Review: ‘Still Brazy’ Crowns YG As The Sole Gangster Rapper Of This Generation
YG is a grown a** man, although his ‘Young Gangsta’ moniker may suggest otherwise. Six years after stepping onto the music scene with the bouncy, lyrically watered-down, yet undeniably infectious “Toot It and Boot It,” the world-at-large is finally looking to the rapper born Keenon Daequan Ray Jackson as a rap staple, not just a regional MC confined to pedaling gun-toting narratives, strip club anthems, and tales of home invasions shopped as “flocking,” from Compton to the Bay.
It’s been a little over two years since YG released his debut studio album, My Krazy Life, and the streets and skeptics alike were anxious for his sophomore effort to materialize, ready to pick a part whether or not it would live up to the 14-track LP that garnered 61,000 copies sold in its first week and a No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
In the past year alone, YG has endured so much, witnessing the complex entrappings of fame and foes first-hand and experiencing his first taste of unconditional love with the birth of his daughter, Harmony. He’d publicly fallen out with longtime collaborator and friend DJ Mustard, whose hard-knocking 808s anchored his debut and put South Los Angeles back on the map. Last summer the rapper found himself entangled in the crossfire of bullets at close range, rushed to the hospital with a trio of war wounds stemming from a single shot that ricocheted from his hip to his groin. And just last month, another nearly-fatal happening occurred when AK-47 shots broke out on the set of his music video in Compton. This time YG walked away unscathed.
As crazy and momentous as it all sounds, occurrences like these play out as white noise for a city that’s notorious for its storied history of gang violence. However, they also serve as firm reminders that no matter how near and dear L.A. may be to YG’s heart, home has limitations, or at least to the average Joe. But for the brazen 26-year-old Tree Top Piru Blood who marvels at being “hard to kill,” he still feels at ease and in his element in the bosom of Bompton. That same cutthroat, do-or-die tenacity is the foundation of which Still Brazy was conceived.
YG’s fearlessness comes to a boil on “Don’t Come To LA,” after his father cautions his mother to move away from Los Angeles in hopes of keeping his seed safe. A visceral, slow-creeping tune, the track marquees Still Brazy with yellow tape and red police lights. “I don’t give a f**k who you n****s paying. Who name you saying, you ain’t good around here/Cause y’all n****s f*****g up the rep. Y’all playing with the set, it’s really war round here,” he raps. It’s an extroverted, not so welcoming warning sign that calls on Compton-bred rappers AD and Bricc Baby to thicken the treaty of the city’s no fly zone, no outsiders mantra. “You walk around like you can’t get touched. But JFK was a president and still got his a** bust,” Baby raps, syncing the songs ending with a series of gun shots and a woman’s gut-wrenching shriek.
The LP then progresses into a gripping tale ripped out of a notebook of the LAPD’s corrupt and largely speculative cases on the murders of Tupac and Biggie (“Who Shot Me?“), and a receipt of his realness filled with braggadocios banter (“Word Is Bond“). The first single from the album, “Twist My Fingaz” is a celebratory G-funk treasure that marries YG’s natural aggression and the sunny, paradise-eque vibes the West Coast infamously emits, laced with straight-forward lyrics: “I’m the only one who made it out the West without Dre/The only one that got hit and was walking the same day.”
Not even 15 minutes through the album, it’s apparent that YG has settled into his own groove amidst an outwardly unhinged environment. The production, which lacks Mustard’s youthful snap, is brasher, more old school and homegrown. The equivalent of Dr. Dre still rocking his khaki’s with a cuff and a crease and riding a lo-lo’s with Snoop shotgun. There’s Terrace Martin plunking away at piano keys, adding a funky, jazz-tinged element; DJ Swish peppering in his up-tempo, beat drop sensibilities with “Gimme Got Shot;” and 1500 or Nothin’ contributing their production expertise to the slow-bending “I Got A Question” and “She Wish She Was.”
Still Brazy is also a record about YG’s relationship with America. “FDT (F**k Donald Trump),” “Blacks and Browns,” and “Police Get Away Wit Murder” are dedicated to the rapper emerging as a compelling new voice that spares none when it comes to police brutality, racial profiling, the fatal chain reactions of Reaganomics, and the failed educational system:
We killing ourselves, they killing us too/They distract us with entertainment while they get they loot
They never gave us what they owed us, put liquor stores on every corner
Welcome to Lost Skanless, California
YG’s approach is never eulogizing. He humanizes his people and his hometown in hopes of conveying a deeper message that the youth can grasp. He doesn’t glamorize the gangster life, waxing poetically about his real life experiences instead. If N.W.A. spoke for Gen X, YG speaks for Gen Y as the sole gangsta rapper who finds no fault in being himself: a young, black and unapologetic Blood.
As My Krazy Life chronicled the 24-hour cycle of the life one is dealt on the front lines of Bompton, Still Brazy is a clearer, more cohesive and confidential glimpse into Jackson’s psyche: the things that motivate him, the homies that hold him down (and some of the homies he’s had to part ways with), and what keeps him up late at night. We’re never made aware if he’s achieved peace or how he deals with paranoia nor his aspirations and emotional state, but the album is grounded in growth both lyrically and personally. It’s the way one with “n***** on the block with the Glock that don’t think” gets popped on June 12, 2015 and retaliates on June 17, 2016 with 17 tracks instead of violence. Or, a blassik, if you will.