Rappers looking to get a foot in the door could learn a thing or two from Compton upstart Problem. Now on the fast track to hip hop stardom, the versatile lyricist made a name for himself penning songs for his heroes (Snoop Dogg, DJ Quik, Kanye West) and is currently watching “Last Love,” the new single from his upcoming Plan B, climb Billboard’s Urban charts. How does he do it? BET.com spoke with the West Coast’s next big thing to find out. He told us what sets him apart from his peers, why his hometown Compton doesn’t define his music and why the time is now for him and his Diamond Lane Music Group team.
BET.com: You grew up in Compton but you were born overseas in Germany. How does your upbringing come through in your music?
Problem: I’m just rhyming about life. Just living and just the everyday sh-- that people go through. It’s not really a trap rap or a party rap or girl rap. It’s really just about life and good music. Compton’s a real small part of me. It was a major influence in me, but it’s not only me.… Yeah, I’m tryna take Compton out of Compton. Let people see all the cool stuff I get to see.… You know what I’m saying?
Yeah. You’ve worked with legends from Teddy Riley to Snoop Dogg. What is it about you that made them take notice?
‘Cause they kept seein’ me. I stayed in their face. I didn’t force what I was doing on them. They had to ask me what I was there for. But when they asked me, I was ready to talk. And I been talkin’ ever since.
The opportunity is just step one. Once you get a shot you still have to be prepared to take full advantage.
If you stay ready, you ain’t gotta get ready. I always was sharpening the knife, always working. But when I got the call to be places, even if I didn’t have a ride or whatever, I would get there. And sometimes it didn’t work, but I would just bump into the right people — Snoop Doggs, the Quincy Joneses and Teddy Rileys — if you a real grinder and you really tryna do this, you gon’ figure out a way to get in this situation.… I’ve had a chance to work with a lot of people and I’ve gotten a chance to sharpen my knife for right now because my time is right now.
What have you learned from being around those people and observing the industry?
The art of delivery. To watch somebody take my words and turn ‘em into theirs — that’s me, but it doesn’t sound like me. That means they have such powerful delivery and your delivery is everything. And it’s not just verbal. Your delivery when people see you, how you’re delivered, how you’re conceived, the right records, the right outfit, the right team. You get to see how everything works. And then just to watch a real record be created. Where a symphony might come in. There’s different stuff I might do in my music now that I wasn’t doin’ before.
Your career is just starting, but do you have an ultimate goal for yourself in music?
I want to be the go-to guy for my side. I want to be what Snoop Dogg was to the West Coast. I want my name to be mentioned with the elite. I know it takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but I want it. I don’t wanna be the only man, I just wanted to be one of the men…. And I wanna musically challenge myself every time I’m in the studio. I wanna take risks. I wanna be known as the dude like, “Woah, he said that?! He just had a horn section come in right here!” I wanna take it there.
You wanna push things forward, right.
Yeah, but still in my own way.
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(Photo: Courtesy Universal Republic Records)