Sept. 7 2016 11:23 AM

Emcee is an important voice in the era of Kendrick Lamar

YG


BEFORE YG RELEASED HIS DEBUT ALBUM My Krazy Life in March of 2014—even before the Compton rapper had settled on a title—comparisons to another young, talented emcee from a nearby neighborhood had begun.

“YG to chronicle life as bad ‘kid’ in Kendrick Lamar’s M.A.A.D City,” declared the headline of an MTV.com article published a full year before My Krazy Life’s release, when it was expected to be called I’m 4rm Bompton. By the time Krazy hit the market, the narrative was established: YG had recorded the gangster version of Lamar’s 2012 breakthrough, good kid, m.A.A.d city. Kendrick was a softhearted documentarian, speedily spinning tales about the rough streets of Compton, while YG was the guy actually doing the bad stuff Kendrick rapped about.

None of which is meant to imply that YG deflected comparisons to Lamar. Quite the opposite. He structured My Krazy Life as a day in his life in Compton—just like good kid. He included a (killer) Kendrick verse on the album, and let Lamar pick his track. According to fuse.tv, he spoke on the two rappers’ mirrored perspectives during a listening party for a room full of journalists.

YG embraced the opportunity to be mentioned in the same breath with Lamar. As he should’ve. And he has benefitted from the association, no doubt. But Lamar’s shadow looms large over rap from coast to coast these days, and the 26-year-old YG, born Keenon Daequan Ray Jackson, also isn’t getting enough credit for his skills, his vision and his valor. If the guy still only had My Krazy Life on his (official) discography, you could conceivably write him off as the beneficiary of beginner’s luck and a dynamic DJ (more on that in a bit).

YG’s sophomore effort, Still Brazy, erases those concerns and establishes the rapper as more than the yin to Lamar’s yang. Thematically, the new album is different from Krazy. Gone is the “day in the life” construct, and in its place is a 17-track meditation on the troubles that come when success collides with a life in the streets, with healthy doses of politics, partying and paranoia provoked by a 2015 shooting that left YG with three bullet wounds. (The shooter has not been publicly identified or caught.)

YG plays Observatory North Park on September 18

The uncertainty around that shooting drives one of Still Brazy’s centerpiece songs, “Who Shot Me?,” a pitch-perfect portrayal of post-trauma terror and delusion. With a clipped, angry flow, YG recalls seeing the barrel of the pistol that night, worries about the effect of the incident on his family, acknowledges his emotional distress and considers possible assailants. But he keeps coming back to his inner circle, noting that whoever shot him knew the security code for his gate. The bridge goes like this:

I don’t know who did it, but I know this Bullets don’t just go where the wind blows So I’m looking under my nose Hate always comes from up close One of My Krazy Life’s strengths was YG’s attention to minute detail, whether he was describing gangbanger friends (“they dry their clothes on hangers”) or delivering step-by-step instructions for breaking and entering. Lamar is widely praised for his storytelling ability, but Still Brazy shows YG’s feel for the craft is just as nuanced.

Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly also established him as a sonic visionary, as he built his instant classic atop a bed of funk, soul and jazz with the help of an all-star cast that included Thundercat, George Clinton, Robert Glasper, Flying Lotus, Ronald Isley, Ambrose Akinmusire and more. Never mind Lamar’s own considerable vocal talents, To Pimp A Butterfly sounded like nothing else.

Similarly, Still Brazy stands as a testament to YG’s sharp ear for a great beat, thanks largely to a man who was not involved in its creation: DJ Mustard, the producer behind the sound of My Krazy Life, which revived the classic g- funk pioneered by Dr. Dre in the early 1990s. Longtime friends YG and Mustard had a falling out in 2015, which left the rapper looking for new musical sources.

Still Brazy delivers big-time on that front. It digs even deeper into the gritty grooves that drove Krazy, thanks to flawless production from synth-funk wizards Terrace Martin, Ty Dolla Sign, DJ Swish and Hit-Boy, among others. YG and Mustard have since reconciled, but if Still Brazy is any indication, YG can handle executive production just fine on his own.

This is, after all, a man who seems to know who he is and what he values, and Still Brazy’s final three tracks suggest he’s not done growing. First up is “F.D.T.” (which stands for Fuck Donald Trump), a collaboration with Nipsey Hussle that relentlessly skewers Donald Trump and generated a few calls to YG’s camp from the Secret Service.

The album ends with a plainly spoken song about police brutality called “Police Get Away Wit Murder.”

In between is “Blacks & Browns,” which finds the emcee addressing black-on-black violence, the education and prison systems, government housing and—generally speaking—the endless cycle of power and oppression that YG believes is a massive obstacle to African-American prosperity. (He does more than just rap about it; read up on his new nonprofit at 4hundredwaze.org.)

Last year, Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” became an anthem for Black Lives Matter protesters. Hearing that chant rise from the streets was one of the truly spine-tingling musical moments in recent memory, and it lined up perfect with K-Dot’s image as the thoughtful observer with an incredible rhetorical gift—a reputation he fully deserves.

But it’s time to stop positioning YG as the anti-Kendrick. With a fresh set of vivid stories, a bunch of killer beats from producers not named Mustard, and a new path of social and political interests to explore, Still Brazy proves YG can stand on his own as an equal pillar of L.A. hip-hop in the 21st century.

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