Late on a Friday night, friends and I waited outside the entrance of DJ Mustard’s Burbank recording studio for entry approval. Once in, we were led through a dimly lit mirrored corridor lined carefully with framed portraits and platinum records. It was revealed Michael Jackson recorded portions of his seminal Thriller album there and years later Dr. Dre took up residence for a decade. I couldn’t help but think this was strategic on Mustard’s part, working in such an iconic space. Down a dark, narrow stairway through what felt like a secret entrance, I finally settled in a cozy lounge area to await the young man who was busy preparing for his performance at Coachella.
Twenty-five-year-old Dijon “DJ Mustard” McFarlane entered and greeted me with a strong handshake before sitting down. To begin I asked what inspired his surprise foray into dance music and the creation of the recent crossover hit “Whole Lotta Lovin,” which features Houston rapper Travi$ Scott, not rapping, but singing. “I started playing festivals, traveling the world, seeing DJ’s like Diplo, DJ Snake, Skrillex… I wanted to translate my music to EDM. I wanted to compete, be the only black dude doing it successfully, and my team made sure it wasn’t corny,” Mustard explains. “I listened to a lot of people and played it for my DJ homies in that world, trying to figure it out… I wasn’t heavy on Soundcloud a year ago, but I started doing remixes to all the hot records until I kinda got a formula to get into that world. I would do free shit as I was figuring it out. I haven’t mastered it yet, but once I got it and understood the level you have to be on to compete with these other dudes, I finally put ‘Whole Lotta Lovin’ out… This was so I could open up a new lane, I want to be able to do whatever kind of music I want,” he says.
Mustard is keenly aware of the current swell of dance-rap records—Azealia Banks, Kaytranada, Young Futura, to name a few. He fondly recalls memories of soul and deep house while growing up off of Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in South LA. “My mom was a singer. She used to play all that shit in the house for me, so now it comes in handy. It was Luther Vandross, Earth, Wind & Fire, Marvin Gaye, you know the typical oldies, but she also played Robin S. and stuff like that… I relate to that music. When I did Jeremih’s ‘Don’t Tell ‘Em,’ that touches ‘Rhythm Is A Dancer’ [Snap!], and Kid Ink’s ‘Show Me’ references ‘Show Me Love’ [Robin S.]. That music molded me.”
Mustard is bold and ferocious in his hustle. The oft-credited creator of the current West Coast ratchet sound is intent on steering clear of boxes, paving his own multi-laned path with methodic persistence.
He’s been at it since his uncle “T” left him on turntable duty at a backyard party when he was eleven years old. “For some reason my uncle didn’t come back until the party was over, and the lady that hosted the party asked my uncle to call my mom and tell her that I was incredible,” he recalls with a grin. Mustard was hooked on superstar DJ dreams and mixtape stardom. Forming a DJ business with his family, they were taxied across town by older cousins and godbrothers until they were able to drive themselves, rocking house parties and high school functions from South LA to the Palisades. After replying to a text from Timbaland, Mustard continues, “I was DJing for all the schools, all the sweet sixteens, and that lead me to get connected to YG and Ty [Dolla $ign] through a mutual friend. I ended up doing a mixtape for YG before we even met, trying to be like DJ Drama, you know, but I wasn’t making beats yet. The mixtape skyrocketed and I was hearing my tags everywhere!”
YG invited Mustard to be his tour DJ, and soon after, put him to the task of creating original beats. Friend and fellow collaborator Ty Dolla $ign graciously shared key production knowledge, wisdom, and even
donated drum kits and sounds so Mustard could gain sure footing. Fast forwarding through the evolutionary haze of a young artist experiencing new international success, tentacled with clichéd dramas, lawsuits brought by old friends, and a recently resolved squabble with longtime ace YG (they reunited live onstage at Coachella), Mustard admits to coming through a dark time in 2015. He says he experienced a rebirth that inspired the release of “Whole Lotta Lovin,” the official launch of his 10 Summers imprint (Universal), and signing London based chanteuse Ella Mai. “I was tired of the bullshit,” he recalled, “I got sued by an old friend, one of my lawyers went bad, I had to change my whole team around. I was so busy being depressed in the studio, and I wasn’t seeing my kids. I didn’t have the juice to be creative ‘cus all this other bullshit was draining me. It fucked me up!” After a pause and deep breath, he resumes, “It was like, OK, let me stop, figure out what the fuck I’m gonna do. How am I gonna get this shit back together? What I did was bring a creative director on, brought in a day to day manager, shout out to Meko, and got one of my best friends to keep me grounded. I make time for my family, I come to work when it’s time to work, and if it’s not work I’m at home. God helped me take all the cancer, all the bullshit away.”
Dijon is wise and thoughtful, exuberant and focused, with sights set on blazing a trajectory not unlike that of Dr. Dre and Pharrell. He is also gracious and humble, taking time after our interview to greet my kid and nephews outside the studio, taking Instagram photos before getting back to prepping for Coachella. Simply put, the young man has flavor.