Mustard Talks Nipsey Hussle, Ella Mai and His ‘Perfect 10’ Album

As if it weren’t enough that Mustard — formerly DJ Mustard, one of hip-hop’s hottest hitmakers and owner of the 10 Summers label — dropped the hit of the spring season with “100 Bands,” featuring Quavo, 21 Savage, YG and Meek Mill, he had to go and follow it up with Friday’s release of “Perfect 10,” ten torrid tracks of signature 808 kicks and minimalist bass-synth guaranteed to hold down dancefloors all summer.

Don’t let the fact that Mustard stuck (somewhat) to his usual script on “Perfect 10” fool you. The man added new friends such as the Migos crew, Meek Mill and Future — not to mention the late Nipsey Hussle — to the party of old pals such as YG, Ella Mai and Ty Dolla $ign.

Mai figures prominently in the Mustard story as his 10 Summers label (through Interscope) released her smooth, self-titled 2018 and steamy singles “Boo’d Up” and “Trip”, with the former Mustard-coproduced track being awarded the “Best R&B Song” prize at the 2019 Grammys. Though new Mai music is in the planning stages, Mustard is all about his own “Perfect 10,” as Variety found out.

Ella Mai is featured on “Perfect 10” and had a big look at the Grammys — what’s next for her?
She and I are going on tour, and when we’re done, we’ll get back to new music. Then again, I’ll be working on it all the time because I’ll have my studio with me while touring. As for her career, we want to just keep going up, making great songs that people love.

Is the more raw edge you gave her on “Surface” (from “Perfect 10”) a sign of what her next album will sound like?
I don’t think there is a sound that anybody should expect from her. We’ve been at that song for a while, and it finally came to life. It took me a while to finish the drums. You never what to expect from her, or us.

What’s next for your label? Any new signings on the horizon?
I’m just looking right now. I’m not in a hurry. I want to sign the right ones, and give them the right amount of attention, the same that I give Ella. Also, I want to be there for them, just like I was for her — I took off a lot of time from my own stuff to do hers. I want to believe in the next artist in the same way I believe in her.

The new album has harder kicks and rougher edges than your previous albums. How did you get to that sound?
This time I really wanted all of it to be able to be played in the club, whether it was a song about a watch or love. The edge comes from the desire to hear all of “Perfect 10” in the club. Everything else is just ratchet and fun.

A lot of the MCs on the album aren’t ones you hear on the dancefloor that often — like Meek Mill, although there he is, fitting in and booming on “100 Bands.” How and why did you two get together on that particular track?
Meek has always been one of my close friends, even before jail. I went to Meek’s house when I was dead broke, before I was a name producer. This time, with this album, I wanted to connect with people that I never connected with before on a record. Same with the Migos crew — I never hooked up with them before this. I wanted something different. I wanted to bridge the gap between L.A. and Atlanta and New York. That’s why, like, on the song “On God,” I have [A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg]. That’s a song that you would never expect from them. Same with Nav [on “Baguettes”]. I wanted to be different.

What was your relationship like with Nipsey Hussle, and what is the history of this track?
We did that song, “Perfect Ten,” a month-and-a-half before he died. That was the last song me and him did together. We had a big-bro thing going. We always talked about family, the kids.  He was taking about what he had coming up – he thought he had all the time in the world, for music and everything else that he wanted to do. We had a really good relationship.

Was there ever a question in your mind about holding the song and releasing it later?
We was working on a series of songs… we even had discussed doing our own project together. Nipsey took a lot of time to do his verses. He would give you amazing verses every time, but they took a long time for him to do. This just happened to be one of them. We never considered not releasing it.

Why did you drop the “DJ” from your stage name?
That’s more about me just being a boss (laughs). No disrespect to DJs, as I am a DJ for life, but I do so many things now. I’m not just spinning, anymore, I think we can all agree.

Which producers inspired you early on?
Dr. Dre and Lil Jon.  Think about all the songs Lil Jon did — those songs are classic. He was heavy into Bay Area sounds. Ying-Yang Twins and “Get Low” alone makes him a genius. Same thig with “California Love” and Dre.

You once called your sound “ratchet music.” Is that true of where you’re going now?
Sometimes! Depends on what we’re making, I got that title from Lil Boosie. That’s what he said, that what we were doing was like a bunch of ratchet little kids. I wouldn’t consider “Boo’d Up” a ratchet song.

Speaking of kids, you chose a shot of the very young you for the cover of “Perfect 10.” Why?
I chose it because I didn’t know what I was thinking at that moment, obviously. That’s me at age 6 or 7 and from the look of it, I didn’t know what I was going to do in my life – no plans, no goals. Just having fun without worries.  Considering where I am now, that’s a success story

And do you remember where you were or what else you were up to when that photo was snapped?
Hell no! (laughs)