Not even hip-hop historians are entirely in agreement when in fact the decline of Western Civilization fully came to fruition. After the rings of the Up In Smoke Tour evaporated, aside from a few solid releases from Game and Snoop Dogg, dark days descended fast. Fans sat on metaphorical sidewalks desperately awaiting Dr. Dre’s Detox as tumbleweeds passed them by year after year with no release in sight. In short, the only thing more dismal than the West Coast hip-hop scene was the pre-Lob City Clippers franchise. But in the last few years, a constellation of new talent has brought legitimacy back to a once proud coast. The slow grind back becoming to a legitimate contender has been arduous, but has reached peak levels in 2014. L.A. native and producer DJ Mustard is in large reason to thank for how the West was won.
Although he recently told Tim Westwood that he doesn’t want to be defined by “ratchet” sensibilities, most of Mustard’s music is party-oriented. 10 Summers isn’t great “contemplative” music, but it slaps. Mustard has spoken at length about his utmost respect for the stylings of the West Coast OGs, and like we witnessed on YG’s My Krazy Life album, he pays homage at almost every turn. “Low” begins with the standardized sounds of chatter and lowriders like the beginning of Chronic 2001 or Xzibit’s Restless album. The pendulum swings in full force with an energized Nipsey Hu$$le verse, proving a seasoned veteran working on Mustard beats.
With faith much larger than a mustard seed, the man in charge is content to let newcomers step to the center stage. Molded around a modernized remake of Eazy E’s “Boyz In Da Hood,” “Hood Tales” deceivingly lacks the glow of the more star-studded collabs, Jay 305 and Tee Cee sound hungry and determined. And although Left coast favorite Dom Kennedy anchors the load on “Throw Your Hood Up,” the less famous Royce The Choice complements him well: (“Not a rapper/Way too street with it/All I did was take my life and put a Mustard beat with it.)”
Indeed, the prominent invectives tossed at 10 Summers will come down to all the beats sounding alike–hopefully to deaf ears. Not every producer relies on YG’s “Mustard on the beat hoe” address to brand their instrumentals, but some of hip-hop’s greatest producers rely on a signature sound that can be sniffed out even without liner notes handy: DJ Premier’s scratches, Timbaland’s synthy bounce, 9th Wonder’s smooth soul samples, Mannie Fresh’s swift kick drums, and the list goes on. By far, the greatest testament of Mustard’s production is that it brings out the best of his MCs–in fact they are self-aware. They often come back for seconds. Jeezy spits some of his hardest bars on “No Reason” and “Giuseppe,” the latter of which is ball-hogged by an animated 2 Chainz before YG and Yo Gotti follow function.
Mustard we’re-all-in-the-same-gang approach to composition makes for some imposing moments all across the map. Southern legends Lil Boosie and Lil Wayne join forces with Detroit’s Big Sean and YG for a dream collaboration on “Face Down.” Mustard briefly turns down for what amounts to comical, self-aggrandizing skits that acknowledge his clogging of the radio waves of late, simultaneously paying homage to the classic DJ Eazy Dick skits on Doggystyle with “Tinashe Checks In” and “Ty Dolla $ign Checks In.” Mustard dials down the drums a notch, allowing Tinashe to temper the testosterone a little with her sultry voice.
While even N.W.A. had introspective cuts like “Express Yourself,” Mustard is mostly about whimsical, worry-free jams that keep the party going. While his songs don’t extend to thoughts on Gaza war crimes or Syrian conflict, he has an exhaustive grasp of both first and thirst world problems. Both Fabolous and Eric Bellinger prove unreliable narrators trying dissuade desperate attempts to hack into their private side-chick conversations on the smartphone cautionary tale “4 Digits.” Featuring Rick Ross, Wiz Khalifa, and TeeFlii caps off an impressive debut album for a producer who plans to be around for a while. It may be another 30 summers before Detox comes out if we’re lucky, but 10 Summers will likely keep the party going for now.—Kellan Miller