So, the trick to finally turning transcendently spare, Bay Area hip-hop into the actual next big thing is not branding it as city-specific? Blame and thank Los Angeles producer DJ Mustard’s “ratchet music” tag — a nebulous, know-it-when-you-hear-it minimalism that takes from hyphy, L.A. jerk, and even a little bit of Afrojack’s top 40-ready lope by way of L.A. loudmouths LMFAO. That loose EDM comparison isn’t facetious. Everybody’s ears perked up again, and we ended up with EDM or the equally-vague-at-this-point “dubstep” at the moment when Skrillex arrived, and all the cool-enough regional dance sounds collapsed on top of each other (Dutch house! Bmore club! Electro-clash! Blog-house!), and specificity got rubbed out. “
Once nobody owns it, anybody can do it, and then it’s of interest to everybody else. Same thing is happening with all this West coast wild-out music that can now be lumped together, for better or worse, thanks to “Rack City.” So, yes, there’s something totally screwed-up about that kind of hip-hop buzz-building, but the bright side of this regional-music blight is this: All that “ratchet music” talk has afforded relatively high profiles to guys like Iamsu! of the Invasion (best known for Loverance’s “Up!” and the severely underrated KILT), rave-thug Joe Moses, post-jerk gangsta YG, and wordy hustler Problem, who crafted the hook to E-40’s “Function” (also featuring Iamsu! and YG) earlier this year, and just released Welcome to Mollywood 2.
Problem’s sex-and-drugs tales hinge on rote rap content filtered through old-school tenets of originality. He’s always thinking up new ways to say normal things, something at which the Bay area has always excelled. Just consider his hook on E-40’s “Function.” When he explains, “We out here trying to function,” it’s just a more clever way of saying, “Every day I’m hustlin'” or “Just to get by.” That interest in finding new ways to say what’s been said before is what makes so much of this tape appealing. On “Broke Down the Weed,” here’s how Problem sums up his life as of late: “Since the last Mollywood, nigga, pockets puffed up/ Yeah, lost a few friends, couple homies cuffed up.” It’s witty cartoony language used to describe the entry-level “mo’ money, mo’ problems” frustration so many rappers feel. And his ability to approach even tragedy with imagination gives his music a stiff upper lip intensity.
The production here, mostly from League Of Starz and Problem himself, comes off like desiccated rave tracks that’ve thumped and bumped for so long that they’ve been reduced to only a few key sounds: Thin synths and hollow bursts of bass on “Faster”; acid-house squelches and g-funk whines on “Jumpin’.” Much of it resembles something like Leftfield’s “A Final Hit,” from the Trainspotting soundtrack, which actually makes a lot of sonic sense. And any rapper whose presentation of drug use somewhat resembles real life is a plus. “Trippin’,” with its hook of “teeth grittin’, I’m trippin'” is both sing-along fun, and well, pretty damn accurate to what it feels like when one goes a little too hard. The word “earworm” is the worst word ever, but the witty repetition of these creatively-penned hooks has a way of wiggling into your head hours after you took off your headphones off.