Release Date: Jun 17, 2016
Record label: Def Jam
We've romanticized anxiety. How relatable and edgy of us to package paralyzing paranoia and curate it into cute little internet-based nuances that capitalize on the vulnerability of others and the current popularity of mental illness. How thrifty of us to utilize the ability to overshare by using social media profiles to turn instability into a brand.
Around this time last year, YG was dangerously close to becoming a hashtag and photocopied image on a t-shirt when he was shot while recording his sophomore studio album Still Brazy in a Studio City, CA studio. The incident left the already hardened Tree Top Piru with a coveted bragging right for many a untalented rapper but he immediately dismissed the subsequent press blitz by telling the world “it don’t matter” when asked who he assumed the failed marksman to be. The preposterous quote is a complete about face on the unnerving sentiment found on “Who Shot Me?”, the most engrossing track found on Still Brazy.
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 cover art for Still Brazy withdraws from access, as it opens itself to the viewer. YG turns to face us, the camera, as he moves past our lens, perhaps crossing a street, casing his surroundings, red-striped Where’s Waldo? t-shirt signaling an incognito slink through time-space, his form blurs like someone caught on a traffic camera (“Stick your hand up like you guilty”), like an imperfection in recording due to the inevitable, tampering imprint of one quantum particle trying to measure the momentum of another. As this occurs, he is suffused by a Blood-red background, a flag, a Pacific sunset or a sea of blood.
YG’s debut My Krazy Life was a hardcore gangsta rap album, but the Compton rapper didn't present himself like a kingpin: On songs like “Sorry Momma,” he self-identified as a small-time house raider and set-claimer, a cog in a much bigger machine just looking to survive (and party in the meantime). But YG’s life has gotten crazier since then: Last year, he was shot by an unknown assailant at his Los Angeles recording studio. Since then he’s mostly used the attack to self-mythologize, boasting that he’s “hard to kill” and claiming that he left the hospital that night and continued working on his album the next day.
Despite all its ratchet excess, My Krazy Life left a lot of space for YG's mom: It's her voice on the intro, giving the rapper holy hell for falling into the same gang-banging pattern that put his daddy in jail, and it's her being apologized to on the album's emotional closer. She shows up—in spirit, at least—throughout, keeping her son smart and self-aware while he indulges the benefits fame has afforded him. She doesn't always get through to him, but her words and his reverence for them lent YG's party album an affectingly personal appeal.
So crazy he follows up his 2014 debut My Krazy Life with Still Brazy, Compton rapper YG is a swaggering contradiction. He can spit gangsta lyrics like "I go broke rob fools for their jewelry/Stick yo hand up like you guilty" (from the cold highlight "Don't Come to L.A.") and then remain chill in the face of adversity because he's "Bool, Balm & Bollective," as now all Cs are turning into Bs. On top of that, he's a G-Funk as fubk on "Twist My Fingaz," where a crooked beat and "I'm about to pull a full Suge Knight/And push the issue on sight" both bring reminders of Death Row in their heyday, but "Why You Always Hatin'," featuring Drake and Kamaiyah, bounces with the hyphy sound of the Bay Area.
We are living in a real-life dystopia. We put our memories on computers that fit into the palms of our hands while willingly sharing personal information online, to be exploited for targeted advertising or ad hominem character takedowns. A Tropicana-toned reality TV star has become a potential authoritarian autocrat who — if enough of us deem him a better president than his overwhelmingly qualified opponent who’s kinda-sorta under FBI investigation — will plunge the world into nuclear war over a dick-swinging contest with his bare-chested Russian doppelgänger.
Expectations for YG’s artistry have gone up dramatically. Once considered a singles specialist because of his many hyper-sexual party songs, the Compton rapper’s major label debut, 2014’s My Krazy Life, changed everything. On that album, YG constructed a surprisingly detailed and well-rounded look at his life as a Blood in Compton. Sure, he was compelling earlier in his career, too, showing signs of progression with songs like “I’m 4rm Bompton”.
There is tension everywhere in YG’s second studio album, Still Brazy. It is the fundamental tension of gangster rap—between lyrics that are shaped by violence, misogyny, fatalism, and emotional numbness, and music that makes these things sound desirable. This tension is not new, but it is becoming rare in modern hip-hop, which, is generally more interested in exploring vulnerability than hiding or justifying it, and it runs right through the center of YG’s music.
Y.G. is a rare breed in 2016: a major-label “gangsta” rapper who stuck around long enough to release a second album. On merit, his 2014 debut, “My Krazy Life,” proved worthy of a sequel: Working in lockstep with producer DJ Mustard, the 26-year-old lyricist from Los Angeles followed a path laid by Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent before him, packaging aggressive bravado and street stories into a catchy package palatable for mainstream audiences.
In a world where hip-hop’s borders — aesthetic, regional and more — are increasingly porous, making an album as insular as “Still Brazy,” the second major-label effort by the Compton rapper YG, counts as bold. “Still Brazy” is an artisanal, proletarian Los Angeles gangster rap record, less tribute to the sound’s golden age than a full-throated and wholly absorbed recitation. YG is a stern rapper, but a loyal student above all.