Warm weather all year round, beautiful women and of course hip-hop; California really does have it all. While New York is the birthplace of rap music, Cali definitely has its place in hip-hop history. Admittedly, as a winter-suffering east coaster, I am not as in touch with the west coast rap scene as one of you beach goers. Obviously I know enough to get by, but to truly know the ins and the outs (pun intended), you have to be there, soaking in all that sunshine and beats daily....or talk to a rapper who is. Who better than Compton emcee Problem? Nobody. So I hit up the longtime Booth fave to talk about the state of west coast hip-hop, his insistence on staying indie and more.
How does it feel to be labeled a "west coast artist"?
"That's what I am, I don't have any problem with that. I'm from Compton California and I'm proud of that so I want you to know I'm from LA and I rep this. It shouldn't be no mystery."
Does that put you in a box in any way?
"No way. Only person who can put me in a box is myself. I make music for the people and the people are the same way all across the world. I'd be afraid if I told the story of someone from Atlanta or someone from the Bronx. I tell this story because it's the story I know and what I represent."
There is a definite resurgence in West Coast hip-hop. Where do the new generation of West Coast rappers fit in with the legends of West Coast rap?
"It's a blessing we're even mentioned with the Cali greats. We are the second generation of the West Coast, but it's still a new beginning. There is going to be a third, fourth and fifth generation so I'm happy to even be involved and mentioned as one of the names that can carry the torch on."
Fans and media wants to clump you guys together, but aside from sharing the same home state, are you guys close?
"I push what I push, Diamond Lane Music Group, that's my focus. As far as all the other artists, we all see each other in passing, but me and Kendrick are a little different. We grew up in the same neighborhood so we have a different bond. Everybody's working on gettin' their brand to the next level, but when we do see each other, it's all love."
Who do you think is making the most noise in the west?
"It's gotta be Kendrick. He's doing excellent things; using his power well. Number's don't lie, it doesn't matter what coast you are on. I love the route he's taking, but everybody's right there. It's a good race going on out here. Everyone is competing to be the best, not physically, just with talent. I'm pumped about what's going on in the West."
Of course no conversation about west coast hip-hop is complete without mentioning Snoop Dogg, who you have worked with him multiple times. What was it like when you first met him?
"The first time I met Snoop, he walked past and all his songs started playing in my head. A medley of 'Nothing but a G thing,' 'Deep Cover.' I saw all those songs at once. You know how some people you meet they're not who you see them as? They say you don't want to meet your heroes because then you start seeing flaws. Snoop is everything that he is on and off the court. That was a blessing; he's taught me some great things."
While he lives and breathes Cali, Problem is by no means living in a coasted-bubble. He connected with several emcees, from different hip-hop hubs across the country, to rally around Ferguson, with "Don't Shoot."
How did "Don't Shoot" come together so fast?
"Shout out to Game. I was talking with him about this video we shot and he said, 'Hey, I'm doing this track about the Ferguson situation and I want you to be involved.' So I knocked it out, and started seeing other artists talking about it. When it came out it had everybody on it. So when it came out I was like "Damn." I think people are trying to shy away from it now, but we really need to shine the light on it, so for us to come together and use our voice for something more is a great thing.
I don't think people wanted to give us credit for that. They say, 'Now y'all want to say something,' but that was something to speak about. I just went in and spoke from the heart. I hope we can do more of that. I was just happy to be a part of it. There are a lot of great, accomplished artists and to let an indie guy get in there it was an accomplishment."
Now that last sentence is important in understanding just who Problem is. Unlike a majority of his Cali-counterparts, Problem has gone the indie label route after being singed to Universal. Having seen both sides, he no doubt had some valuable insight into the life of an indie artist.
"I'm an independent artist and we want to build something from scratch. A lot of people say we are taking the long road but I don't see it that way. I was signed to a major and I'm moving a whole lot faster these days. No knock on them, it just works better for me. Diamond Lane Music group. We want to be mentioned with those names. It's nothing against them, but we want to be eye level before we have those conversations. This route don't work for everybody, [but] it works for us. I don't knock anyone that's on a major."
What is it about being indie that appeals to and benefits you?
"I can actually call my CEO and have a conversation with him. Every day. We can discuss different things - we're really close. Only way I can get shelved is if I do something wrong and take myself out the game. I get the freedom to create and it's just better for me."
Of course, no conversation is complete without the obligatory, "What are you working on?" question. So?
"Right now my single is getting ready to drop. 'Andele' featuring Lil Jon, produced by Jahlil Beats. I'm so excited, I can't wait for it to drop. It's going back to the old, but blending it with the new. Kind of like I did with 'Like Whaaat,' so I'm excited."
Is that part of a bigger project?
"Hey man. It's coming. It's coming, but right now 'Andele' is the focal point. I don't want to put out an album just to say I'm putting out an album. I want it done correctly. There is no point of putting out an album just to put one out, it has to be done the correct way. But my solo album is ready. 'Andele' is coming."
To stay up to date with Problem, and to hear "Andele" the moment he releases it, be sure to shoot him a follow @ItsaPROBLEM. While you wait, be sure to get to know Problem better by checking out his impressive resume via his DJBooth artist page.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]