There’s levels to being a West Coast OG. On one hand, Cali legends like world renowned tattoo artist, Mister Cartoon, are definitely classified as Original Gangstas. Than you have budding stars like YG, who caught the world by surprise with his Def Jam debut, My Krazy Life. After being in stores for less than a month, the Bompton (his hometown as he calls it) general’s opus is being labeled as one of the best albums of 2014 thus far. On a sunny Spring day in March, VIBE corralled the Young Gangsta and the Original Gangsta for a tattoo session that will go down in the history books. This is another prime example of how How The West Was Won. –Mikey Fresh
VIBE: There’s a lot going on in hip-hop right now. But one thing is for sure, the fight to be the new King of L.A. has some new contenders.
YG: For me, it’s just about putting on for the culture and talking about what’s really going on in the hood. I want to show people that you can make it out of any situation you’re dealt with. It’s about giving your homies opportunities. And, that’s what I get to do now. I’m giving my people opportunities. It’s cool when you talk about who is “king” or whatever, but the fans will tell you that. It ain’t up to the rappers.
Right, they will crown you. Let’s take it all the way back. When did you officially start rapping?
The first rap I wrote was like in 9th grade. Somebody made a diss song about me in school and I made a song right back. I really just kept going after that day. I started going hard with the songs.
Were you battling live in the lunch room?
Nah, I wasn’t into that. It was just about recording real music for me. I started going to house parties and pushing to get my songs played all night. By the tenth grade, I had everyone in school talking about my joints.
Did you immediately dream about becoming a big rap star?
Nah, it was just for fun at the time. I never really had that dream. We were just doing it for fun and shit. Back then, I had no idea that music would take me out of the hood. In high school, I was performing at parties, high schools, wherever they would let me.
Like talent shows?
Did you have a different rap name?
I been YG! You fuckin’ crazy ?! My name was YG before this rap shit. The music took us everywhere even when we was in the streets. We been though it all from wild house parties, shoot-outs, fights, gang bangin’, that’s what we were doing before the deal. This is really our lifestyle in Bompton.
But was creating music an alternative to street life at the time?
Not really. The music was talking about our lives but we were still thuggin’ in the hood. In the beginning, my music was mostly about partying and poppin’ pills. Shit like that. We was just like some Bebe kids [laughs].
So rap music was just your creative outlet?
I guess so. We was just making songs about our lives but it was just for the moment. We would get faded and just go into the studio. Actually, I used to name all the little bitches I was fuckin’ with [laughs].
Oh, man. I bet you started drama with that.
[Laughs] Yeah, I got into some trouble for sure. Some girls was mad and got all embarrassed. I thought that shit was funny, though.
It’s no secret that you rep for the Red team. Were you born into gang life, or did you actively go to the set on your own?
Yeah, I went to the set. It wasn’t like my mom and dad were Bloods or anything. Actually, my momma is from a Crip neighborhood. She wasn’t the type of parent that was into the gangbangin’ though. My situation was a little different because by pops is actually from Atlanta. He wasn’t up on the gangbangin’ shit like that. He was the one trying to keep me straight. He was always the one like ‘Stay in school, play basketball and get good grades.’ But I was a Bebe kid and it never worked out. I played basketball, ran track and football, but I could never play because my grades were fucked up. I was ditching school more than I was really going.
A man is going to do what he wants I guess.
My parents tried. They did, but my pops went to jail when I was 16, so it was over after that. My mom knew what that life was about just because she is from L.A. My dad, though, he was just like from the outside looking in. He didn’t understand it.
What did your father do at the time?
He had his own business going on at the time. Then he went to jail for some shit that happened with that. He was working like at Home Depot at the time, too.
Unfortunately, I know you ended up going to jail as well. However, you really caught a break during sentencing. What was your official charge?
Residential burglary, that was my thing. Most rappers were selling drugs, but I was breaking into houses. Like what you hear on “Meet the Flockers,” that’s what I was really doing. I wasn’t selling drugs because I was breaking into people’s cribs. It’s just the truth, and I can’t lie about it.
Damn, did you get caught red handed one night?
Yeah, I got caught in the act. I had to do 6 months in county with one strike on me. I was supposed to get two years in the pen. But a girl that I knew from high school, her mom worked in the courthouse, so she wrote a real nice letter to the judge for me. She really said how I was a good kid, and it was actually enough to convince the judge to just give me six months in county jail.
You had angels around you at that time, man.
I did for sure. Check this out, after I got out Def Jam signed me three months later. If I would have gotten those two years in prison then I wouldn’t never have gotten my deal.
Sounds like that was a huge wake up call for you
Hell yeah it was. I caught my case at the same time I had all this shit going on with my music. We had the streets on lock at that point and I was only 18. My mom was telling me while I was in jail that labels was calling the house trying to sign me. Honestly, I thought I fucked myself but when I got out I had meetings lined up already. I met with Atlantic and Def Jam right away.
What made you go with Def Jam even though you are a West Coast artist?
I ended up going with Def Jam because I was more familiar with their brand, I had the Def Jam Vendetta game and all that [laughs]. I was down with the brand since I was young. Real shit, Interscope is home to more West Coast rappers but I took the hard route. Pecas and everybody at Def Jam is my niggas. They family now, but at first, it was ugly. Even when I got really hot on a bigger level in L.A., Def Jam is in New York so they couldn’t see what was happening in Cali. Straight up, there was a separation.
Then I hooked up with Jeezy and we worked for like a straight year. He knew I had something special. I was just rolling everywhere with him to work on music. I would go to Miami and Atlanta to record with him on some friend shit. I really paid attention on how he moved and worked. Things started falling into place after that .
This album seems to be getting better with time. Did you record a bunch of songs for this album and then pick?
Nah, I only did 20 something songs but I did move to Atlanta with my A&R to record most of it. We were at Patchwerk studios like everyday with different producers. First I worked with Metro Boomin as soon as I get got there, then Mustard came down for while, Ty came down for a week and Mustard came back again.
Why, did you want to record in Atlanta?
I can’t focus in L.A. I got too many homies and I get easily distracted. I had to get myself out of Bompton to focus on this music. The “Bicken Back Being Bool” song was actually the first one I recorded, and that was in New York.
You even have non-Bloods and Crips embracing that song.
The people finally get me. Really, I’m just telling stories from my life. This is the culture that I know. I’m representing, and they know what it is without saying anything else. That’s all I got to say about that.
What’s up next for you ?
I’m really just working on my second album. This nigga Mustard doesn’t want to give me any fucking beats right now. I be over there trying to work on my second album and he’s telling me to wait. [Laughs] it’s all good though. I know he got a plan.
Before we go, I have to ask you about the last song on your album, “Dear Momma.” How real is that?
It’s 100% true. We had all the records done and for the intro, I based it on my momma before I got the rap deal. So for the outro, I knew I wanted to apologize for the bad things I did when I was younger. I just felt like she was right about everything the whole time and I wasn’t listening. I felt like it was time for one of those records. Me and moms is real close now, so I wanted to do my version of like Tupac’s “Dear Momma.” Even if you ain’t in the streets, you can relate to that record. I love you, momma.