For over 15 years, rapper Problem’s pen has helped shape records from Snoop Dogg, Diddy, and other legends. That time in the studio with Diddy allowed him to see how the man turns into the myth to make his hits.
“I pull up to his house, and he has the record blasting. He has the lyrics taped up all over the place. He had the mirrors. He was getting into that shit. He was like, ‘You have to believe this shit if you’re going to say this shit.’”
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” Problem reveals the lesson Snoop Dogg taught him that he’ll never forget, discusses being mentored by Diddy and recalls working with Terrace Martin, Kendrick Lamar, and Nipsey Hussle before they reached fame.
You’ve had an extensive 15+ year career. Who would you say was the first major artist you locked in the studio with?
It would have to be Snoop Dogg around 2007/2008. Terrace [Martin] was working on Dogg’s album Ego Trippin’. I think it was the first time Dogg was looking for new ideas and energy because that was when he was starting his entrepreneur thing. So, I think he just wanted to give young guys a chance, and I was one of those guys who got the opportunity to be involved in the Ego Trippin’ album. Honestly, Larrance [‘Rance’ Dopson], James Fauntleroy, and 1500 [or Nothing] were always around my whole time before that. We started together. The Nipseys, Kendricks, and we were all together.
What was it like creating with Snoop Dogg back then?
Snoop is probably the most authentic superstar we’ve ever seen. The way he acts in commercials and on TV is how he always acts. He’s very giving, loving and welcoming. His whole thing is, ‘I want to hear what you think of me and what you would do. Then, we can modify from there.’ Snoop is probably the easiest person to work with because he’s not an overbearing superstar. He actually wants everybody to throw in. The biggest people are actually the most welcoming in the studio sessions. They let all of their guards down when they’re in that studio.
Was there a time when you felt validated after making a suggestion that Snoop gravitated toward?
How I got the opportunity to even work with Snoop was a song I wrote on my own called ‘Never Have To Worry About That.’ It ended up being featured on Ego Trippin. That was my first audition to be a part of the camp. It’s a story about his life up until that point. From what I hear, when he first heard it, a tear came down his eye. When Terrace finally brought me to him, he was like, ‘I’m not cutting that shit until I’m in my mode. That shit is special. I’m not going to cut it without you. You with us, cuz.’ So, for six months, I was with the entire music industry because with Snoop Dogg, you get the world. I got to see everybody. I remember when he walked Rihanna in there before she was Rihanna. Everyone came to visit Snoop — Fergie, Carmen Electra and Pharrell. I remember him flying me out to New York and saying, ‘We’re going to cut this tonight.’ He and I were in the studio at two in the morning with the engineer. That was the night I tried to outsmoke Snoop and lost. It was 2:45 in the morning and I thought to myself, ‘Snoop is really rolling a blunt for me. This is crazy.’ He’ll pass me one, I’ll smoke and every time I pass it off to the engineer, another one was coming back to me. I’m like, ‘Wait a minute.’ I look up, and it’s ten blunts that went in rotation. He’s watching me nod off and I’m like, ‘Alright, that’s enough.’ I wanted to keep going because it’s Snoop, but I also wanted the song to be done because it’s Snoop. Then, we cut ‘Never Have 2 Worry.’ Line for line, he’d ask me, ‘How would you say it?’ It showed me how much humility this megastar had to ask me, a rookie at the time, what I thought.
“Upside Down” with you, Snoop and Nipsey Hussle is one of the earliest records I heard from you. How did that come about?
What’s crazy is that I came off doing five records on the Ego Trippin’ album, and it was time to do the Malice N Wonderland album. My whole goal from the first album I worked on with him was to end it with a record deal. I got a single deal, and I had a record out. When we started working on Malice N Wonderland, I thought, ‘I’m going to be on this album.’ When Terrace and I were cooking up, Terrace had a [creative] block, so I hopped on the MPC and started cooking up drums. I recorded ‘Turn this thing upside down.’ Usually, when we send the song to him, we send the whole song and the instrumental. I told Terrace, ‘Leave me on the hook and the bridge. I hear me on it.’ When Snoop heard it, he was like, ‘Oh, that shit’s hard.’ He put the verses down. Terrace and I were new to doing business with Snoop on this level so we were like, ‘Oh, that shit worked,’ and I got to stay on the song (laughs). Then, we got the call asking who we heard on it, and we said Nip. At that time, Nip had ‘Hussle in the House.’ We invited him to the studio. He came down and cut the joint. We had no idea Snoop would shoot a short film movie to that or anything. I even traded some publishing on another record I did on there to make sure I stayed on that one. I co-produced and co-wrote it. Nip and I were at the video shoot like, ‘Daaaaamn, this shit is hard.’ That was the first time we were seen on a big platform next to a big artist.
