Photo Credit: Josh Gonzales
Problem Exorcises His Problems At Private Listening Session For ‘Selfish’ Album
It took Problem eight years to get Selfish out to the world, but it was all for a good reason.
It’s a warm evening in Los Angeles, California. Getting off work in Burbank meant driving 20 minutes in rush hour traffic to Problem’s Diamond Lane studio in North Hollywood. I was about to step inside for an private advanced listening of his new project Selfish, which is slated for release on November 3.
I was extremely grateful for being one of the few chosen ones to experience this opportunity to sit one-on-one with the artist as he played me the project from top to finish. Being a day one Problem fan, I told him how I used to party to his music in high school. “Like whaaaaat!” was our anthem. To begin, he gives a disclaimer that he didn’t want to “do no whack listening party.”
It’s true. Listening parties in Los Angeles are hit-or-miss. While fans and journalists like me genuinely come to hear the new music, most of the time it’s an unspoken music industry vibe of people showing up to see who shows up. Tonight, it was about the music. Music that Problem could not wait to share with the rest of the world.
So, why the title Selfish?
“I called it Selfish because for a long time I was being really selfless with what I put out. I was doing it because my fans liked a certain thing, or I was using it to feed my family. So it was a different reason. It’s crazy, I was just telling someone a story today about what I used to do in the Mollywood times and different shit like that. But as I get to going, I’m changing just differently. I’m becoming different. Just sonically I wanted to sound a different way. So this project is a real selfish approach to that. I did what I wanted to do — the whole thing. Like every record. And then there’s an actual record called “Selfish,” that you will hear and then you’ll understand why it’s like that.”
Wasting no time at all, Problem presses play.
The first record is the intro titled “Mission Statement,” which sets the tone for the 9-track project. Immediately, you hear “Chachi” being shouted out repeatedly, giving you that security that this was the same Problem from Chachiville. The same Problem from his 2013 Understand Me EP. The same Problem from when he wrote records for Snoop Dogg on his 2008 Ego Trippin’ album.
Already sucked in, the second record Problem played for me titled “354” had me bobbin’ my head like Busta Rhymes’ “Break Ya Neck.” One word: banger. There’s a reason Problem has remained independent all these years. There’s a reason he started his own record label called Diamond Lane Group. There’s a reason “354” is attached to every DLMG artists’ social media handle (“354” is a telenumeric way to say “we over me”).
After the first two records, Problem made sure I knew they were both produced by JB Minor, who later came in to the studio for the tail end of the private listening. Problem definitely keeps his circle tight, and will do anything to put on for his artists.
Before moving forward, Problem informs me, “The project is nine moments, you don’t know what you’re gonna get!”
Nine records is perfect for an album. Not too long, not too short. This is also reflective of Problem as an artist, taking the next step in his career: his debut album. It’s only been mixtape after mixtape after mixtape (17 total). At this point, Problem sparks one of the joints he so casually rolled up before we started. Sitting next to a small bottle of Cazadores, Problem was in his happy place. And so was I.
The third record titled “Top Off” by Airplane James is definitely one to brag about, as Problem happily shared memories of working so closely with 9th Wonder. Yes, this one’s produced by one of the most well-respected producers in the game.
“Ghost of Rosecrans” features production by DJ Quik and Teddy Walton. The instrumentation on these records were insane. Problem is really honing in on the musical aspect of his art. At this point, I’m so impressed by the production on Selfish, and we weren’t even at the halfway point. But let’s not forget about the lyrics. Sonically, this is a whole new Problem I was sitting next to. There were bars that had me “Oooooohing” in my seat.
And then things got real. The skit on the project features his ex-girlfriend who had passed away earlier this year. That was one of my interview questions, and I quickly realized how sensitive it was. How intruding it was. It sucks sometimes being a journalist. The next record has two of my favorite West Coast artists: Nipsey Hussle and Iamsu. “Living Good [R.I.P. Jen]” will definitely be in rotation on November 3.
My absolute favorite record on the album was this next one titled “Man Enough” produced by Terrace Martin. Wow. Just wow. This record moved me so much that I started to tear up. It was one of those crying moments where you try so hard to hold back the tears, hoping no one will see. I was sitting literally three feet away from Problem and about to lose my shit. Honestly, I’ve been having a month from hell (totaled my car for one). This song touched my soul. I can’t wait for the world to hear this. Problem is literally telling a story. His story. One that we can all relate to.
Oh, by the way, “Man Enough” features Rose Gold whose vocals will move mountains. She’s an insane R&B singer. It also features Problem’s daughter, Jordyn, on the intro.
Next was his single “Get On It”. This part of the listening had me so appreciative. A minute in, Problem stops the record and goes, “We can move on, you’re going to hear a lot of this.” That just made me realize how much I fuck with him. He keeps it so real. This song is a hit, and it’s about to be heard (hopefully on radio stations). The music video itself is one for the books. When Problem’s ratchet party side goes to the supermarket it is worth watching and being in awe of.
Two songs left. “Ain’t Like You” featuring Ne-Yo and Terrace Martin. There’s no losing with Ne-Yo on a joint. Last, but not least, we have “Selfish”. The record that took eight years to put out. The record that his manager, Melissa, pushed him to put on this project.
“I wrote it eight years ago. I’ve been manicuring that thing for a while. One sounded really big, one sounded small. It was just such a touchy subject with me. Again, my image kind of took over. It was like, ‘Well, what could I put that on? It has got to be crazy.’ And when day I was playing the record and Melissa heard it. She was like, ‘We have to put it on there! We have to!’”
Selfish out November 3rd and stay tuned for @Okayplayer’s First-Take Listen review this week.
ShirleyJu is a Los Angeles-based writer who grew up in the Bay Area. She lives, breathes, and sleeps hip-hop, and is literally on top of new music the moment it is released. If there's a show in L.A., you can find her there. Follow the latest on her fomoblog.com and on Twitter @shirju.