, he had everybody on it; Dre was all on it. He had the rock elements, the rap elements, the lyrics were crazy, he had the delivery, the cadences he rapped in. That’s my album right there. I just listened to it last week, all the way through.