How did you first connect with Terrace Martin?
Terrace has become my brother from another mother. To be perfectly honest, we met accidentally. I had my second child when I was 21. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to work for anybody. I had to figure out something else. I just discovered a new love for making music and producing. I taught myself how to use Pro Tools. I learned how to be self-sufficient early in the game in 2001. I had just got the MPC and one of my friends, Tek, told me, ‘My boy Terrace knows how to work the shit out of that.’ I told him to bring him over because I was lost. One day, Tek and Terrace pulled up. I heard Terrace had just got off tour with Snoop Dogg. He walks up like, ‘What’s up, cuz. I’m Terrace. You got an MPC?’ He got on there and whipped up a beat in five minutes. He said, ‘You can have that’ and walked out. I was like, ‘What the fuck?!’ My competitive nature was like, ‘Nah, I’m about to rap on this shit.’ At the time, there were no emails, so I had to record it, burn it to a CD and take it over to Tek, who I know him through, so he could get it back to him. He was tripping on how fast the song came back and then we met up. We had a lot of the same things in common as far as outside of music. Through him, we picked up James Fauntleroy, all of 1500, and all be in the studio. We became this little music hub. Through it all, Terrace and I held on to each other because we had such a great chemistry.
It seems like so many people who are stars now were accessible back then. What do you remember about those sessions with an early Jay Rock and Kendrick Lamar?
I noticed Top always knew where it was going to go as far as the business side of it. Punch was smart about how to cultivate them. They lived in that house studio. If you wanted to find them, you didn’t even have to call; they’re there. They were one of the first people I saw with rules on the walls and shit. Now, looking back at what it turned into, they were dead on. You always knew Jay Rock would be the heartbeat. You always knew what Ab-Soul brought to the table. You always knew that he would be a problem once Kendrick figured out which version of himself he wanted to tap into. Kendrick was always ahead of the curve on how you create. He was always writing in his head. He was always trying to be the best. We were some little ratchet ass art kids from Compton and Watts.
You’ve been in the studio with some legends. What is a session you can look back on and think, ‘I really learned a lot’?
With Snoop, during that six-month process, I remember the first time he wanted me to rap on something like me. We were in Atlanta, and the whole Dogg Pound was there — Nate [Dogg], Daz [Dillinger]. I was sitting with all of my heroes. He told me, ‘Go in there and lay something, cuz.’ At that time, I used to keep 56-bar verses here and 26-bar verses here. So, I was ready to rock at any time. So, I go in there, and I’m doing my rap and he’s like, ‘Stop the music.’ He comes in there and asks, ‘Hey, cuz, you good?’ I asked him, ‘What you mean?’ He said, ‘Listen, you need us to turn off the lights, clear this motherfucker or do whatever for you to be who you’re supposed to be? You need to always realize that you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t supposed to be here. So, act accordingly.’ From that day on, I’ve walked into every studio situation knowing who the fuck it is — I’m supposed to be there, so I’m not going to be timid. It’s a quiet confidence I keep because of that one moment. I probably only said four bars, but he knew. I take that with me ‘til this day.
I remember doing a song with Puff, and I got to see Diddy turn into Diddy to do the record. He was more of my mentor at the time. We’d meet up in the morning, and I’d ask questions about personal shit like, ‘How do I get my family in order?’ He was like, ‘Pull up tonight with us doing a record.’ I pull up to his house, and he has the record blasting. He has the lyrics taped up all over the place. He had the mirrors. He was getting into that shit. He was like, ‘You have to believe this shit if you’re going to say this shit.’ We go into the studio, and I think he’s going to do all of that. He walks into the booth and says, ‘Problem, I need you to correct me to a T. You are running this show. I want to be corrected. Don’t pull any punches.’ I said, ‘Whoa!’ I got to see the rev up and then the humility of the song being the most important thing. We actually got another song coming.
