Problem Admits He’s More Vulnerable on New Album ‘Selfish’
With a rap name like Problem, you'd expect said artist to be a bit, well, problematic, but the only issue the West Coast spitter causes is forcing anyone is his presence to retain their laughter once he drops his endless string of witty quips. Hailing from the streets of Compton, Calif., where life on the streets is no joke, Problem has found solace in the lighter moments in life and exudes a charisma that belies his subtle aggression.
"I'm low-key goofy on the low, you know?" the "Betta Watch Yo Self" rapper admits while at the XXL office. "I like to smile, I like to have a good ass time, I'm not really with all of the tough shit. That happens when it has to happen; that's not what leads me. I like to do music, I like to live in the studio. I like to call my man and discuss the business and the next level of what we're doing. I'd rather smile than to fucking frown. In a nutshell, a lot of people don't know that about me. I like being around women, too [laughs]."
Problem chose to take an alternate route in comparison to Compton greats like N.W.A, Compton's Most Wanted, The Game and others by employing a more party-hearty style to complement his more abrasive musings. A self-proclaimed pioneer of the turned-up brand of West Coast rap that has become all the rage over much of the past decade, Problem has created a resume that rivals many bigger names and has worked with A-list talent like Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell, The Game, Chris Brown, Wiz Khalifa, Nipsey Hussle, Childish Gambino, Travis Barker, and John Legend, among others. Founding his independent label, Diamond Lane Music Group, in 2008, Problem would sign a failed major label deal with Universal Records before doubling back to his indie roots. Since then, he's built a loyal fan base and a noteworthy buzz for himself, with a consistent stream of mixtape releases and appearances on high-profile singles like E-40's 2012 hit, "Function."
While Problem has remained an omnipresence in rap the past few years, 2017 has been a coming out party of sorts for the rapper, who has been striking while the iron is hot with an array of releases, including his lauded mixtape, Chachiville, which was released earlier this year. With collaborative projects with DJ Quik (Rosecrans) and Terrace Martin (as part of the Pollyseeds) already in the can, Problem is looking to close out the year on a high note with the release of his forthcoming solo debut album, Selfish.
His fourth musical release of the year, Selfish may revel in more celebratory vibes given its author's recent streak of high-profile wins, however, it also captures him in a state of vulnerability, most notably on the album's title track. The song centers on Problem's relationship with his family, particularly his son, who was born with only a small portion of his breathing tube open and developed Lymphoma in his cheek. The ordeal, which Problem admits altered his priorities and his perspective on life, serves as the crux of Selfish, an album that also finds him tapping into a vulnerability that is sure to place him on common ground with a number of his listeners.
XXL chopped it up with Problem about Selfish, the album's lead single, "Get on It," working with Ne-Yo, 9th Wonder, DJ Quik and Terrace Martin, and what's next for Diamond Lane Music Group as a brand.
XXL: 2017 has been a pretty busy year for you thus far. How does it feel to be in such high demand and a hot commodity these days?
Problem: It feels good just to be releasing so much music, you know what I'm saying? I feel like that's where my strong point is, that's what Diamond Lane's strong point is, the music. And to be able to be linked with great people like Quik and with the Pollyseeds project that's dropping with Terrace Martin and Chachiville kicking it off where the last song is "Run This Shit All Year," basically letting you know this is the plan. It's gonna all make sense by the fourth quarter to set up for this moment that's coming.
You started off the year by dropping your Chachiville mixtape. What is Chachiville exactly and how would you describe it to someone that's never been?
It was mentally, for me, the mind of Chachi is getting bigger. A lot more people call me Chachi than ever, so it's basically my mind. It's not a place yet, but it may become one, you never know.
So it's like an alter ego?
Somewhat, but you may see them in the same room as me at times. He may just pop up in this interview and I flip the atmosphere, like "Chachi's here [laughs]."
The lead single on Chachiville, "Betta Watch Yo Self" was a big hit among fans. Were you surprised to see the reaction it got?
Honestly, for it to be picking up steam right now is crazy ’cause we dropped that joint in January. It just shows me the power of dropping something and letting the people find it if it's worth finding. And a couple of great events we had the K-Dancers dancing to it and the Insecure play, when it came in on there, it kinda boosted everything up and added awareness to it. It was always our favorite joint, it just felt so aggressive, it felt like, OK, we back on our music. We back on. Even if you watch that video, it just gave that vibe of Diamond Lane's back.
