YG’s ‘Stay Dangerous’ Stays Well Away from Being a Classic Album

Compton's YG offers up Stay Dangerous, an often disappointing return to gangster rap fundamentals with patchy production.

Stay Dangerous
4Hunnid /CTE World / Def Jam
3 August 2018

Having emerged into the general consciousness riding the snapping drums of DJ Mustard on My Krazy Life, blending harrowing street tales with a pop sensibility and ear for a hook, Keenon Jackson was propelled first to the fore of the West Coast scene and shortly after international stardom. Follow up Still Breezy saw YG lose Mustard’s production as well as many of the pop-leaning sounds and features of his debut. Instead, he embraced the G-Funk aesthetic more fully as he channeled his social frustrations and challenged the tumultuous political climate around him, nowhere more memorably than on the anarchic “FDT”.

Stay Dangerous abandons those socio-political leanings at a time when Jackson is facing his court troubles following an arrest for felony theft in Vegas. Instead, he returns to the fundamentals of street rap; violence, drugs, women and in YG’s case, his Bloods affiliations (the prominence of which was made clear right from the release of the first single “Suu Whoop”). The lack of lyrical range has been a longstanding criticism, particularly when matched with his technical shortcomings but off the back of Still Breezy and Red Friday this feels a disappointing backward step, short of ideas and focus.

As Jackson poses the question to himself, “YG don’t you got a daughter?” on “Suu Whoop” there is the opportunity for him to add a new dynamic to the record and further evolve his narrative. Instead what follows is “Yeah I’m a gangbangin’ ass dad, Big B, Gucci Bad, blue hundreds in my bag.” These two lines serve to capture the disappointing sense that pervades the whole record. To his credit, YG does demonstrate some greater range in flows, experimenting with Atlanta bounce alongside his western drawl and even a risky interpolation of Right Said Fred’s “Too Sexy”. However, too often he seems uninterested and uninspired, moving from club to streets without any real direction. At his best, his flow and energy drive records, but the repetition and slurs that dominates so many of the tracks do not do justice to the ability he has shown before or even the best moments on Stay Dangerous.

Even Mustard feels underwhelming across much of the album. It has been a while since he dominated the sound of hip-hop and at times it shows. There is of course still an abundance of his trademark skeletal bass bounce (“Too Brazy”, “666”, “Deeper Than Rap”) although not all of these hit in the way you might expect, with “Can’t Get Into Kanada” in particular disappointing. The G-funk influence of the last record is also notably scaled back. Instead, Mustard (who produces nine of the 14 tracks with support from Mike Will Made It, Lil Rich, TM88 and KJ Santana) elects to create a musical collage drawing from across the hip-hop landscape. There are, as a result, some surprising moments, from the ominous strings of opener “10 Times”, which breaks down to gospel by its close, to the 2000s-esque soul sample of the busy “Slay” and it is these moments which break from the mould that often provide the most sonically interesting listen.

The features by contrast often work to the benefit of the record, drawing some of the best moments on Stay Dangerous out of YG. In particular man of the moment, Ty Dolla $ign resumes his longstanding relationship with YG and his appearance on the crude, but charismatic “Power” provides one of the best moments on the album. The chameleonic A$AP Rocky makes an appearance on single “Handgun”, bringing his unique presence and newcomers Young Boy Never Broke Again, and Mozzy’s street bars shine as bright as almost anyone else. The biggest names also deliver, with Nicki Minaj and 2 Chainz starring on the grower “Big Bank”. The shocking decision of EA to edit the track for inclusion on Madden 19 will also have brought some socially unwanted yet nonetheless stream boosting attention to a record which had a relatively low key promotional schedule.

The scaled-back release feels symbolic of the album itself. Whilst YG and Mustard come into their own through the back half of the record, across the course of the record it lacks a thematic focus, something to bind the narrative together. Rather what we are left with are some great moments, surrounded by a mix of filler and slightly above average West Coast rap that will alienate and enthrall in equal measure due to its unflinching tales of street life. Closing with “Deeper Than Rap” and the somber, reflective “Bomptown Finest” shows what could have been with a slightly more cohesive approach to the record; a journal of his take on Compton life and the impact of his growing fame. Instead, we have a patchy album that will offer something for everyone in a streaming world but will disappoint those wanting a classic album.

RATING 6 / 10
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