YG unbuckles his belt and slides down his jeans to right below his hip joint — just enough to show the oatmeal-colored bandages covering his fresh bullet wounds. On June 12, the Compton, Calif., rapper born Keenon Jackson, 25, was shot after a recording session in Studio City, where he was working on a second album he revealed to Billboard will be named Still Krazy, the follow-up to My Krazy Life (home to the top 20 smash “My Hitta” and widely hailed as one of 2014’s best rap albums). Seven days after the shooting, YG, previewing his new album at a West Hollywood studio, leans down — he’s already able to walk around without crutches — and whispers: “Listen to this track real good. It’s about the situation that happened.”
A new G-Funk-inflected song called “Twist My Fingers” blares, introduced by a female voice warning, “We the ones who run the game. It’s sad to see what these n—as do for pain.” YG, reportedly a member of the Bloods gang, raps about Suge Knight and taking care of “issues on sight.” The hook switches up the lyrics to Malcolm McLaren’s 1982 classic “Buffalo Gals”: “Two mother—-ers want to fight me outside.” He throws his hands in the air and shimmies and shakes around the room. His gold “4 HUNNID” chain dangles back and forth around his neck and lands in the center of his chest as he sways to the song. The eight tracks played represent a promising progression of the ratchet sound he helped pioneer with frequent collaborator DJ Mustard. Some of the beats are spare and jittery, while other songs feature the loping bounce of classic ’90s West Coast rap. Thematically, it’s an eclectic mix of good-time party tracks and moodier ones about surviving in the streets, police brutality and the stupidity of crossing YG.
When asked to elaborate about the shooting in his first interview since the shooting, he’s reticent and vague — which is perhaps unsurprising, as he was reportedly uncooperative with police investigating it. There are frequent interruptions from his entourage, who continuously ask to stop discussing the incident. YG would rather focus on his new album (which he says he’s half finished), and what he calls his blessings: “I’m still here, and I feel lucky.”
What happened the night you got shot?
A little incident. I got shot in my hip, but I’m all right.
Who shot you?
I don’t know, and it don’t matter. I got lucky because a main artery is right there, right around the groin. The bullet didn’t go that deep, and it didn’t hit any bones.
Bullet? Reports said you were shot three times.
Nah, I got shot one time. It was three bullet holes because it went in, went out and went back in again.
Did you really not see who shot you? What do you think their motivation was? Was it gang-related?
It was not gang-related at all. It just happened out of the blue. We don’t know who did it, we don’t know why. We don’t know nothing.
What was going through your mind when it happened?
Survival. After I got shot, I’m telling everybody, “Take me to the hospital, because I can’t die.” We hop in my homie’s car and bam — we got in a car accident! We hit an island trying to avoid another car. We had to hop out of the totaled car, hop in another car. At the hospital we had to tell people, “Take me serious right now — you don’t even understand what’s going on.” It was wild.
How are you feeling now?
I’m good. I left the hospital that night, and the next day I went back to the studio. Nobody wanted me to go. My mama tells me, “What are you talking about ‘going to the studio?’” But you know, I got shit to do — this shit don’t stop for nobody. I came straight to the studio on my little crutches.
You’re a tough guy.
Yeah. I’m hard to kill.
Who contacted you while you were at the hospital?
Everybody — family, friends, the label. Lil’ Boosie Facetimed me. I was in the hospital, in a wheelchair, and I lost all my contacts but I see the 504, so I knew it wasn’t anybody in L.A., so I ask who it is and he says, “It’s Boosie. What’s up man, you straight?” He was real concerned, he was like, “My n—a, you good?” and I’m like “Yeah,” and he was like “All right, my n—a.” I know who cares about me and who’s faking. I don’t have to get shot to figure that out.
You’ve openly talked about being around guns before. You said in an interview that your best friend gave you your first gun nine years ago. What was that like?
Ohhhh [laughs out loud]. You are going to make me look like a terrible person.
No, I’m just asking you questions about your life.
People are already feeling some type of way about this, you feel me? If I put all that out there, it’s just going to keep scaring people.
I’m not trying to make you look bad or scare anyone.
I’m going to keep it real. But, at the same time, I just got shot and I’m already getting blackballed for me being shot. That shit already going on. This is the first interview, so if I come out YG on Billboard talking about guns and all this shit, it’s going to make me look like… you feel me?
Your first album features your mom screaming at you about quitting gangbanging. Will she have to do that again on this album?
I haven’t gotten that far yet. My parents told me when I was young, “You’re going to be dead or in jail,” all that shit. Now that I got [shot], they try to tell me more stuff. My family is always praying for me. But I’m not doing what I was doing back in the day. I was robbing, breaking into houses. I ain’t doing that. I am who I am, though — still. The streets made me who I am.
You just played a new track “Twist Your Fingers” about your experience being shot. Was that hard for you?
Was it hard to write about the situation? No, not at all. I mention it and talk about it on the record and let everyone know what and let everyone know whatever they going to know. I’ve been through real shit and I still go through real shit, and I made it in sticky situations and turned the negative into a positive.
Another track for the new album sounded like you were very angry with a woman for lying to you. Have you ever had your heart broken?
Yeah. That’s probably why I ain’t got one. That shit broke. It’s filled with all different type of shit that’s f—ed up. It’s not a good feeling. My heart is numb. It’s not broke, it’s numb. It’s numb because of hard situations.
Do you feel like it’s really hard to get close to people because of that?
I have trust issues. For reasons, though, plenty of reasons. Like, I don’t know who shot me. I trust nobody across the board. If I ain’t with you almost every day, if you ain’t pulling up, if I ain’t calling you, I don’t trust you, especially now. I know a lot of people be mad, jealous or whatever it is, some people feel like I’m not touchable but I’m still out here, and that make it worse.
Is DJ Mustard on the new album? Are you friends, beefing again, still owed money or what?
Beefing again [Laughs]. No, we straight. He got a joint on the new album I think. I’m still figuring it all out.
Do you think your last album was underrated by the general public? Although many critics loved it, it didn’t sell like it might have.
No, I look at it like Jay Z’s first album Reasonable Doubt, which was like the same situation. People were just unfamiliar with my first album and they didn’t really think I was going to make it as far as I did. But I think my sound has grown since. When I drop this new album you aren’t going to feel like I went too left trying to switch it up. It’s still a good follow-up album talking about real situations in my life.
You went to jail for six months for burglary in 2009. Did that change the way you view things at all?
When I was in jail, I had to learn how to have patience. That helped me with a lot of stuff now that’s going on. I had no patience at first. In certain situations, I learned how to have it. When I went to jail, it was a real sticky situation. When I caught my case, they started bringing up other cases while I was in jail. It really never turned out to be nothing, but, if I would have been caught up in that, I would have been in jail for like four years. So when I got home, I got that rush and it made me realize that I’m here for a reason, and then a few months later I got signed. That’s how I really knew I was blessed.
You weren’t allowed to perform at some of your shows in Southern California nine months ago. The local police departments wanted more security measures around you, but it was deemed too expensive. Do you think you attract danger?
That’s just bullshit. They just hating. All my shows, they have been smooth. There ain’t nothing going on. They canceled my other shows, and I know it’s somebody behind the scenes and they feel some type of way about me. I’m out here doing nothing to nobody. I don’t know what they seeing and hearing, but I’m still crazy. People trying to blackball me, and I got shot? Studios, they don’t want to book me. They need extra security, what?
Say you hadn’t survived the shooting. What’s the one message you would have wanted to tell the world?
No, no — that ain’t happening, you feel me? I don’t like to think like that.
An edited version of this story appears in the July 3 issue of Billboard. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.