DJ Mustard: How the Producer's 'Ratchet' Revolution Became the Sound of 2014

DJ Mustard

The DJ Mustard sound, like a Van Gogh painting or a good avocado, is easy to spot when you know what to look for. It's taut and spare, snappy and insistent. There are usually gruff chants in the background, like the song is a boozy party where a dance circle has just taken shape. "Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!"

Found on breakout hip-hop tracks like Kid Ink's "Show Me," YG's "My Hitta" and Ty Dolla $ign's"Paranoid," all of which fall in the top 50 of the Hot 100 this week (Nos. 20, 25 and 42), the DJ Mustard sound is an early candidate for the sound of 2014. In the young year, the Los Angeles based producer born Dijon McFarlane, 23, has landed on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart five separate times. And he's just getting warmed up. Recently, superstars like Rihanna, Kanye West, Usher, Jennifer Lopez and Rick Ross have all booked time with the rising beatmaker to gain access to his secret sauce.

Mustard first rose to prominence in 2012 as the producer of Tyga's influential strip club anthem "Rack City," which reached No. 7 on the Hot 100. "Rack City" was then the most successful example of the L.A.-centric hip-hop subgenre known as "ratchet," of which Mustard has since emerged as the pre-eminent figure. Ratchet music is playful, impervious and uncouth, custom-built for nights when wholehearted indiscretion is prescribed. And like Lil Jon and crunk, or Mike Will Made It and trap, Mustard is poised to turn ratchet into a bankable, mainstream proposition.

"I'm not doing anything that Lil Jon wouldn't have done," Mustard says modestly. "The past is always recycled. I'm just taking what the people I looked up to did and translating it for my generation."

If Mustard has tapped into the intemperate sound of the moment, perhaps it's because he comes from a long line of party people. He got his first DJ gig at age 11, when his uncle, Westchester, Calif.'s DJ Tee, had to leave a party early and put him on turntable duty. After that, Tee, Mustard and his cousin went into business together, relying on good word-of-mouth to get gigs at high schools around L.A.

He transitioned to making beats when he met rapper and fellow Angeleno YG, whose anticipated debut album for Def Jam, "My Krazy Life" (March 18), he mostly produced. (The set also features Mustard's first executive producer credit.) After "Rack City," Mustard's profile went national, and he scored hits with 2 Chainz' "I'm Different" and Young Jeezy's "R.I.P.," which peaked at Nos. 6 and 17 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, respectively. Mustard's own 2013 mixtape, "Ketchup," boasted shout-outs from Timbaland, Funk Master Flex and, naturally, Lil Jon. In January, he got a call to meet West for the first time in a studio in Santa Barbara, Calif.

"I didn't know who's project it was for, I just knew that I was going to get to work with Kanye," Mustard says."I've been a fan of his for a minute, so I was just kind of soaking up game and watching him do what he does." A song they worked on was turned into Ross' "Sanctified" (featuring Big Sean), which will appear on Ross' "Mastermind" (March 4). Mustard says the session produced plenty of other tracks as well.

"He has an ability to attract talent — I don't think there's anyone that we can't get in a room with at this point," says Omar Grant, Mustard's manager at Roc Nation, to which he signed early last year."He's a DJ, so he's in the clubs, he's on the scene. He knows what the people want and how to make them move."

This spring, Roc Nation will release Mustard's debut EP, Ketchup 2, which will feature appearances by YG, Ty, 2 Chainz, Jeezy, Nipsey Hussle and special guests to be announced. Although he watched the trail blazed last year by Mike Will, who went from the hip-hop underground to pop chart-toppers by Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry, Mustard says he's keeping his focus on the genre that birthed him — at least for now.

"I can do every type of music, but hip-hop was my way into the game," he says."I still don't feel like I've made it yet. There's unfinished business to do."