From a short stint at a major record label to releasing 20+ projects all before the release of his debut album, Problem has been putting in the work. If you’ve never heard of his name, then you’ve probably heard him on some of your favorite party-starters. Appearances on high profile singles like E-40’s “Formation” and Rich Homie Quan’s “Walk Thru” garnered Problem a notable buzz. His record “Like Whaaat” peaked at No. 47 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and he’s worked with countless big-name artist such as Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa. Despite all the singles and features, little is known of Problem until now.
The rapper born Jason Martin is no stranger to the music industry. Problem has been on the independent scene with his Diamond Lane Music Group since 2009 and has a resume that would even make his rivals blush. “I just wanted to see how that worked inside of there,” Problem told Billboard when asked why he’s been independent for so long. “We want to deal with a major label on our own terms. We haven’t found the right terms yet that’s why we’ve been the way we are.”
With all the notches on his belt, 2017 was a breakout year for Problem. He hit the ground running in 2017 with his acclaimed Chachiville mixtape. And then he followed that by teaming up with DJ Quik on a collaborative project called Rosecrans and provided his vocals to frequent collaborator Terrace Martin’s Pollyseeds project Sounds of Crenshaw, Vol 1.
Turning away from the ratchet turn-up club music, Problem’s debut album, Selfish, shows a different side to the rapper. His fourth release of the year and twenty first overall, Selfish is his most vulnerable project to date with abortion, religion and other real life issues serving as focal points. The album’s title track, in particular, features Problem discussing his family issues, mostly his son, who was born with a very small breathing tube that resulted in lymphoma in his cheek.
Billboard sat with Problem to discuss his debut album Selfish, his maturation as an MC, how he came to sing on a track with Ne-Yo and more. Check out the interview below.
Billboard: For those who don’t know who is Problem?
Problem: A young man out of Compton that loves to do music that’s signed to an independent label with his homies. I’m just trying to do something big. Something that’s never been done by an independent.
What made you choose that title Selfish?
Well, my earlier records and the stuff that I did back then at that time, I was being very selfless because I was changing as a man. I was using that to feed my family. I can’t stop that I gotta make sure they’re straight. My fans, I know what they want from me. At least I think I know what they want from me, so I gotta keep feeding that. I’m doing music for them and my family but I want to do something different during the midpoint where all of this is going up. With this project I decided to be selfish and do exactly what I wanted to do on every level of it.
This is one of your more personal projects to date. What made you want to be this open now?
The funny thing is that I’ve had these records all this time. It was just finding the right project to put them on. It was just time. This is me now and I’m ready to be represented in that way. So that’s the real point and then I have to show growth. I feel like if you were a fan of me at the beginning, you are now here with me. You now totally understand because we all went through the turn-up phase together and we all figured out like, “Whoa, shit let me slow down a little bit.” Not saying let’s not turn-up anymore, but let’s not be the only thing we do is turn up. I feel like that was important to get across to the people that’s been following Diamond Lane and myself for this whole journey.
You worked with 9th Wonder on several tracks on the album. What’s your connection to the legendary producer?
I been knowing 9th for awhile. We always worked on other people’s projects and worked hand-in-hand on some stuff, but this was the first record that I had for myself. That’s the thing with 9th, he’ll tell you, “Nah you can’t get on any of my beats.” Ninth can give a fuck about the money. He’ll say you’re not with what we do. You have to be about this. But we’ve been friends for a while.
Let’s talk about some of the songs off the album with the first one being “Mission Statement.” You had a line in that record “N—-s choose a dumb dollar over smart pennies.” What does that mean to you?
The flash of what’s in front of your face can kind of blind what’s really behind that. Signing a major deal for some people is maybe the best thing. But then when you can’t put your music out for three years, but you want to be like, “Why are you still independent?” You can say, “You only sold 20,000 copies Problem and I sold 2 million.” But I guarantee I make way more money than you off that 20,000 that you did off your 2 million so who the fuck’s the dummy?
On “Man Enough” it seems you were owning up to the real-life issues you’ve experienced in your life. How did that record come about and was that an actual recording on the track?
Yeah definitely. The whole story is true. The first verse is about a fight me and my business partner had when we were younger and he got the best of me. But instead of me turning it into a challenge of where I was like, “Fuck you, I’m not fucking with you no more Let me hear the lesson that’s getting taught afterwards. It was a real lesson that I still take and use to this day. Be accountable for what you do and what you’re around.
Second verse my daughter, a situation that still isn’t in the best of places, but being man enough to say my wrongs in that and saying “well you know we gotta get this right.” The last verse is where you’re challenging your religion and spirituality and so God has to remind you and smack you in the back of your God damned head and say “look man, you got a lot going on. You’re blessed beyond belief, so stop bitching. You have to be man enough to fight all those quarrels.
What made you want to end an already personal album with a moving record like your title track “Selfish?”
I’ve had that record for seven and a half years. I had been playing with putting it out a bunch of times. The production had shifted so many times, so many different producers, so many different things. I actually was picking records for this project and my manager Melissa was in there doing her thing. I call her the super manager. She was listening to the project and she was like, “What are you doing?! We have to put this out there,” and I wasn’t sure of doing that.
It was still personal and tough and then she stayed on it. So I’m doing the listening and I’m sitting with my boy, my partner and he like, “Oh you serious this time?” He knows when this record comes on, it’s the real deal and we thought it was a perfect way to close out. It left you with something in your heart to think about. It sets up what we’re about to do next.
What sparked the collaboration with Ne-Yo on “Ain’t Like You” and what made you sing rather than rap on the track?
Me and Ne-Yo ran into each other at the weed shop. We had been working with another artist that I was writing stuff for a few years and he had the idea of doing song together. That night, I went up in the Hills and he was laying there, doing real fly R&B shit and I was making the best of it, putting it together and it just came along crazy. We came up with the hook, he laid his verse and I was like alright I’m going to take this with me because I knew people would expect me to rap.
So I went to my studio, turned off the lights and got in there and tried my hardest to nail this. I didn’t want to sound like auto-tune and I just wanted to challenge myself. This whole project was about doing something different and it came out dope.
You mentioned at your YouTube Space event that you wanted to keep your fans happy but at the same time you were growing as an artist. What was that battle like for you?
It was tough because this is still a business. People not understanding that you can be this kind of way and that kind of way or at least that’s what I’m thinking. I was in my head a whole lot and then my inner circle would listen to stuff and say, “Nah, that ain’t it man. Go take drugs man! Go back on the dope!” Hearing that from your friends, that shit was tough. I had to lock away and say, “You know what? Fuck everything because that ain’t what got me here.” Doing what I do got me here. If I’m not doing that, it’s not going to resonate with the music. I remember my boy always told me write your life so that’s what we did.
What was the overall goal you had for Selfish?
We wanted to have nine moments, not songs, that could walk along with and sound great together. We wanted something that could stand the test of time. If I got records on there that’s eight years old or four years old and they still sound as good as what I did yesterday, then we on one. It’s nine moments because Thriller had nine moments. That’s the messiah of all albums. If I can get at least 1 percent of what that album did, then we’re in a great fucking place.
Michael [Jackson] was amazing by putting these nine different songs together that really had nothing to do with each other. That’s what this was. Instead of doing the normal 15 or 17 tracks, we got it down to the number we were going for and I was able to pay close attention to it. I can ride all day to it. I was really able to dive into the nine moments and put 100 percent nine times and I been getting great feedback. One thing an artist always wants is for their music to resonate and for people to understand it and for that to happen that means we did the right thing.