YG Is America's Voice of Reason in Brazy Times
Photos by Jason Favreau
Earlier this week, I watched YG walk into the room where we were scheduled to meet. He began inspecting the refreshments that had been laid out, settling on a package of fruit snacks and looking over the selection of sodas before asking for a bottle of water. He walks with a casual, leonine grace; as much as I’ve ever seen anyone saunter, I would say YG saunters, his demeanor nonchalant but fully present. He was wearing a red dad hat that read “4Hunnid,” a plain white T-shirt, plaid cargo shorts, and sneakers without socks, by all appearances just another guy who had just been chilling at the coffee shop around the corner. Two and a half years ago, when the Compton rapper was promoting his first album, My Krazy Life, he carried himself with a cocky lassitude that immediately marked him as a popular musician on the rise. Now, YG seems more self-possessed: You can tell he’s charismatic and important without having any clue as to what it is that makes him successful. He might be an entrepreneur or an actor or perhaps the best gangster rapper LA has produced in a generation, which he is.
YG’s new album, Still Brazy, is not the kind of rap album that plays to the meme-driven music discourse of 2016 or panders with flashy guest artists. Even as the music industry has become more singles driven, YG—who has been no stranger to crafting hit singles in the past and staked his place in the LA scene as, essentially, a party rapper—doubled down on crafting a front-to-back album set in a single, self-contained sonic world that effortlessly pulls together the sounds of two and a half decades of California rap. The poppiest moment, “Twist My Fingaz,” is a tough reworking of classic G-funk tropes. The ostensible crossover moment, the sneering, Drake-featuring “Why You Always Hatin’,” leans on a hook from Oakland rapper Kamaiyah that seems to layer together every piece of warm 90s California bounce.
Still Brazy is full of psychologically intense narratives, pointed fuck-yous, and a strong dose of pragmatic political vitriol. It grimly analyzes an incident during its creation in which YG was shot at his studio (which he also recently discussed in our VICELAND special “YG and the Therapist”) on “Who Shot Ya,” and the final track of the album, “Police Get Away with Murder,” which catalogs the police killings of unarmed citizens like Kimani Gray and Laquan McDonald, ends with the ominous pronouncement “and they wonder why I live life looking over my shoulder.” It’s a dark world, painstakingly explored.
Yet the moment that stands out above all is a no-nonsense single with Nipsey Hussle called “Fuck Donald Trump.” Somewhat improbably—this is, after all, the rapper who first became famous for a song called “Toot It and Boot It”—it has become the definitive protest song in an absurdly contentious election year. It is the rare piece of political art that is legitimately badass, that has a hook (“fuck Donald Trump”) that you can’t help but yell out, really even just at random intervals. YG told me that people just start yelling “fuck Donald Trump” when they see him the street now. He has become the avatar of speaking out against America’s worst racist demagogue at a time when, given Trump’s enormous public platform, having such a voice on the our side, the people’s side, the side of reason, feels deeply, viscerally necessary. YG has always been cool, but this might be his coolest moment yet.
Noisey Beats1 caught up with YG on the set of the “Why You Always Hatin’” video to discuss his music (listen to the full episode here), and he spoke a little more on his recent visit to the VICE offices in New York, breaking down this recent political situation.
Noisey: What did it feel like to have Still Brazy come out and for people to hear it all around the world?
YG: Shit, it feels good. I was in a dark space for a cool minute, so to be able to get that off my chest and get that out the way and start moving around out here is a good feeling.
What was it like working with Terrace Martin on this album?
That’s the homie. He was on the first album. He did a little bit more on this album. I like working with Terrace because he’s a real musician. He’s a real producer. I can go tell him an idea, or “I want you to flip this sample” and he knows how to do all of that. There’s a lot of music people, and they’re not producers; they’re beat makers. So when you got those special people around, it’s good to keep them around because that’s rare.
What song do you think showcases Terrace’s songwriting and arrangement ability the most?
“Bool, Balm & Bollective.”
Talk about writing “Bool Balm & Bollective.” What was that like for you?
