Late last year, 2 Chainz headlined a concert at the House of Blues Sunset Strip the same night that Compton rapper Problem performed down the street at the now-defunct Key Club. Conventional thinking would suggest that 2 Chainz would pull the crowd at Problem’s expense since the Def Jam rapper is a superstar while Problem, with a mere pair of charting hits to his name (“Toe Up” and E-40’s “Function”), is still just an up-and-comer.
Conventional thinking apparently can be misleading. The Key Club promoter managed to overbook Problem’s show by twice the venue’s capacity, meaning there were as many people waiting to get in as were already inside the packed venue. Things were so hectic that even Problem’s publicist had trouble getting in. To a casual listener, one thing became clear about Problem on this night: he was a beloved in his city, where, in large part thanks to him, the term “turnt up” went from slang for describing gang activity to a mainstream-adopted phrase to describe partying.
Problem has been steadily releasing well-received mixtapes, and his latest, The Separation, hosted by DJ Drama, is no exception. Problem’s sound has been labeled “function music” – a sonic sibling of “ratchet” sound from DJ Mustard – and there’s a good serving of that here thanks to production from the Diamond Lane Music Group’s in-house production team League of Starz. Lyrics are largely devoid of substance as Problem sticks to his favorite fun topics: b*tches and baby mamas, money and the street drug “molly”/MDMA. Still, his raunchy bars are light-hearted and humorous, largely explaining why women make up a large portion of his fanbase. Repetitive, minimalist beats with simple choruses similar to “Like Whaaat,” which features Diamond Lane label-mate Bad Lucc, comprise The Separation. And yet, they are enjoyable, especially at the club or turned up loud in the car.
Quite a few notable guests appear on The Separation, including Wiz Khalifa, Snoop Dogg, Tyga, Game and Wale; Bad Lucc also appears several times. The subjects are never serious, although on the smooth piano riff-laden Warren G instrumental of “Phone,” Problem offers up advice about disloyal friends. Another song whose chorus is sure to catch on with fans is “Made a Mil Before The Summer,” which sounds like it has been inspired by Swizz Beats. Problem himself produces several tracks on the 21-track mixtape, although his sound is even more basic than the League of Starz.
Like it or not, Problem has become the face of California’s hip-hop club scene and a locally championed hero. Still, his street affiliation is still present throughout his music, which is the likely meaning behind the mixtape’s title. The Separation‘s cover pays homage to N.W.A., picturing Problem in dark blue Adidas jacket checking his pager. With his latest mixtape, he continues to deliver what his fans have come to expect.