Three years ago, the sound of popular rap began its gradual shift towards minimalism with the release of Tyga’s deceptively-influential hit, “Rack City.” The boards—or rather, the laptop—on the song were helmed by Los Angeles native DJ Mustard, who has since gone on to shape the sound of contemporary music with his nascent production skills. In the ensuing years, Mustard would go on to produce “I’m Different” for 2 Chainz, “R.I.P.” for Young Jeezy, “Show Me” for Kid Ink, as well as the bulk of Y.G.’s debut My Krazy Life and Ty Dolla $ign’s Beach House EP. With his Bay Area-influenced sound rapidly being re-appropriated—Chris Brown’s “Loyal” and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” hew close close to the Mustard formula—he looks to grow his brand with 10 Summers, his first compilation album.
Things start off well with “Low Low,” featuring Nipsey Hussle, TeeCee and RJ, its gurgling bass bumps powering an impressive track dedicated to West Coast lowrider culture. Then it’s on to “Ghetto Tales,” with South Central spitter Jay 305 and TeeCee ripping pages from Too Short’s style guide. “Throw Your Hood Up” features Dom Kennedy, Royce and RJ, and sports a similar vibe, which is that maybe Mustard was trying to frontload his LP with some of the lesser-known talents to prove they can hang? Point made.
It isn’t until Jeezy and YG show up on “No Reason,” however, that the LP really starts moving. The track is anchored harmonically with a haunting minor C chord, amping Jeezy up (“I’m this bitch blowed smoking like a Marley/jewelry so loud sounding like a Harley"), and pushing the project’s energy. It picks up even more on the album’s first single, “Down on Me,” featuring 2 Chainz and Ty Dolla $ign, which is all percussive handclaps, “hey” chants and booming 808 bottom-end; a strip club anthem if there ever was one.
If 10 Summers has a glaring flaw, it’s that it’s not quite progressive enough. As a producer, Mustard can cut a fine drum track and has an ear for earworm-like melodies—peep the syrupy Rick Ross, Wiz Khalifa and TeeFLii-assisted “Deep” or the organ-accentuated R&B jam “4 Digits,” featuring Fabolous and Eric Bellinger—but he doesn’t quite seem capable yet of making something he hasn’t already offered us. Sure, these cuts are more musically dynamic than his previous work, but they’re still very sparse and underdeveloped. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it gives the artists room to work. But all of hip-hop’s legendary producers—Dr. Dre, Timbaland, Lil Jon, Swizz Beatz, Kanye West, Rick Rubin, etc.—have graduated beyond stock 808 drum sounds and two-finger melodies at some point. You would hope that on a producer-driven LP, you could hear a little more of the producer’s ingenuity at work.
DJ Mustard might have a few more summers in him, but ten? That may be a stretch. —Paul Cantor