Rap music is such a protean form that no one bothers to come up with specific names for its different stylistic phases, unlike, say, indie rock with its thick catalog of microgenres. It just moves too fast.
One exception is ratchet music, a style that traces its roots back to the deep south but came into its own in Southern California, where producers started combining southern trap beats with the minimal electro of LA hip-hop pioneers like Egyptian Lover and the thizzed-up bounce of Bay Area hyphy and ended up with a way to generate a massively hedonistic mood out of sparse assemblages of hi-hats, finger snaps, and 808 kicks. There are a lot of people making ratchet right now, and last year a previously unknown (and not heard from since) ratchet group called the Finatticz reached number 88 on the Hot 100 with their track “Don’t Drop That Thun Thun!,” but LA’s DJ Mustard is by far its most successful practitioner, with huge tracks like Tyga’s “Rack City,” Young Jeezy’s “R.I.P.,” 2 Chainz’s “I’m Different” that have made his trademark “Mustard on the beat, ho” probably the second most heard producer drop on the radio after “Mike Will Made It.”
Mustard’s not only the highest selling ratchet producer but also its best. He has an astounding talent for writing incredibly addictive melodies out of just a few notes, and the unadorned keyboard riffs that open most of his tracks have a tendency to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. His beats are somehow as satisfying as they are spare, which brings a strange kind of elegance to songs intended for people to tear the club up to.
Mustard’s got two songs on the Hot 100 right now. The higher ranked of the two is “Show Me,” by Kid Ink, an unexceptional LA rapper with so little charisma that he’s outshined on the track by human charisma vacuum Chris Brown. Brown, with his bafflingly large and fervent fan base, is at least partially responsible for “Show Me”‘s 12 weeks on the chart, where it has slowly climbed to number 19. The rest of the credit should go to Mustard’s blippy synth riff and obscenely funky bass line.
The superior song, at number 52 and rising, is “Paranoid,” featuring Ty Dolla $ign and B.o.B. Ty’s built a solid foundation of an audience with his Beach House mixtapes, and just released an official, label-affiliated EP (also called Beach House) that’s apparently intended to test his mainstream appeal. “Paranoid” suggests that it’s up there, pairing poppy sing-raps with salacious lyrics about how hard it is to maintain the optimal main-squeeze/side-piece balance. And the slow-burning beat is proof that DJ Mustard is the reigning champion of 100 BPM grind-on-your-partner dance music.
Both songs have given Mustard an auspicious start to 2014. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from him throughout the year.