If you’ve turned on a hip-hop radio station at any point in the past decade, chances are good you’ve heard something that Los Angeles producer Mustard is responsible for. The signature Mustard sound — seemingly easy to imitate but perilously difficult to properly replicate — was approximated so many times that it nearly became its own genre. Perhaps that’s why the man behind it has been increasingly looking elsewhere for inspiration.

“I feel like that’s what I do with my eyes closed,” the producer says of his style of uptempo, liquid-bass synth productions that defined West Coast hip-hop in the 2010s. “That’s what I do best. So to challenge myself, I have to do something that’s out of my lane. And obviously people get tired of just hearing the same thing over and over. They wanna see you grow, and I think people are seeing that with me.”

Raised in L.A., Mustard (born Dijon McFarlane) spent his high school years DJing parties, school dances and quinceañeras all across the Southland, and developed unerring instincts for knowing the exact track that could make a dance floor erupt at any given moment. When he started producing for his longtime collaborator YG, he put that knowledge into practice, and before long he was a fixture on the pop charts through collaborations with Tyga, 2 Chainz and Jeremih, among others.

Recently, however, he’s been expanding his horizons. He and YG successfully melded their patented sound with Latin trap touches on rap radio hit “Go Loko,” which was named Variety’s Hitmakers Hook of the Year for 2019. He’s also moved decisively into R&B, producing Rihanna’s ubiquitous “Needed Me” and winning a Grammy for “Boo’d Up,” with protégé Ella Mai. And over this past year, he found an entirely new key through his smash collaborations with Roddy Ricch: “Ballin’” and “High Fashion.”

Variety Hitmakers Refer

“I knew ‘Ballin’ was gonna be a great song, but the way it reacted in the club, I didn’t know it was gonna react like that,” Mustard remembers. “Because usually the club records are more high-energy, and that one was kind of a laid-back singalong song. So that one kind of created its own genre, if you want to call it that. And then ‘High Fashion’ was a part of that same genre.”

Mustard freely acknowledges that some artists still come to him seeking a specific sound — “sometimes I want to be experimental and do some wild stuff, and sometimes people aren’t always with that” — but he makes plenty of room to experiment; bridging the divide be­­tween hip-hop and electronic dance music, he says, is the next musical code he hopes to crack. But more than anything, at 30, his primary aim is longevity, and he’s realized that stepping off the treadmill of constant chart-space competition may be the best way to try to secure it.

“I always look at it like this: If I can get my­self one or two hits a year, then I’ll be in great shape. That means I’m not off. Maybe I’m not in the public eye to the extent where I’m always on top of the game, but you can count on me for two to three songs a year, and if those are big enough, then I’ve had a great year.

“I have high hopes of being around for a long time, and having one good year doesn’t mean you’re gonna be around for forever.”

Watch the Full Hitmakers Award Show Below: