08 10

YG Still Brazy 400 / CTE / Def Jam

On 2014’s My Krazy Life, YG straddled the line between underrated and indistinct, dropping quality bars and unpretentious hooks over DJ Mustard’s dijon-slathered signatures. Caught up in that interpolation-crazed producer’s wave of rap radio dominance, the Los Angeles native appeared to take an inadvertent backseat to the cultural phenomenon of handclaps and “HEY” chants driving his hit singles. Despite YG’s sharp lyrical detail, few of those listening to Left, Right or Who Do You Love? via the radio had any tangible sense of who they were listening to. His artistic identity was so closely bound to that of another, someone larger-than-life with divergent ambitions from his own, that he ended up on a failed Fergie comeback single for which the video was practically a Beats By Dre advert.

A clear attempt to define himself after that muddled rollout, Still Brazy – which succeeds without contributions from DJ Mustard – idealises YG as the Westside’s most credible current representative. Following last year’s widely reported attempt on his life, he makes a strong case for that on characteristic tracks like Word Is Bond and Who Shot Me, the latter an intentionally vague accounting of who might’ve tried to take him out. The threat of violence, often by YG’s hand or that of his surrogates, looms large throughout.

Much could be made of the throwback L.A. vibe defining these beats, from the post-Zapp bounce of 1500 Or Nothin’s I Got A Question or just about any of the five tracks DJ Swish had a hand in. A deliberate holdover from My Krazy Life, the immensely talented Terrace Martin expertly brings the P-Funk back to G-Funk on single Twist My Fingaz. His debt to Dr. Dre an existential rather than material one, YG isn’t paying homage here so much as inserting himself into a tradition. Kendrick Lamar may have brought Los Angeles back to the forefront of the international rap conversation, but he alone can’t speak for it.

Demonstrating a fairly obvious appreciation for – if not a direct connection to-the notorious Bloods gang, YG represents the inaccessibility of locales like Compton, with the same inherent allure of that forbidden and forbidding zone that drew people to the music of N.W.A and its many tendrils. If not for YG’s morbidly mordant sense of humor, Still Brazy would amount to little more than a latter-day outing from The Game. There’s no shortage of triumphalism in hip-hop, but when it’s presented in such an engaging storytelling style it’s easier to embrace. Where Kanye West wearily bemoaned those asking too much of him on The Life Of Pablo’s Real Friends, YG turns the veritable parade of player-paupers into comedy on Gimmie Got Shot. One can’t help but smirk along with the Bool, Balm & Bollective narrative, which ultimately humanises YG in ways a dozen DJ Mustard smashes never could.