DJ Mustard Brings The Hits To Output: Live Review

“[In 2015, I learned] that less is more,” DJ Mustard told Fader earlier this week. For many producers, this would be an announcement of a new commitment to restraint, but this has actually been Mustard's motto for several years. since 2013, his beats have argued for the value of minimalism in pop’s mainstream with monomaniacal intensity.

If you went near a radio, club or hip-hop show in the last two years, you know the Mustard sound. The melody is carried by two terse sequences of notes; the second sequence repeats the first but adds a few embellishments to make it feel as if the song is speeding up. The bulk of the percussion comes from snaps and shouts, which provide the tracks with a human authority. A Mustard instrumental is a mass of contradictions: studious but tossed-off, clinical but rowdy, brutally repetitive and endlessly effective.

But 2015 was a down period by Mustard’s high-flying standards. He admitted as much in a recent Instagram post, writing “2015 wasn’t the best year, but it showed and taught me a lot.” Relatively few of his productions became hits -- Kid Ink’s “Be Real” in the U.S., Krept & Konan’s “Freak of the Week” overseas -- and he made some ill-advised moves, like attempting to reboot Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” with Nelly and Jeremih.

However, the Mustard sound remained ubiquitous, even if he wasn’t the one responsible for disseminating it -- in fact, several genres scaled down to focus on the thin blobs of rhythm that he favors. Change the drum programming in Major Lazer’s “Lean On, the most streamed song in the history of Spotify, and you have a Mustard beat. The same goes for “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times),” by the indie darling Jamie xx.

And in hip-hop and R&B, the Mustard template continued to rule: listen to Fetty Wap’s “679,” Drake’s “Right Hand,” Jidenna’s “Classic Man,” Selena Gomez’s “Same Old Love” -- these songs are both a compliment and a curse, an homage and an impediment to Mustard’s ongoing chart dominance. The producer found a quick route to the airwaves, and it will be replicated until fans tire of it. (For the record, Mustard’s formula is also a replication; the rapper Iamsu! traced it all the way back to Too Short’s “Freaky Tales,” which originally appeared on Born To Mack in 1987.)

But Mustard has no intention of just fading away: he released a new single, "Whole Lotta Lovin,'" on Thursday (Jan. 7), announcing his plan to regain his supremacy on radio, and got behind the decks in Brooklyn around 2 a.m. Saturday morning to spread his gospel. His recent prediction for 2016 was “expect the unexpected,” but not at the club Output -- Mustard played like the world’s most successful wedding DJ, queuing up radio hit after radio hit: Ty Dolla $ign’s “Blasé,” Fetty Wap’s “My Way,” Travi$ Scott’s “Antidote,” anything by Future.

Output is known for its allegiance to the strains of dance music that you rarely find on American airwaves, which makes it an unusual stage for a radio stalwart like Mustard. At several moments he hopped on the microphone to goad the crowd -- “Turn up!” or “I f--- with y’all for life” -- which isn’t something that often happens at the venue. And the audience reflected North Brooklyn, though that demographic played a small part in Mustard’s rise to super-producer status.

This might explain why dancing lessened whenever Mustard deviated from pop-rap crossover. Ty Dolla $ign’s “Saved,” for example, led to an immediate reduction in crowd energy. It’s a single from the same album that features “Blasé,” and it sounds exactly like other Mustard collaborations, except possibly more focused. But it hasn’t blown up on radio, so the audience did not care.

“Signed” came towards the end of the night, appearing in the middle of a series of Mustard’s own productions: “Post To Be” (Omarion), “Saved,” “Don’t Tell ‘Em” (Jeremih), “I Don’t Fuck With You” (Big Sean), and “Whole Lotta Lovin’” (Travi$ Scott). Like Mustard’s remix of Beyonce’s “7/11” and his iLoveMakonnen collaboration “Why’d You Call,” “Whole Lotta Lovin’” looks for a way out of the rhythmic grid that has underpinned so much of this producer’s work: relief comes in the form of two EDM-like drops.

“I don’t think people want that same sound,” he explained earlier this week. “They want a progression of that sound that I’ve already created.” His ability to progress will determine the extent of his success in 2016.

DJ Mustard - Live at Output in Brooklyn, N.Y. Album Review
3.5 STARS

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