Interview: Problem Reminds Hip-Hop Heads That He Can Really Rap

Hailing from the streets of Compton, Calif., where young men are faced with dire problems on a daily basis, one would think that rapper Problem would have a hard exterior and invites conflict. I mean, his name is Problem.

But the word confrontation is not synonymous with the Germany-born MC who’s jovial and comical, and far from encroaching — as some of his music suggests. The Diamond Lane CEO has a perfect balance of party hits and believable street records, which reminds one that he’s more than capable of handling conflict, should one bring that to his doorstep. But today, the 32-year-old MC exudes a fun and welcoming spirit at VIBE’s office.

“We like to have fun,” Problem says. “Yeah, we go through the regular street sh*t, but when we party, we make sure we party.”

Problem came into the rap game by garnering songwriting credits with Snoop Dogg, who gifted the fellow West Coast native with his first big check, $25,000. But his real breakout moment was the result of a guest verse on E-40’s smash, “Function,” featuring IAMSU! and YG. Since then, he’s released several projects such as Rosecrans with DJ Quik,  Chachville, The Separation, among others.

Earlier this month, the “Like Whaaat” rapper finally unleashed his debut album, Selfish. While in NYC on a promo run, Problem discussed his new project, getting personal on records, as well as his upcoming projects.

I’m going to be honest with you, I wasn’t a fan until this album. You have a mix of party and street records. I’ve never been too big on the party records. 
I appreciate that. That’s real. When I run into people like you, that’s how I know I did my job. Everyone doesn’t like party records, like you just said. That’s why I have a balance of party and street records. We’re not even doing press back at home. We got that locked. We’re only doing press over here. I want people from New York to know that we can rap, too.

The album’s intro, followed by that uptempo beat on “354” had me from the jump. I said, “Yo, this ni**a spitting.’ 
We didn’t even have a name for the intro until it was time to turn in the album. I said, “What are we going to name this intro?” I definitely wanted to hit you hard with an important message and then let you know who we are and what we stand for.

There’s a lot of vulnerable hip-hop going on these days. The title track gave me anxiety, and I’ve never experienced the situations that you rapped about on that song. 
I got so many calls from my homies like, “Man, thank you for making for that.” It took a lot for me to get that out. That’s one of the best feelings, when you get phone calls from the homies back home.

What was it like writing that song, “Selfish?”
I actually wrote that after my son was born. When he was born, I had to fly to Atlanta. So, I wasn’t there. His mom was upset that I’m not there, and I’m snapping back, asking if he’s going to make it. When all of this stuff was going on, I started blaming myself, questioning my faith, and everything. That sh*t was hard to write, but I needed to get it out.

Other than re-living the past, were there other thoughts that played in your head while writing that song?
And it was like, you know what, if this song can outlast every record that I’ve ever done, this has to come out. The people have to feel this emotion. I’ve been keeping this to myself for eight years. And it’s more of a relief for me to let people hear it. It’s therapy for me, selfishly.

You call it “Selfish” but it’s really not because you’re putting your life out there to hopefully help someone else.
I hope it will explain some of the issues to the women that have had abortions. And hearing this story, it’s like, “Well, this is why I did it.” Just me putting an important story out there, and me being vulnerable.

Is this your favorite project?
It is, because it’s so personal. And it’s more hip-hop inspired. I love the cadence of this album. I have that one fast song that caters to my fans who love the party music, but the rest of the album is me busting. You’re like, “What the f**k is 354?” Well, listen, let me tell you.

9th Wonder has been f**king with you for a minute, too. He knows that the bars are there. That means a lot. 
9th has been a friend for a long time. I’ve worked with Rapsody on all of her projects. I have other things with 9th coming up soon, too.

What else are you working on?
A lot more Diamond Lane music coming, not just from myself. Airplane James, he’s about to start doing this thing. I’m doing a lot of writing and production for different people. Rose Gold for right now, that’s another priority for me, she’s in the Pollyseeds group, I love what she does, me and Terrace [Martin] are collaborating on that.

What are you and Terrace working on?
We’re working on Herbie Hancock’s album. This is so different than what people expect of me. We want to take Diamond Lane into other areas, other things besides the typical. Let’s expand this sh*t. We’ve been talking about TV shows we’ve been developing and different ideas that we just want to come to fruition. So you never know, man. Just know you’re going to see us. You’re going to see DLG, 354 all through 2018.

Tags: Problem, Selfish