"Betta Watch Yo Self" was also featured in an episode of Insecure, which has become one of the go-to shows for hip-hop fans of the moment. What was the story behind that placement?
My president of Diamond Lane, he has different relationships with different people, so I had just got the call. He be out making plays for the gang all day. I got the call about Season 1, we did [my song] "D2B" on that one, so we had developed a relationship with them ’cause of the way we handle our business over here and being independent so when we got the news of "Betta Watch Yo Self," it was like, Oh, shit! Look at this joint picking up legs again. And then, just to be a part of a great show, a great black show, a great L.A. show, man, you can't beat that.
Your song "My Squad" was picked up as the official team anthem by the L.A. Rams and you even got to perform the song live at various home games last season. What was that experience like?
It was big for us, again, being independent and getting that look and then for me as a performer, to perform in front of 95,000 fans during the first NFL back-in-the-city situation and being from L.A. and them giving us the opportunity to rep their brand, which is a billion dollar brand is dope. And you're gonna see us this year too.
How did that opportunity come about?
DJ Mal-Ski, he's their official DJ for the Rams and he fucks with Diamond Lane heavy and he was spinning the record and actually someone I did some other television stuff with was there like, "They spinning this record like crazy." So then, my manager Melissa, you know, she gets on shit, "OK, well let me find out who." So then they connect and then they take it to corporate. I really thought it was just gonna be that type of record where I make a Rams version and it just play there, you know? Then we have to go through the corporate thing and the song thing and I'm like, Oh, man! This is serious, you know what I'm saying [laughs]? It got serious. It came when we were on tour.
Are the L.A. Rams your official football squad?
I'm a Kansas City Chiefs fan, but L.A., we gotta rep anything that comes to L.A., so I'm a Rams fan as well. I can have two teams.
Speaking of the Los Angeles Rams, what are your expectations for them this season?
Man, good start, you seen we [the Rams] dropped 46 on their head [in Week 1], you know what I'm saying [laughs]? I mean, like the coaching change, they shouldn't have did Erick Dickerson like they did last year, you don't do that to people. I don't like when people fuck with legends. So it's new coaching, new attitude, new staff. The organization treats us well so anything we can keep doing with them is dope, but as a team, I think they're gonna be alright. [Rams Quarterback Jared] Goff, we talked last year and he had this confidence in his eye so I'm bracing to see what he can do.
Another thing Chachiville listeners may have noted was the appearance of podcast personality Taxstone, who's currently incarcerated. He gave you a few words of motivation on the song. How did he end up on the project?
I been knowing Tax for a minute, so to watch him grow from what I knew him from to this media [titan], it was getting great for him. Shout out to him, man, keep your head up, bro, if you're reading. We always had that relationship and he's always talking shit. He's always talking shit [laughs], and that was just one of those rants I caught, in audio time, you know what I'm saying?
We used to have those conversations constantly. [He'd say,] "Stay on they neck." Before it was Tax Season, it was, "Stay on their neck. Y'all got ’em." So for me to have that last little bit of audio before he got locked away, it's kind of bittersweet, but it's still something that the people that were fans of what he does can also get to hear him in a more positive state.
Have you been in contact with him as of late?
Through people, we have. We talked through Casanova and a few other folks. But he's good, he's good.
Another project from you that made waves this year was your collaborative project Rosecrans with DJ Quik. How did your relationship with DJ Quik come to fruition?
I mean, we connected about eight years ago and then we just stayed afloat, you know what I'm saying? Him being the icon that he is, I've always turned to him for different ideas and when we run into each other, it's always love. We had just happened to have a time where we could lock in and then it was just about preparing the music and getting it right. We did the EP last year, but we have the album ready and it was a passion project, for me especially, being a young man from Compton and watching a man, one of the reasons I'm even here doing this, giving me the blessing and the game that I was able to get. I think it was a passion project for him because it energized him in a bunch of different ways.
How would you describe the chemistry with y'all and how y'all meshed with you being a rapper and him producing?
The fact is, we're both producers, so he trusts...that was the biggest shock, that it wasn't just producer and MC, he was like, "Nah, you're gonna do that beat." "I'ma sit and show you, but we're not gonna write produced by DJ Quik and Problem if it's not gonna do that." So I had to level up. We went in and really, I can say we split that joint down the middle, from the mixing to the writing to the production, everything.
What was the most exciting moment during the process?
