YG Masterfully Targets Gun Violence, Politics & Inner-City Madness on 'Still Brazy'
YG doesn't sound like someone who likes using his words. At the start of his sophomore album, Still Brazy (released Friday via Def Jam Records), the Los Angeles rapper keeps his jab-first-and-question-later persona intact. If his Compton neighbor and rap peer Kendrick Lamar is heralded as an insightful lyrical wizard and the 'hood’s color commentator, YG is the city's brash bully -- a guy closer to those bad influences that surrounded Lamar's character on his 2012 debut good kid, m.A.A.d city.
Here, the West Coast rep begins on his porch. The album's first full-length track, "Don’t Come to LA," is a menacing opener on which he and his rowdy guests Bricc Baby, AD and Sad Boy threaten to shut down all supposed rap thugs that perpetuate gang culture but don't actually live that life. “So when y'all n---as hop off the jet/ You better tuck what's on ya neck/ And get the f--- from ‘round here," he orders. YG, a real-life gang member that has seen real-life gang happenings, calls out the phonies and delivers bully rap at its finest. But Brazy -- a play on "Crazy" that substitutes the letter C for B due to YG's Blood gang affiliation and dismissal of rival gang the Crips -- begins to become a special album when YG looks inward.
On June 12, 2015, Keenon "YG" Jackson was in the early stages of recording this album in a Los Angeles studio when unknown intruders broke in and shot at him and friends. One bullet hit the star right below his hip joint, allowing YG to leave the hospital the same night he entered with minor injuries. The cruel reality that his attackers are still at large has robbed YG of his peace of mind. “Don’t Come to LA” even ends abruptly with three gun pops and leads to one of Brazy’s most vivid songs “Who Shot Me?”
"I'm like, 'Damn, did the homies set me up?'" he ponders aloud at the top of the track. "'Cause we ain't really been talking much/ I know that sounds sick, my thoughts dark as f---." Since that night, YG's been spending a lot of time in his own head. In the first verse alone, YG goes from wondering who his attempted killer is to laughing at them for failing. He then imagines a world where his family is wearing “RIP YG” T-shirts in his memory.
Some of Brazy’s best moments come when YG (unfortunately) conjures up images of obstacles that bring him down. On "Gimmie Got Shot," he introduces Gimmie, a jealous freeloader who could have shot him. Extreme paranoia haunts him on the title track, where he admits to drinking to calm his nerves because “I don’t know if they’re with me or against me." But it appears that YG’s new strength is staying calm (or "balm") in the face of negativity. On “Bool, Balm & Bollective” (a Bompton spin on "cool, calm and collected"), he damn near brags about maintaining his chill when the heat is on. "Can't let ‘em get the best of me/ My curve skills on deck, they want the recipe/ 'Cause, see, me I usually lose it when n---a act stupid,” he rhymes. Perhaps the biggest step forward in Brazy's content is that the 17-track set wraps with lyrics that not only shed light on the events happening on his “killa California” lawn, but what his listeners of minority are facing beyond the border.
A close listen to Still Brazy reveals that it’s lightly salted with sentiments that could be applied to #BlackLivesMatter (“When the police gon’ stop pressing me?" he offers at one point). The fact that YG’s attempted killer is still on the loose serves as another reminder that there are too many trigger-happy idiots with access to firearms, especially combined with the recent news that America's worst mass shooting in history took place at a gay Orlando nightclub last week. On a smaller scale, the black communities in several cities resemble miniature war zones (see: Ferguson and Baltimore). If gun laws were tighter, would YG have begun his 2015 summer with a fresh bullet wound in his midsection? If it was difficult to own a gun, would tragedy have struck that Florida club?
Still Brazy, a timely opus, even takes a deep dive into politics once it hits overtime with the bonus cut "FDT," which stands for F--- Donald Trump." "He can’t make decisions for the country/ He gon’ crash us," YG mentions in a surprisingly pointed declaration. "He’s got me appreciating Obama way more." The Republican real estate mogul-turned-2016 presidential candidate was once a revered muse in hip-hop (Mac Miller even named his 2011 hit "Donald Trump" while Big Sean released the Trump-referencing "Get It (DT)" featuring Pharrell that same year), praised for his business acumen and attaining wild levels of wealth. But between his views on border control and overall disconnect with the African-American and minority communities, YG's message to Trump is clear: "All the n---as in the hood wanna fight you."
At the end of “Police Get Away Wit Murder,” he rattles off the names of black youngsters that were gunned down all over the U.S. by law enforcement: David Joseph, Kimani Gray and Laquan McDonald. Even the last line YG utters on Brazy leaves a lasting impression: "And they wonder why I live life looking over my shoulder." The message hangs as a stand alone quote without rhymes, showing that even when the album's over, YG's paranoia -- both of cops and the people around him -- won’t quit.
Still, the rapper whose career launched after the 2010 club smash "Toot It And Boot It," is maturing and pressing on. Still Brazy is a stunning album with its A1 G-Funk production and hard-hitting content, marking his dramatic growth as both an artist and man entering the next chapter of his life. YG exemplifies that on the effort's first single, the Terrace Martin-produced banger "Twist My Fingaz." Here, he sets a grim scene. While partying with friends inside of a club, he soon gets wind of tension just outside of the venue’s doors. "Got two mothaf--kas wanna fight me outside,” YG realizes. Rather than meet the madness on the curb with aggression, he opts to stay in as his boys encourage him to do something that doesn’t involve fists or gunplay, offering, "Do your dance, YG, do your dance." YG then bops and grooves away all signs of worry and animosity. "Bool" and "balm," indeed.