Expectations for YG’s artistry have gone up dramatically. Once considered a singles specialist because of his many hyper-sexual party songs, the Compton rapper’s major label debut, 2014’s My Krazy Life, changed everything. On that album, YG constructed a surprisingly detailed and well-rounded look at his life as a Blood in Compton. Sure, he was compelling earlier in his career, too, showing signs of progression with songs like “I’m 4rm Bompton”. It was with My Krazy Life, though, that he became compelling in more ways. His music suddenly felt more substantial, particularly on songs like “Really Be (Smokin N Drinkin)” with Kendrick Lamar. That’s to say nothing of the supremely danceable beats from producer DJ Mustard, who was dominating airwaves at the time. Long story short, some already consider My Krazy Life a classic.
Could he do it again? The two years since My Krazy Life have given YG plenty to talk about. A shooting by a still-unknown assailant put him in a hospital in June of last year, just three weeks after the birth of his daughter. That’ll get a person thinking. He’s also incensed by the current American political climate, voicing outrage at the ideas and behavior of one Donald John Trump. All of this, combined with the major guest spots by Drake, Lil Wayne, and Nipsey Hussle, makes Still Brazy feel like an event album. As for the production, it stands in contrast to that of this summer’s other big West Coast gangsta rap album, Schoolboy Q’s darker Blank Face LP. Instead, it’s full of the kind of warm G-funk that never fails to transport you to the part of the country it belongs to.
That’s a lot of context, but YG rarely makes things sound complicated. It’s one of the things that makes him great. “Twist My Fingaz” was the first song we got to hear from Still Brazy, a thick slab of G-funk where YG addresses getting shot: “I’m the only one that’s ’bout what he say/ The only one that got hit and was walking the same day/ I tried to pop first, got popped back/ Got hit in the hip, couldn’t pop back.” It’s dead-serious subject matter, but the beat gives it a propulsive energy. On another highlight, the CT Beats-produced single “Why You Always Hatin?”, YG brings in Drake and Oakland newcomer Kamaiyah. While the song is in the style of countless DJ Mustard productions, it doesn’t feel overly formulaic, but rather fresh and vital. Really, there’s an instant appeal about most of the music on Still Brazy, with that breezy West Coast energy that’s especially effective this time of year.
Another side of YG’s artistry comes out with his storytelling and “voice of the people” tendencies. There’s a riveting sense of paranoia throughout the album, the result of that shooting. Unsurprisingly, that’s most obvious on “Who Shot Me?”, but generally speaking there’s a darkness that sinks in between the laid-back West Coast sounds. Meanwhile, YG has also grown to be more political than ever. On “FDT” — which stands for “Fuck Donald Trump” — YG and Nipsey Hussle both blast Trump for every reason they can think of. In the song, you can practically feel the same sense of urgency that made “Fight the Power” an all-time classic protest song. The same more or less goes for “Blacks & Browns”, where YG brings in rapper Sad Boy to talk America from a Mexican American’s perspective. “Police Get Away Wit Murder” is a blunt statement that continues to be relevant in light of the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
This is still hardcore gangsta rap, raw and often vulgar. YG’s lines about women can be far from affectionate — consider “She Wish She Was”, where he and guests Joe Moses and Jay 305 slut-shame different women for four minutes straight. (I guess their point is that women should keep their body count low, and the whole thing comes off mean-spirited.) While that kind of thing might be unforgivable for some listeners, at least YG knows his place, owning it masterfully.
Essential Tracks: “Who Shot Me?”, “Twist My Fingaz”, and “Why You Always Hatin?”