Him and MC Eiht reconnecting after that 20-year fucking beef. Being the fact Diamond Lane had something to do with mending this humongous beef back in the day, there was people getting shot at and shit and different shit like that. For that to happen at our studio and for those two men that did so much for the city of Compton and rap music as a whole and doing in my face to mend it together and to have a barbecue and they giving each other gifts and they saying, "We been should've did this," that was it for me.
So many people asked, "How in the fuck did you pull that off?" What it was, we were doing a concert and I ran into Eiht and I was like, "I'm doing this thing with Quik and I would love you to get involved in it. Are you down?" He was like, "Yeah, fa'sho!" And I talked to Quik about it and he was like, "Hell yeah." So I called him one day and it all just happened.
Your recently announced the title of your forthcoming project, Selfish, via your Instagram page. What's the rhyme and reason behind choosing that title?
Well, Selfish derived from my attitude towards the music I was dropping. I'm gonna say this, I was definitely one of the originators of the ratchet turn-up scene thing and to be known for that and to be one of the ones to do it, you wanna keep going at it but I was changing as a man at that same time and I'm not doing some of the same things I was doing at the time and just pray that my fans understand the growth and the different things I wanna do and sonically what I wanna try, so it's like a double meaning.
The first single from the project, "Get on It," was released recently. What was the inspiration behind that song?
Luke, 2 Live Crew, straight up, simple as that. That whole 69 Boys, the "Tootsie Roll," that whole upbeat, fast dancing. I wanna see guys and girls dance with each other at the club, not take fucking pictures and dab all god damn day, that is really the motivation. It's really as simple as that. I remember that time when those songs used to come on and everyone was sweating and getting against the wall and doing their thing.
And another reason is, I just didn't wanna sound like anything else that was out. I don't wanna blend. Diamond Lane don't blend and you wont stand out if you blend with everything, and that's not a shot at anybody else is doing, but nah, that ain't what this is. You wanna turn-up, we're gonna show you the ultimate way to turn-up. Gonna speed this shit up and put a little twist to it. But definitely, Luke Skywalker, heavily inspired. Shout-out to him, the 2 Live Crew, everyone.
How did the song come together, from start to finish, and what made you unveil this song first out of all of the others?
Well, I was listening to a lot of Luke, a lot of Luke for the week and I was putting my people up on Luke and certain things they hadn't heard that's a little older. I didn't wanna sample it, I wanted to make my own version of it. So when the beat came, we had the beat and then we had one hook and I was like, I don't know if that's it. So we changed the one hook. So during the changing of the hook, I guess someone had snapped that I was doing it, [so] Bad Lucc flies into the studio like, "I'm getting on there," so then we had his verse first.
So with the song being so fast and then if you listen to the rest of the records on the project, I'm busting, it's more, like, hip-hop-inspired I had to come up with a cadence that would complement that speed. So I went and started listening to Stetsasonic and then I listened to JJ Fad and the JJ Fad was what clicked for me and I was like, OK, that's the flow I want to go with. So the song took two months to complete, but then, before the song was even done, I'd press play and the whole room would erupt. I'm talking about not done though, soon as it comes one, everybody is going, you know? That's when you pick, what's gonna shake a room up and what's not gonna be like anything else that anybody has, and you have "Get on It."
Who are some of the people you worked with on this project, as far as producers?
[DJ] Quik, Terrace Martin, Teddy Walton, 9th Wonder, myself, JB Minor. Mike and Keys, formerly known as the Futuristics, Ceez Monstrosity, Iamsu!.
Sounds like you got a murderers' row.
I had to come out swinging and let ’em know we here.
How did your collaboration with 9th Wonder, "Top Off," come about?
Another friend I've been having for a long time. The last project he put out, I'm on it, "Be a Star," that record. I've been involved with all of Rapsody's projects, even this upcoming one that's coming, make sure y'all go get that. That's my guy, that's been my guy for a long time, we just hadn't come up with a record that was gonna fit record what I was about to drop, so once we got it, it was like, "Oh yeah! Come on, let's go". But I got something else with him sitting in the cut that y'all might hear right after this, so just stay tuned. Stay tuned.
So were the two of you in the studio during the making of the record?
I was actually in Belize vacationing and he saw me over there and he sent me a beat and was like, "Rap nigga [laughs]. I don't want you to do nothing but rap," and I'm sitting there like, Oh shit! This shit banging like a motherfucker. So that's when I got it. So then, I started formulating what I got, so we would send it back and forth and then Guru, he had just finished [JAY-Z's] 4:44 and they were tidying up Rapsody project, so I went to the studio and we just cleaned it all up together.
