YG’s debut, My Krazy Life, was undeniably impressive, but between its cavalcade of A-list guests (Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Ty Dolla $ign, Schoolboy Q, Young Jeezy), and production handled primarily by DJ Mustard, it was difficult to determine exactly how much of that credit belonged to the rapper whose alias graced the record’s mug shot cover.
Two years later, YG returns with Still Brazy, bringing to the table a slimmer feature list (Lil Wayne and Drake are the only stars), and zero Mustard beats. The result is an album that feels more tapered and focused, even at 17 tracks and featuring a number of skits and interludes.
The biggest improvement from My Krazy Life to Still Brazy is that YG has taken major strides as an MC; he’s now fully capable of carrying songs by himself. Two of the record’s best tracks, the bouncy, ostentatious “Twist My Fingaz” and “Gimmie Got Shot”, which is equal parts menacing and hilarious, are solo cuts.
Hailing from Compton and boasting a prominent affiliation with the Bloods (if the album cover didn’t give it away), YG has a deep reverence for ‘90s West Coast gangster rap. Fortunately, unlike, say, The Game, who feels the need to namedrop Death Row greats constantly to illustrate his California roots, YG simply embodies that sneering, swaggering essence anytime he spits. He does include one Dr. Dre mention, but it’s a criticism of rappers riding the pioneer’s coattails, not a starry-eyed tribute (“I’m the only one who made it out the west without Dre/I’m the only one that’s about what he say,” he says on “Twist My Fingaz”).
The production helps cultivate the G-funk aesthetic, taking the best parts of YG’s DJ Mustard collaborations (bouncy drums, simple, yet infectious synths) and making them lowrider suitable. The rubbery, serpentine synths on “Word is Bond” would be at home on 2Pac’s All Eyez on Me, and the punchy percussion of “Bool, Balm & Bollective” would be perfect for peak Snoop Dogg were it not for his affiliation with YG’s rival gang.
But perhaps the key reason YG pulls off the feat of making a quintessential gangster rap record for the modern era is that he isn’t focused on the past. “FDT” (short for “Fuck Donald Trump”) is as contemporary as rap can get, and the seething “Police Get Away Wit’ Murder” has only grown more relevant since its release as police brutality has reentered the national consciousness.
The latter features some of the best bars of YG’s career, as he asks a judge what they would’ve done if they felt constantly under siege.
“It get real in the field, your honor/How we supposed to chill when there’s no chill your honor/Ni**as running in your crib your honor/Tell me what the fuck you would have did your honor/You would have got you a strap too/AK grenades, a shotgun and a mac too,” he questions.
By replacing most of the high profile guests with local Los Angeles area MCs, even the dispensable tracks on Still Brazy brim with posse cut energy. “Don’t Come to LA” is macabre, with a hint of Chinatown noir, and a quality verse from Bricc Baby. “She Wish She Was” isn’t exactly a feminist anthem, but the bars from YG and Joe Moses do have humor, albeit with a heaping dose of misogyny.
Plenty of rappers can prop themselves up for an album relying on famous friends, so for YG to significantly improve on his sophomore LP is a sign of true talent. No one out there is crafting visceral street tales like he is, and if he could just trim his track lists a bit, he has the talent to make a gangster rap classic in the future.