Problem_The_Separation-front-largeCorey Libow always uses the diamond lane

You already know the West is in a good place. DJ Mustard’s ratchet anthems are already banging out of car stereos for the rest of the summer. IamSU! and the HBK gang keep the Bay in flush supply. And of course there’s Kendrick, coronated by Dre and Snoop and a ripe candidate for Baduizm. And after simmering for the last few years, Problem enters the arena with his new mixtape with DJ Drama, The Separation, bucking the throne. He certainly has the pedigree. He previously ghost-wrote for Snoop and even had a feature on DJ Quik and Kurupt’s BlaQKout. His hook on last year’s “Function,” last year found him working with IamSu!, and their mixtape, Million Dollar Afro is one of the year’s best. At the moment, his Young Bleed-sampling, “Like Whaa” owns LA radio and it looks like Problem is finally about to pop.

Even though he’s repping the west, Problem bears a strong Southern influence in his music. “Like Whaat” is a remake of an old Master P-aided classic, and there’s a bounce to his flow like the No Limit he rappers he inevitably came up on. Every line has a ring to it, and the words stay in your head no matter what’s actually being said. Unlike some rappers, Problem isn’t content with letting his punchlines do the work for him. He’s constantly changing his flow, emphasizing words, exploring every way to fill the beat. The best moments on the tape are when he turns straight rubber, bouncing right on top of the production, constantly picking up speed as if there’s no beat he couldn’t rap on. He’s like Steph Curry in the third quarter, throwing up a three on a fast break and letting the crowd explode when it goes in.

Since this is one of Problem’s first big chances to break nationally, DJ Drama brings in a cast of stars to round out the tape. Wale, Wiz Khalifa, Chris Brown, Snoop Dogg and others all have guest spots, and they all seem lit up by Problem’s adrenaline. T.I. delivers one of his best verses in ages on “Roll Up,” and Game in his classic mimicry shows he’s perfectly able to handle the Mustard beat. The tape is ready-made for radio, oscillating from the fake Mustard of “Bang” to the G-Funk of “Phone” to straight up auto-tuned slow jams. It all brims with energy, so even when there’s a dip in quality, Problem can come right back.

It’s hard to quantify that energy in rap. It’s much easier to judge someone on their lyrics and the common knock on Problem is that he’s just a club rapper. But there’s nothing light about the moments when he divulges about how he loves his kids or how he’s not the best father. And there’s nothing funny when Problem displays his ambition at the end of the tape on “The Beginning.” “So this here is the separation, I’m the muthafuckin man and the speculation, y’all came to lose I came to win, they say it’s Kendrick, shit I gotta go at him? Using my words as my weaponry, roles reversed you know he coming at me!” Problem may not be taking the throne yet, but The Separation figures to run L.A. car stereos all summer.

ZIP: Problem – The Separation (No DJ/Dirty)

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