You mentioned that you've got some music with Terrace Martin, who you've worked with closely in the past. Coming out on Selfish, how much of a hand did he have in this project?
Big hand, just because even the records he wasn't a part of, I was working on his records at the same time and other projects that we were working on. So I'm leaving that studio and going to do mine and then taking these records I do there and then bringing them over to his studio. And I actually sat down with him and Punch and really went through the project and just got his ideas on different things here and there, what to add, what not. He's got that crazy ear, it's a sonic ear that's not of this world so I listen to things he knows. He knows how to take your shit and put it in another place where it will stand out, even if it kinda feels familiar to something else.
Are there any special guest appearances or collaborations we can expect?
Bad Lucc, my brother for sure is gonna be on it. Airplane James out of Diamond Lane, he's on the 9th Wonder track. Nipsey Hussle, Iamsu!, Ne-Yo and Rose Gold are featured on there.
Ne-Yo, that's a big feature for you. How did that come to fruition?
Me and Ne-Yo were working with an artist called Candice Boyd, so just in writing sessions we would always be cool. And it was just about finding that right moment and right record. So we kinda ran into each other at the weed shop, actually and then he was like, "I got this spot up top, pull up." So I pulled up, brought my boy JB Minor and we just got to constructing the beat.
And to watch his recording process is crazy. He lays there on the couch and the mic is way over there, but it's picking up like he's right here on the shit. I got the hook and we just built the song together. And he started filming a show so I took it home it's a ballad and I'm singing on it, that shit took me an hour to do just to be in the same pocket, the shit it only took him five minutes to do [laughs], but it came together crazy. So sending it back and forth and just getting it right and tight he was like, "This shit sound crazy. Let's go!" I'm glad I put him back in that R&B pocket, too, ’cause a lot of people miss him there, you know?
You and Nipsey Hussle have been holding L.A. down for years. What's your relationship with him?
Actually, this is our first time on one of our projects. We worked on Snoop [Dogg's]; we were on a record called "Upside Down," on Malice in Wonderland. But Nipsey was putting up posters when I was putting up posters. He in hoods he ain't supposed to be in; we in hoods we ain't supposed to be. We always been like that, but I respect his independent hustle and the way he moves and I feel it's the exact same way so for us to collaborate. It's just been a long time overdue and I know the fans are gonna love it.
What are some of the themes and concepts you plan to tackle on this project and how does it differ from your previous work?
Sonically is where I feel the difference the most, just with the production level and the different sounds that people haven't heard me put out on my projects. It's still me, it's still the Chach, but it's just a more elevated person, more growner version. I will say I'm way more vulnerable on this project, especially with the title track "Selfish" speaking on real-life issues that I've went through that I've battled with.
The "Man Enough" record where I speak on battles I have with God and the stuff with my daughter and just different instances that went on. And even with "The Mission Statement," I let you in on when I'm not winning all the time. Everything ain't about Problem balling out, fucking and doing drugs, you know? I have my ups and downs, too, and I know that the fans will respect that. I had to give that on this project, I had to. I want you to feel my soul more so than my voice.
The title track is a real personal one. What was your mind state while you were writing that song?
I wrote it after my son was born and I had to fly to Atlanta and remembering that time where I'm talking to his mom and [asking] is he gonna make it and different stuff. And I'm snapping and I'm not there and she knows why and me questioning everything, you know? You get to blaming, you get to questioning your faith, you get to questioning your motives and all of that. And the best way for me to get it out was express it, but I didn't let anyone but my inside circle hear it.
It was just sitting in the hard drive, just sitting there, just the words. 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 because, again, this is eight years of pain that's just been sitting there, you know what I'm saying? And it's more of a relief for me to let people hear it. It's therapy for me, selfishly, but I know it's gonna help another dude that's went to that and I know it's gonna explain some of the woes to the women that have went to get them abortions for niggas they didn't wanna go get ’em for. And hearing this side of the story on like, "Well, this is why I did it" or "This is what it was" or "I didn't really want to" or "I just didn't know." Just putting that piece of art out into the world and was more important than just me being vulnerable, you know?
What was the moment that you actually decided that you were gonna put the song out being that you've had it in the vault for so long?
