Even if you don’t know Jason “Problem” Martin, you’ve probably heard his music. The 32-year-old rapper from Compton has most likely soundtracked your turn-ups for the past seven years, from his appearance on E-40’s inescapable party anthem “Function” to his 2017 full-length collaborative LP with DJ Quik, Rosecrans, Problem’s been heavy in the game. His distinctive “whaaat” ad-lib has graced singles from everyone from Wiz Khalifa and The Game to Rapsody and Terrace Martin jazz band The Pollyseeds.
Yet, in all of his many, many appearances on the rap radio charts, he’s still something of an unknown. Fourteen mixtapes and an EP deep into his catalog, he’s still heralded mainly as a featured rapper on ratchet turn-up anthems. He hopes to turn all that around, however, with the release of his first retail album, Selfish, which is out today and available for streaming on iTunes.
I met with my Hub City compatriot at his North Hollywood recording studio to chop it up about the new album, the things he’s seen in his eight years releasing records independently through his Diamond Lane label, musical and personal growth, and just what it means to be selfish in the music business. What I learned is that there is more than to Problem than what he’s previously revealed.
I first encountered Problem’s music in 2010, with the release of his first music video, “Lobster.” A loose track with no official home, “Lobster” is nothing less than a 3-minute rhyme-fest, laying out his mission statement in no uncertain terms with clever punchlines, a somehow laconic-yet-energetic flow, and a swaggering confidence that set him apart from practically anyone else coming out of the city at the time. This was in the middle of the so-called “West Coast Renaissance,” the early days of rap blogs that began exposing underground Los Angeles rap groups like Pacific Division and U-N-I to a greater audience.
Yet it was Problem who stood out the most. Clearly deeply rooted in both street culture and lyrical, backpack rap, he was able to synthesize the two seemingly opposing sensibilities into a versatile approach, elevating the rugged trap talk with sharp double entendre and deep cut cultural references. I couldn’t wait to hear more.
Then “Function” happened, and everything changed. That isn’t to say that Problem’s rhymes fell off or that his skills dulled in any way, but his path, which had seemed like a straight line to real rap superstardom, suddenly curved left into the world of singles rap. Tracks like “Walk Through” with Rich Homie Quan and “I Don’t Want Her” from Eric Bellinger almost threatened to pigeonhole Problem as merely a party rapper, when his early output had promised so much more.
“During the time, that’s what I’m living in and that’s what’s going on,” Problem explains of his party rap era. “But I’m actually changing mentally. I’m feeling real selfless as far as, ‘This is how I’m feeding my family.’ I want my fans to have that feel, so I’d rather give ya’ll what I think ya’ll want and do what I need to take care of everybody. Then what I’m doing in my mind is different and my kids getting older… everything. I didn’t even start turning up ’cause it was cracking. I found molly and it was great and this was my life. I’m fucking hoes, I’m acting a fool. I’ve always done me. The minute I stopped it got weird. Whatever my ‘me’ is, whatever my truth is, I do that musically.”