The best parts of DJ Mustard's music are so self-evident that trying to explain them is almost redundant. A DJ turned producer from LA, Mustard started off in the city's jerkin' scene around the end of the 2000s before he began making his own beats and crafting a new sub-genre out of the older, then-declining scene. He calls this sound “ratchet” and it's straight-up club music: minimalist, bass-heavy and drum-led but less reliant on specific dance styles and more about an overall – and very explicit – mentality. As well as jerkin', Mustard's style owes a lot to hyphy from North California and a more general history of West Coast rap music you can crudely trace through Dr. Dre and DJ Quik – though less hyperactive than the former and with a super concise interpretation of the distinct musicality of the latter two.
What really sets DJ Mustard apart from what came before him or is going on around him is the singularity of his approach. His tracks are often made from a small set of clearly isolated components best suited to bursts of loose limb-work but capable of creating anthems too. Tyga's 'Rack City' for example, his biggest hit to date, is elastic but has a deep sense of drama about it too: with a tense repetitive bassline looming throughout and only relieved by terse lines of drums, chants and hand claps. It sounds monumental but it was an impromptu collaboration made through YG, a fellow Compton rapper who has worked with Mustard from the start of his production career – he actually coined the “Mustard on the beat hoe!” tag and the majority of the beats on his past mixtapes are made by him. The success of "Rack City" introduced Mustard to a wider audience, lead to link ups with national stars like 2 Chainz and Young Jeezy and really established the broader consciousness of a defined “Mustard sound”.
As fast as his growth has been, his first solo mixtape Ketchup isn't a scrapbook collection or an attempt to showcase diversity like, say, Mike Will Made It's Est in 1989 volumes did last year. Top billers like "Rack City", "I'm Different", "R.I.P." and B.o.B's latest single "HeadBand" aren't included and all the tracks are recorded new, with most of the rappers and singers featured being local artists he has a long history with. These guests, headed by YG and Joe Moses, offer perfectly serviceable but fairly anonymous vocal contributions. Ty Dolla $ign (an architect of his own, more lavish take on ratchet having released his Beach House 2 mixtape earlier this week) is an enormous talent and unsurprisingly makes the strongest single song – a druggy love triangle set in a nightclub and based around the deft chorus lament: “Seen two of bitches in the club/and I know they know about each other/I think these bitches trying to set me up/...maybe I'm just paranoid”. Oakland legend E-40 also makes a notable and typically lively appearance on the group track "4G's" too but, mostly, the songs are made up of unabashed but forgettable sex boasts and gang threats based around a central, catchy hook – with the emphasis often on the beat and a basic feeling rather than virtuoso performances.
As well as being a straight-forward demonstration of an increasingly important style and sound, Ketchup shows how well DJ Mustard understands the elemental appeal of what he's doing. He's trying to foster a sub-genre and he's doing it the right way: bringing through a set of close collaborators, drawing in new talent without compromising the original template and showcasing the diversity of the sound through subtle modifications. A couple of moments that clearly stray from the mixtape's general pace come from a pair of young freestyle specialists, the first an intro by Lil Snupe – a Meek Mill protege from Louisana who was tragically shot dead shortly before this mixtape was released last month – and the second 'LadyKilla' by Cocc Pistol Cree – an LA native who seems to take a lot of joy in casually destroying weak boys and rival girls. They are the closest Ketchup gets to accentuating an individual rapper's talent and they essentially work by stretching or compressing all the energy from his more raucous songs and gearing it for what feels like a lap of honour in a packed arena. It's little things like this that suggest there is more to the ratchet sound than you might think and are testament to DJ Mustard's great functionality – further proof that his tracks will often just speak for themselves.