Like That
Mustard had the game on lock for a long time, but after spending the last four years dealing with a public divorce, personal tragedy and discontent from a fickle music industry, the brilliant beatsmith had to find his way back.
Interview: C. Vernon Coleman II
Editor’s Note: This story appears in the Summer 2024 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.

Sometimes even Grammy-winning hitmakers have to remind people of who they are and what they do. Mustard’s recent “allow me to reintroduce myself” moment did just that. The Los Angeles native crafted the beat for Kendrick Lamar’s recent monstrous hit, the Drake-slaying “Not Like Us.” The 34-year-old beatmaker’s career has been dotted with highlights, helping him establish himself as the face of the Cali sound wave in the 2010s. Producing tracks like Tyga’s “Rack City,” 2 Chainz’s “I’m Different,” YG’s “Who Do You Love?” and Big Sean’s “I Don’t F**k With You,” Mustard was giving the entire industry the sauce and his catchphrase “Mustard on the beat, h*” echoed everywhere hip-hop played.

In 2015, he launched 10 Summers, his record label, and signed future R&B superstar Ella Mai the following year. After winning a Grammy for Best R&B Song in 2019, for his production of Mai’s hit single “Boo’d Up,” Mustard earned another Grammy nomination in the Best Rap/Sung Performance category for his 2019 single “Ballin” featuring Roddy Ricch.

However, Mustard’s production has been noticeably missing from the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart since Roddy Ricch’s “Late at Night” peaked at No. 21 in 2021. Mustard’s absence has been marked with dark times, including a very public divorce from his ex-wife, Chanel Thierry, the mother of his three children, in 2022, and the deaths of his grandparents during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. As these times tested Mustard’s certainty, he was quietly forging his comeback by putting together his upcoming fifth studio album, Faith of a Mustard Seed. The effort, which arrives July 26, juxtaposes spiritual overtones with summer bangers and R&B vibes via assists from Travis Scott, Young Thug, Roddy Ricch, Ty Dolla $ign, Ella Mai and others.

In a stroke of divine timing, this past May, Kendrick Lamar used a Mustard beat for the inescapable Drake diss-turned-West Coast anthem, “Not Like Us.” The track gave Mustard a past-due first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 smash. His second wind was activated.
In early June, Mustard, born Dijon McFarlane, hopped on Zoom with XXL while on his way to the studio and spoke candidly about his hiatus, going through a public divorce, returning to the spotlight through a massive collaboration and his new album.

XXL: You’ve been kind of quiet in the last few years.

Mustard: Yeah, I’ve been quietly working on this next round of stuff that I’ve been curating for the last couple of years.

How does it feel to be the man of the hour again?

It feels the same, I guess. [“Not Like Us”] is the biggest song I’ve ever had. But the impact and how it’s feeling, like [I’m] part of history, and it’s with somebody that I’ve been wanting to work with for years, I think it’s the perfect timing for me.

Do you feel like you’ve been counted out at any point in the last few years?

I don’t think I’ve been counted out by fans. I’ve never really heard anybody that was like, “Oh, you fell off.” But I do think companies I’ve worked with and people that used to be around me, I think that they definitely counted me out or counted on a downfall. But I guess that’s
a part of the whole process.

You are expecting a daughter, your fourth child. How does it feel?

Feels good, man. I’m happy as I’ve ever been.

You’ve also been on your weight-loss journey. Has that helped you get into better space as well?

I’ve kind of been fluctuating here and there, you know, with all this stuff going on, but I definitely am working out every day. I play a lot of tennis.

How did you get into tennis?

I think Ella Mai was playing tennis. Ella, my manager, his wife. I went to play with them one day, and I never stopped playing.

Is it just something you’re doing because you like the sport and to keep healthy, or you’re going to be entering into some amateur competitions or something like that?

I might get into some amateur competitions. I’m trying to go as far as I can with it. Music is just one part of my life.

Musically, you and Kendrick got the West Coast sound bumping right now. What are your thoughts on the current state of West Coast hip-hop?

I mean, sh*t, now I think we’re in good shape. I think that what we just did and how big that song was just showed everybody it was OK to be from the West Coast again. I would assume that a lot of people are going to try to now start doing the West Coast [sound], which is a good thing. I think this single-handedly made everybody want to be here.

“Not Like Us” is one of the biggest records in the world right now. How does it feel to get that No. 1 under your belt finally?

I feel like I’m just living in it right now. I’ve had big records, but I’ve never had a record with this kind of impact. So, it’s an unexplainable feeling.

Do you feel validated by this one?

I never look for validation from anybody in the music industry. But do I feel accomplished? Yeah. I feel really good about what this did. And I do feel like it should make people respect who I am.

How did this record come together?

I made that beat on my manager’s birthday [April 6]. I sent [Kendrick] maybe three [beats] that day. He just hearted it. I didn’t hear it ’til [the song] came out.

What was your reaction when you heard the song?

