Review Summary: YG’s Still Brazy is a monument to 90’s West Coast rap that remains significant and powerful in the world of today.
Two years ago, YG (short for Young Gangsta) released his debut album, "My Krazy Life", to rave reviews. It was a loose concept album tied together with a few skits, presented as a counterpoint of sorts to Kendrick Lamar’s "Good Kid Maad City". YG presented a look at the “street side” of Compton, replete with tales of robbery and gang-banging. There were a couple songs for the ladies as well as an emotional closer to his mom, but the rest of the album was strictly by the book. The album was almost entirely produced by DJ Mustard, who brought his usual party-oriented, up-tempo sound of “ratchet music”. Big singles (“My Nigga” and “Who Do You Love”) helped sell the album, as did the abundance of big name artists: Drake, Lil Wayne, Jeezy, Rich Homie Quan, Ty Dolla Sign, Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, and Schoolboy Q all took part. In fact, the production and guests were considered the best part of that album, with YG’s contributions being mostly secondary.
"Still Brazy" could not be more different. It features many of the same tales as "My Krazy Life", but the rest of the product is original. Most significantly, there is no DJ Mustard production to be found, the result of a beef in the interim between albums. Instead, the production is handled primarily by DJ Swish, P-Lo, and 1500 or Nothin’. The whole album was overseen by musical maestro Terrace Martin, one of the main forces behind Kendrick Lamar’s acclaimed "To Pimp a Butterfly" and "Untitled.Unmastered". The result is a vastly altered sound, much more in line with the G-Funk of Daz Dillinger and Battlecat than the post-hyphy production of Mustard. Elastic bass, solemn pianos, and pounding drums abound, creating a dark atmosphere far from the gangster party sound of the previous album. The standout is “Twist My Fingaz”, produced by Martin, with a beat that worms its way inside your head and refuses to let go. While nothing on the album is really radio material, the sound is cohesive and distinctly West Coast.
The guest list is also a complete turnaround from the star-laden contributions of earlier efforts. Drake and Lil Wayne do take part, but they enhance YG rather than supplant him, and the rest of the artists fit in even better. Sad Boy’s verse on “Blacks and Browns” is one of the best on the album, and he also contributes well on the opening song “Don’t Come to LA” alongside A.D. and Bricc Baby. The features heavily skew to the West Coast, with names such as Nipsey Hussle, Slim 400, Jay 305, and Joe Moses - all well familiar to fans of modern California hip hop. They aren’t appeals to a wider audience or radio play, but instead an attempt to create a fully Los Angeles album, to paint a picture of the city and life that defines who YG is.
To that end, the production and guests help YG make this album truly his own. He was shot several times outside his studio last summer, and that paranoia dominates "Still Brazy". YG wonders who exactly went after him on “Who Shot Me?”, complains about hangers-on via “Gimmie Got Shot”, and attests to the truth of his speech on “Word is Bond”. Everyone around him is a suspect, someone who wants him dead or desires his money. YG can’t trust anyone, has nowhere to turn to. That claustrophobia creeps into his lyrics:
“Been through it all, got bullet wounds twice/ Still don’t know where it came from, yikes/
Why everybody want a piece of my pie?/ I, I, gotta keep guns with me/ *** real, I ain’t tryna be pretty”.
YG eventually turns towards societal ills as a reason for what’s going wrong in his personal life. He closes the album with three political tracks: taking aim at Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, discussing racism towards African Americans and Latinos, and looking at police brutality. After the insularity of the album, the outward glance at the rest of the world is refreshing and needed. It pulls YG’s “Bompton” into the broader scope of American society, making it relevant for people across the country.
YG still isn’t the greatest rapper. He doesn’t flow like Nas, converse like Jay, or project the emotion of Tupac. But he is a terrific storyteller, and has constructed perhaps the best rap album of 2016. The beats are fantastic, the guests mesh well, and YG paints pictures of his life and the world that he lives in. A weak track (“She Wish She Was”, which is overly misogynistic and doesn’t contribute much) keeps this album from perfection, but it is pretty damn close.