I was actually playing some records for my manager and she was like, "You have to put this on there. You have to." Then I sent the tracklist and she was like, "Why is it not on here?" and then I'm listening and listening and I'm talking to my man because the tracklist had shifted, it had 15 songs—it had so many. And then one day, I'm sitting there and I'm like, Fuck it, we putting it on there.
And then when I sent him my final [tracklist], he said, "Oh," like basically you're ready, ’cause he's been listening to it since the day after I wrote it in Atlanta. It makes you challenge shit you done went through and he was like, "Oh, you're ready to go." It can't just be a hit. I didn't record it seven years ago, I wrote it seven years ago. So I had the words for a long time, but I had to get the right production and different things. I had to make it the moment back then when I wrote it.
You had to match the intensity.
I had to. And that was the hard part, I went through about twelve beats to finally get the one where it was like, yeah, this one makes me feel the emotion of the words.
You also are a part of The Pollyseeds, a supergroup producer Terrace Martin put together. Tell us more about that situation.
I came in on the tail end of that, man. I got a call like "I'm doing this thing, man, with Robert Glasper and Kamasi Washington and Marlon [Williams], this girl I got Rose Gold and Wyann Vaughn and I want you to be involved, I want you to come sing on it though." And with Terrace, it's like, well, fuck it, let's go at it. So the "Intentions" beat is getting made in front of me and the song just start coming out. And I don't really write anymore, I'm more so just get in the booth and just kinda feel it out. The whole song, I hadn't a written a whole song like that, in seven minutes, it was done.
But then something happened with the computer where I couldn't record it and I remember like, OK, I gotta get back there in the morning so I wont forget the cadence. And I'm singing and I'm thinking I'm writing it for some other singer at the time and he's like, "Nah, you gotta sing it." So now I'm like, "OK, well, shit, I'll get my T-Boz on, I'll give you that" [laughs]. So end of the day, I heard it, everybody was fucking with it and [Terrace] was like, "OK, I want you on this one and this one and give me some tutelage on these joints." So I kinda meshed in on the fourth quarter of it and just brought to it what I thought I could bring to it.
And everybody been knowing each other for so long but just all of us collectively in one room was just fucking insane. The musicianship that's just surrounding you constantly makes your creative do something if it was just you sitting there. You just lock in a lot of creative people who don't give a damn about the rules, they just wanna be the dopest in the room at what their instrument is or what their talent is to bring there and that's humbling, it like no egos. Everybody is like, "OK, well let's try this, well, let's move here." So to be working on that was a blessing in disguise because I was working on Selfish at the same time. It shifted the whole shit of it.
What's the title of the project?
It's called Terrace Martin Presents Sounds of Crenshaw.
You've been around the game for nearly a decade and have worked with some of the games biggest names. How would you say you've grown both as an artist and as a person during that time?
Shit, the game grew me up, you know? You gotta take the bumps and bruises of the shit with it and learn you can't have thin skin at all, you gotta understand what your mission is. So that, it toughened me up there. It taught me not to be so personal ’cause me, I have a heart, like, if I fuck with you, I'm ready to go with war with you, you know what I'm saying? And I have to understand I can only do that with the people that are ready to go to war with me, you know what I'm saying, my circle.
I gotta focus everything on what we got going on and that was probably the biggest lesson I learned because I'm a liker, you know what I'm saying? I wanna see how your family doing once we spend three weeks doing together and record and everybody's not like that and that's not a bad thing, but that's the biggest lesson I learned. Of course in business it's different shit you see. OK, shit change. OK, I wanna do this like this, this and that, but I would say just figuring out who's who faster than I used to is the biggest lesson.
By the end of this year, you'll have released at least three projects in 2017. What would you say the people can look out for from Problem throughout 2018 and beyond?
A lot more Diamond Lane music coming, not just from myself, but from the other artists. Airplane James, we're getting ready to really let him fly and do his thing. We were actually tidying up his project before we got here. I'm doing a lot of writing and production for a lot of different other 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 are collaborating on that.
Me and him are working on Herbie Hancock's album. That's exciting, way different than what you would think you would see me at. More merch from Diamond Lane, more touring for sure, and I think we might be dropping a short film. Something that probably doesn't have anything to do with me and our story, just a movie about something. We wanna take Diamond Lane into other areas, other things besides the typical. Let's expand this shit. We been talking about TV shows we been developing and different ideas that we just want to come to fruition. So you never know, man. Just know you gonna see us. You gonna see DLG, 354 all through 2018.