When I heard it, I was on the freeway, and I just, like, my manager hit me, like, “Mustard on the Beat.” Like, “Text me now.” I’m like, “What are you talking like?” I got another couple texts, and people like, “Mustard on the Beat, Mustard on the Beat.”

These are people I be with all the time, so I’m like, “What the f**k is everybody...” and then I call my manager. I’m like, “What did I miss? What’s going on?” And he’s like, “Man, go to YouTube right now. It’s out.” I’m like, “What?” He’s like, “Dot just dropped a song. It’s your beat.”

I’m like, “For real?” I go, I listen, I’m like, Whoa! I started going crazy. I had a f**king Vegas show that night, so I played that sh*t all the way to the f**king plane, got to Vegas, played it that night. It was f**king crazy, man. That’s some crazy sh*t.

Most of the time, the general public doesn't know who produced diss track beats, but you’re part of this epic beef. How does it feel to be part of this historic situation?

I think that’s the faith part of it. Believing in yourself and knowing that one day, some shape or form is gonna come for you.

Your upcoming album is called Faith of a Mustard Seed. Obviously, it has a religious connotation. Why did you decide to use that as the title?

When I started this album, well, before, when I was doing "Perfect Ten," [Nipsey Hussle] was telling me one of my albums that I should name it Faith of a Mustard Seed. When I started making this album, it’s almost like vibey. You got R&B records. You got the record I did with Ty [Dolla $ign] and Charlie Wilson for my mom; it’s called “A Song for Mom.” And I started feeling like the records were becoming more soulful-leaning. It just kind of reminded me of like, me being a kid and different parts of Los Angeles.

That’s where I was like, you know what, this is supposed to be called Faith of a Mustard Seed. I went back and thought about my life and it resonated with me more than any other title that I could come up with at the time and I felt like it just fit.

You’re rapping for the first time on the song “Pray for Me,” which is a very honest track. What made you want to put something like that on your album?

I always used to say I would never rap on a song. I don’t know, I was just like, I feel like people have never heard my side of any story. But I felt like this was the perfect time to explain to everybody where I’ve been for the last five years... I always wanted to talk about something that was real to me, and that, even if you didn’t like the rap, you really like, understood he’s saying some real sh*t, what he’s saying is honest, and it’s vulnerable.

On the track, you even briefly speak about the divorce you just dealt with. How difficult was that to go through in such a public space?

What I’ve learned about this whole thing is you outgrow people, and it’s OK to outgrow people. It’s OK to move on.

You also talked about your grandparents passing from Covid. How did that also affect your music?

It’s like a good and bad with Covid for me. We lost so many people, and both of my grandparents passed in Covid. I got the time to figure out who I actually was, what my purpose was on this Earth, and what I wanted to do. And it kind of made me feel like, OK, man, I can do whatever I put my mind to, and that’s a lot of the base of Mustard Seed as well.
Literally, maybe three months ago, I was like, Man, how am I going to get back hot? What do I do to make everybody see that I’m back? And then you get the song with me and Kendrick, and it’s like, ah, it’s God, it’s faith. I couldn’t make up how much this album is related to my life these last five years.

What’s your goal with this project? It seems to be deeper than rap.

I just really pride myself on trying to make music that stays around. I feel like every song that I made on this album is a feeling, whether it makes you feel happy, sad, you know? You get the chills, whatever, it’s a feeling.

I feel like the feeling in the music is just gone. Even like the diss tracks that came out with Drake and Kendrick, both of them almost just gave you a feeling and you was just like, Wow. Kendrick made you feel like you was driving down Crenshaw or you was riding in Compton. Everybody’s Crip walking. I think that’s where I want music to get back to when people actually care. My ultimate goal is just to have music that people want to listen to 20 years from now.

You’ve probably been getting hit up more recently from people wanting Mustard-type beats after this.

Yeah, that part of it is not surprising at all. I remember a long time ago, I had a conversation with Timbaland and he was like, “You can’t be hot forever.” And at that time, I had like 10 songs on the Hot 100. [I’m] like, “What are you talking about? It’s no way. I can be hot as long as I make hot beats.” He’s like, “Well, people are not going to like those beats that long, you know, you’re going to have waves.”

And I never understood that until maybe a few years ago. OK, I get it, you know, it makes sense. It’s like you’re not going to be the hottest, or you got to take a break. You got to, you know? I think that’s what that has shown me in the last five years.

Kanya Iwana
Kanya Iwana

Read Mustard's interview in the Freshman issue, on newsstands now. In addition to interviews with the 2024 Freshman Class and producer Southside, there are also conversations with Sexyy Red, Ski Mask The Slump God, Rubi Rose, Ken Carson, Ghostface Killah, Lola Brooke and more, plus, a look back at what the 2023 XXL Freshman Class has been doing. Also, there are stories on the ongoing scamming and fraud plaguing hip-hop, and how podcasters and streamers are playing a major role in rap beef. The issue is on sale here, along with some exclusive Freshman merch.

See the 2024 XXL Freshman Class Artists and Producer