Diddy also showed love to your new venture 106 & Spark.
Want to hear something crazy? I didn’t know he was going to come up here. Coincidentally, there’s a spa next door my business partner owns. I walked in and he was like, ‘What’s up, baby?! Where’s your office at?’ I was like, ‘It’s up here.’ He was like, ‘We’re finna go up there.’ I’m like, ‘Alright.’ We’re walking up the steps and talking. Then, he cuts his camera on and says, ‘Yeah, I came to check in on my man.’ He does what a lot of these bitch ass niggas don’t know how to do — show love. It took him nothing to give me that moment to show fans our affiliation and what I’m working on. In this business, it’s crazy how the biggest people can move with so much humility, and the smaller ones act like it’s something different. It’s mind-boggling to me.
How did 106 & Spark come about?
I was beginning to push with cannabis by working with these cannabis brands and linking with a great grower. I linked with my family at Burb. I saw we were creating a lot of products and were all having the same problem on social media where we couldn’t advertise. You can sell murder, sex, and drugs on Instagram, but you can’t sell weed. So, there was this weird shadow ban we all had to go through. I thought, ‘Let me create a space for me to advertise.’ I saw how 106 & Park was run, how much it cost to be on that show, and what it took to get slots for my songs on that show. You take the same business model and change the product from music to cannabis. We’ll use cannabis to highlight what’s going on in the cannabis industry, and then I can charge for advertising space on the set. This is free advertisement for all of my brands and brands I’m connected to. And I can showcase the stuff from everyone else who is having problems. This is a cool space where we don’t just sit around and talk about cannabinoids all day. That’s dope, but the common cannabis smoker just needs to be told what the fly shit is. I added flair to cannabis. I grabbed my guy Sean Chris Spooner, who has a great personality, and also Tammy Pettigrew, who knows everything about cannabis. She can talk to you about cannabinoids and social injustice. If I can create my own platform to advertise on, I can control the whole game.
You’ve also been in the studio with artists like Young Thug and Future. How’d you connect with them?
Shout out to my guy Leighton, DJ Drama, and Don Cannon. They’re having a lot of success with Jack Harlow at Generation Now. I was just down in Mean Street [Studio] fucking with Leighton. I was in one room, and Thug was in the other room. I think I just did the ‘Walk Thru’ record with Rich Homie Quan the night before or something. I was just seeing what was going on in the city. Thug was like, ‘You want to fuck around?’ I was like, ‘Yeah,’ and we cut like three records that night. He was hella cool. He was a great dude. That was that. We’d see each other in passing, and it was love. Then, Future hopped on one of those records produced by Mike Will Made-It. I think the song’s called ‘California Rari.’ All three of us are on that.
What’s the most impressive thing you’ve seen done in the studio?
I watched DJ Quik transform my small studio into the most massive production space for 30 days. He brought in hard drives and instruments. He took my same setup and showed me how I’m supposed to sound and mix. Those 30 days may have added 40 more years to my career.
You pour your heart out in your music. Was there ever a song that made you emotional and maybe even cry?
I wouldn’t say during the process because I probably already cried about it if I dug deep — my version of not reacting to it with some criminal mind state that could endanger myself or someone else. I would just get it out of me and write about it. Looking back, it was more like therapy. There are moments where it’s like, ‘I’m crying too much over this. I need to get this out.’ I remember I got into this incident with this woman I was dealing with at the time, and it could’ve gotten really crazy. I was tired of overcompensating by saying, ‘I’m tired of this girl; let me get another one.’ I didn’t want to do that. I got lost in the studio instead of getting lost in some pussy. It saved me from going to jail, hell or both. I created a record that I could make some money off of. That record was ‘Best Pussy’ (laughs).
What do you have coming up for the rest of 2022?
That’s tough. Puff and I have something coming. Hit-Boy produced the record. We’re putting the record out; I just don’t know how to do it in terms of what label I’m partnering with. I don’t know if we’re going to release it through one of his products like Cîroc or one of mine. I’m working that out but me, Puff and Hit-Boy have a moment I’m really excited about. 106 & Spark was renewed for season two, and the budget’s bigger (laughs). There’s more to come.