Just days after our interview, his life was thrown into upheaval yet again. On March 31, YG’s friend and collaborator Nipsey Hussle was shot dead in front of the clothing store he owned, at the intersection that he immortalized in his music: Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue. On April 11, YG was a pallbearer at the rapper’s Los Angeles memorial, Nipsey Hussle’s Celebration of Life.
A handful of YG-Hussle collaborations rate as L.A. staples -- “You Broke,” “Bitches Ain’t Shit,” “Grindmode” -- but it was “FDT” (“Fuck Donald Trump”), released during the 2016 presidential election, that became a rallying cry, playing out of portable speakers and from parked cars at protests that swept through the city in the months following Trump’s election. “To have your song playing while all that was going on,” says YG today, “that’s the power of music.”
Since then, YG has extended his reach on other platforms, including fashion, through his label 4 HUNNID (which started out as his merchandise line and in May 2017 expanded to a lifestyle brand), and film, with a supporting role in the 2018 Matthew McConaughey crime drama White Boy Rick.
Born Keenon Jackson, YG was raised in Compton, Calif. When he was 16, his father went to jail for tax fraud; two years later, YG was arrested after a botched home invasion and served a brief sentence on residential burglary charges. At the same time, he was gaining local fame as one of the most visible members of the jerkin’ movement, which embodied playful, minimal dance music that lent itself to house parties and YouTube dance videos.
His participation in the scene landed him a deal with Def Jam, where he signed after his release in 2009. But it took nearly five years and a push from one of the label’s flagship artists at the time, Jeezy, to secure him a release date for his debut album. My Krazy Life finally dropped in 2014, debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. The sound that he and his longtime friend and producer DJ Mustard concocted for the LP was spare like jerkin’, but more sinister. Similarly urgent production has consistently underlined YG’s day-in-the-life storytelling ever since, best heard on the Stay Dangerous track “Bomptown Finest”: “The past year I’ve been making all profit/My team finally got it, then somebody shot me.”
His new album is perhaps his most confident storytelling to date. YG has typically freestyled or written verses at the mic, allowing for a more focused result. But for a handful of tracks on 4REAL 4REAL, he changed up his process and wrote on his laptop alone in studio side rooms with his phone facedown to minimize distractions, best represented by the opener, “The Face.” On it, YG finally makes clear what has for so long been the subtext of his writing: that he deserves to be where he is.