While many rappers claim to be students of the game, few have spent as much time studying their craft as Problem. The Compton-based mind behind "Like Whaat?" and the recent DJ Drama-hosted The Separation mixtape has spent years soaking up insights and lessons from working with some of the West Coats biggest stars—Snoop Dogg, DJ Quik, Kurupt—while still keeping his ear tuned to the emerging sounds of contemporary California hip-hop. As is often the case, with a big brain comes big ambition.

Having recently announced a string of headlining tour dates, Problem hopped on the phone with XXL to discuss his upcoming album, the value of staying an independent artist and why he doesn't fuck with e-mails when it comes to his music. —Dan Jackson

There was a tweet recently from your manager saying that you'll be heading back to the studio soon. What are you hoping to accomplish with the album that you weren't able to do with the mixtape?
It's not necessarily what I didn't do, it's just the next chapter. Everything I wanted to accomplish on The Separation, I did, so I'm turning a new page, starting a new chapter. I wanna bring back that feeling that you used to hear on old Death Row records, old Ice Cube records, not even just what they were saying, but that aggression, that energy of the music. I want that feeling of everybody all in one room, no e-mail shit, just real inspiring music that's gonna be timeless. That's what I'm trying to do now. That'll be Diamond Lane America. We're gonna collectively put this thing together and have it be like the music we grew up listening to, so we can bring it to a younger audience, a new generation, so we can share that felling we had when The Chronic dropped.

I've seen you mention in other interviews that you hate making music through e-mail. So do you only make music in person in the studio?
I try to, but when you do favors for other artists, sometimes you have to use e-mail because you might not know this guy, but you know the person who asked you to do it. In those instances, when it's for other people's stuff, yeah, I'll do it. But for my stuff, no. I don't do e-mails. I put up on you or you put up on me. Wait till I'm in town or when you're in town, that way we can have the same energy on the record, like we're competing to make the best record. It's not just, "You put your voice on there for this project." I'm not with that. I'm more about the music. I want the music to stand out, not the features.

Who are you working with production-wise for the next album? A lot of League Of Stars or new people?
I'm probably gonna produce the bulk of it, just cause I wanna be very hands-on it with it. But the beats, of course, I'll have stuff from League Of Stars and a couple other producers. It's gonna be pretty close-knit project. I'm not gonna stray too far production-wise. It's gonna be a lot different than what y'all are expecting. Very aggressive. Diamond Lane America. Be ready.

I know you had the deal with Universal in the past, so are you looking to get another deal like that or are you done with big labels?
I have a deal. I'm signed to a big label. I'm signed to Diamond Lane Music Group and in my mind that's a very big label. What are we not doing that other labels are doing? You get what I'm saying? We're independent, but we're majorly independent. I love everything about it. If a company wants to come get into bed with us, that's on my CEO to decide if that's the best move, but right now I'm signed to Diamond Lane Music Group and I'm not looking to sign anything else.