When Choice and RJ Met DJ Mustard

RJ & Choice
Rich Off Mackin
(10 Summers and Pushaz Ink)

Turn on Seattle’s limp-dick excuse for rap radio and you’ll hear a looping playlist of songs that would fit on Choice and RJ’s Rich Off Mackin. Not because the two MCs are chasing the charts per se but because their primary producer, DJ Mustard, owns the charts. Choice and RJ’s new album, like rap and R&B radio, leans on slight permutations of Mustard’s ratchet music: reverbed snaps, claps and “heys” pop out of melodic basslines that slide slowly like molten lava, always in danger of drying; G-funk synth leads pogo from bright piano stabs and sparse beats.

Though Mustard’s style is an outgrowth of the Bay Area’s up-tempo, danceable hyphy style and LA’s golden era of gangster rap, Seattle native Choice sounds right at home. He grew up in a Seattle that hadn’t established its hip-hop infrastructure or formulated its sound, so his tastes were informed by the entire I-5 corridor. He moved to LA in 2007 and recently joined Mustard’s 10 Summers label, a signing that would have felt massive pre-Macklemore. Choice’s co-star RJ is an associate of Pushaz Ink Records owner and frequent Mustard collaborator and YG—but more on that later.    

The tape is bookended with a pair of quotes from blaxploitation flick The Mack, which does less to suggest a narrative arc than to set thematic parameters: The album tells of the youthful tug of money, love and lust and the cycles of hurt and betrayal found therein. On “Favor For Favor,” RJ crafts a loveless triangle in which he’s no-strings sleeping with a girl who’s dating a married man. It’s a short tale of 2015 cheating, full of erased Twitter messages and text communication. On “Wish U Better,” RJ and Choice chastise their girlfriends for not trusting them—a hilarious complaint in the context of the album—but RJ’s defiant half-question, “So what you fucked up, because I’ve been fucked up?” hints at the heartbreak hibernating beneath their stoic declamations.   

Choice is a north-south rapper: He makes one cut and dashes into the beat’s pocket. Once there, he distills battle rap’s love for puns and subtle references—”gray shit wrapped around our diamonds, looking like Sisqo’s hairstylist dyed it”—without sacrificing form or flow. As Choice runs between the tackles, RJ is the slithery scatback, flitting back and forth between grainy croon and syrup-sticky raps.  He’s most compelling when his rhymes flirt with sloppiness; his ability to contort words to his own ends is thrilling.

The two trade verses and hooks throughout, leaving room for a bevy of guests, including Bay Area star Iamsu, bubbling Atlanta club fixture Que and several LA cohorts. They share space on production handled mostly by Mustard himself. His G-funk updates, post-hyphy riffs and signature low-end loops gain further force on standouts “All My Dollas” and “I Just Came To Play.” Even if the tape is missing a clear frontrunner track to join its cousins on the airwaves, its front-to-back quality is undeniable, a vigorous nod to the Californication of rap’s mainstream.

That said, the aforementioned flurry of label signings and star-studded co-signs place Choice and RJ in an odd predicament. With both artists’ respective labels presenting the project, it feels like an exercise in cross-promotion, a chance to bolster the beginnings of two relatively unheard artists. The music itself leaves room for doubt. The songs are solid but none evokes as much raw joy as Choice’s recent freestyle on Sway in the Morning. Regardless, whether this is a one-off audition tape or the early stages of a full-grown group, both actors nailed their roles. Now it’s just a matter of finding the perfect part. 

This story has been modified to note that RJ is not currently signed to Pushaz Ink Records.