There’s a certain flexibility required in a sound to make it euphoric in the car on the way to work, in the gym and mall on the way back home from work, and especially in the club. From Tyga’s 2011 hit “Rack City” to Big Sean’s 2014 hit “I Don’t F*** With You,” we’re four years into a run with DJ Mustard’s style and sound that — in no way related to us presently surfing HipHopDX.com — may actually never end. This article is about those other people, the rap fanatics for whom the genre has been narrowed into being heard only in those aforementioned mainstreamed and well-marketed places. To service this finite population of listeners, have we reached a point where literally only one sound need suffice? Possibly? In assessing how this became the case, we understand why Mustard may literally be “on the beat, ho,” forever.
Why are “we” not the issue? Well, we’re on a website, which means that we’re on the Internet, which means as a rap fanatic that we’ve got more song choices than pop radio’s 18 songs an hour that are occasionally interrupted by advertising and station identifications. There are 3.17 billion Internet users in the world. By comparison, consider that there are over 2.4 billion radio receivers and over 51,000 radio stations worldwide. Against those numbers, consider that there are roughly seven billion people in the world’s population. From this data extrapolate that while the sonic diversity (especially in rap) available via the Internet has the potential to claim nearly half of the world’s inhabitants, there’s still an unequal percentage of people for whom the radio is still marketing likely their most preferred source of what is a finite amount of music for a percentage of a world of music listeners.
If we break down where this finite source of music is coming from, do understand that there are only three major labels remaining, which control a plethora of subsidiary imprints that are all distributed via their major label owners. Universal, Sony, and Warner Music Group are the three labels that remain, and these labels are putting out music that is seeing a significant decrease in purchases in the past decade. In 2004, the record industry moved 667 million physical and digital albums. In 2014, the record industry sold 257 million physical and digital albums. When album sales drop nearly 62% in a decade, you’re not looking for solutions, you’re looking for life preservers.
If you’re not seeing the point yet that DJ Mustard is literally keeping a very streamlined music industry afloat, consider the idea Funk Brothers have “played on more number-one hits than the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys and Elvis combined.” Motown was open for two years and the Funk Brothers played on almost 50 released singles before hitting number one on Billboard’s pop charts. Similarly, for a modern era comparison, The Neptunes had a Mustard-style run through the late 90s and early 2000s, and even they had to release eight singles before hitting #1 with SWV’s “Right Here” in 1993. Insofar as The Neptunes’ early 2000s chart topping running buddy Timbaland, he had eleven years of production experience before hitting #1 with Aaliyah’s “Try Again” in 2001.
While DJ Mustard hasn’t had a crossover pop #1 single yet, his very first credited production was Tyga’s “Rack City” in 2011 which hit #1 on the Billboard rap chart and was a top 10 pop single. Does this make DJ Mustard potentially better than Motown’s rhythm section, Pharrell, and Chad, plus Timbo, too? If numbers never lie, it’s a concept worthy of at least some serious consideration.
In the past four years, DJ Mustard’s production output has led to major labels selling 25 million singles. With album sales absurdly depleted, singles sales are the new standard of excellence, and by that measure, Mustard is king. Using a sound that has just enough swing, heavy enough breaks and just enough energy to not overwhelm the move from car to job to gym to mall to club, it fills a very specific space for a very specific music fan. Unlike us on the Internet, these are people, again, being fed a finite amount of music at very specific times that serve the very specific purpose of being purchased for continuous consumption. As consistently fulfilling a precise standard at a bizarre time, Mustard’s ability as a producer need only appear incredibly as incredibly shallow as appearing to be the same song being played over, and over, and over again because that’s all a very dilapidated music industry both can sustain and at present only needs to survive.
When you only need one choice to satisfy a narrow population of listeners, as we have seen with DJ Mustard’s incredible ubiquity, it’s entirely possible that just Mustard can sustain this population. A champion — note not a victim — of circumstance, as long as the music industry appears to be falling into his lap, he stands to succeed, well, for right around 10 summers.