He was downstairs making a beat. I heard it and came down like, “yeah, I like this, I got something for it.” And I just started going in. That’s how it happens sometimes for me: I’ll hear a beat, and if I fuck with it I’m going to go in on it ASAP.
What’s “Don’t Come to LA” about?
“Don’t Come to LA” is talking about how out-of-towners come to LA, and they try to start claiming the culture, the lifestyle. And they’re really not from it. That’s really what’s it’s about. It’s about how niggas need to stop letting that shit happen. It’s making the shit watered down, and there’s a lot of people out here who feel that way. But they just don’t have the voice and the platform to speak and press the line and let motherfuckers know like, yeah, that shit ain’t bool. So I had to do it.
What’s the story behind Drake getting on “Why You Always Hatin’”?
That’s regular. Everybody keeps asking me that question. I sent the homie the song, and he said he fucked with it, and he hopped on it, and he sent it back, and it’s out.
What about Kamaiyah? You guys have really connected. What draws you to her music?
She’s up next. She’s got her own style, sound. I ain’t never heard of, seen no female artist come out of Oakland on some rap shit and be successful. She’s got a lot of hunger. They’ve got their whole shit that they go through out there, as far as the music industry and making it out of Oakland. They feel like Oakland don’t get no love, the Bay period. So she got a lot of shit she’s trying to prove. She’s dope.
What’s the connection between the Bay and LA right now, musically?
We fuck with each other. The Bay fucks with me heavy. Super heavy. I’ve been going out there since like 2008, fucking with them, doing shows all in the hood, in the ghetto. Shooting videos, all that type of shit. Everybody’s fucking with everybody’s music right now, though.
Have people been asking you about the therapist stuff you shot with us for VICELAND?
Yeah, people have been liking the therapist stuff. They said it got to them, it touched their heart, I made them want to cry. I’ve been hearing all type of wild shit. My peoples told me they thought I should go talk to a therapist, and I went and talked to a therapist, and we let VICE record it. You got to do some different shit sometimes.
What’s the weirdest reaction you’ve heard from it?
My pops hit me like, “man, we need to talk. I heard some of the shit you was saying up in there, man. That shit opened my eyes up to certain different situations. We need to talk.” I’m like, “what the fuck do we need to talk about? You’re scaring me, my nigga.” But yeah.
With the song “Police Get Away with Murder,” that’s a big topic right now. Why was it important to have that on the album?
That’s something that’s going on right now, and really we ain’t got nobody from a rap side, from the rap community really speaking, pressing the line with authority, speaking up for the people out here. All that was going on when I was working on the album. It was just like me and my homies and the people around, we used to always just talk about what was going on at the time: the Mike Brown situation, Eric Garner situation, and many more innocent people that got killed by the police, all the stuff that was happening in Baltimore, and all that.
So we were talking about it a lot, and I’m the type of dude where I don’t like to talk about shit too much. It’s either we’re going to do something about it, or we’re going to leave it alone. And that was something that was just always talked about. You see it on the news, and it’s like, who’s going to really press the line and go in with some authority, though? People say shit, but it doesn’t really get felt or they don’t feel like it’s a threat because it’s done in a soft way. I guess I got to take that role. So I did the record, and then more shit started happening.
My people told me to put the record out around when the Baltimore stuff was happening, but I was like “nah, I don’t want to put this record out to make it seem like I’m trying to capitalize on what’s going on right now. I’m going to save it for my album because it’s some real shit.” Shit just kept going on, so that’s how other records like “Fuck Donald Trump” and “Blacks and Browns” came. Because I was feeling some type of way while I was working on my album, and we were talking about it too much, so then I made records about the shit.
Do you think now is the time for artists to start writing stuff like that?
Yeah, motherfuckers got to because this shit is watered down. I’m getting tired of this shit because there’s a lot of motherfuckers who get glorified through this rap shit, and it’s like y’all should feel like this is an obligation if you’re a part of hip-hop culture, period point blank. That’s what it was built off of. It started with the artists rapping about what was going on in they communities and in the culture and using that to wake motherfuckers up and get them involved and let motherfuckers know we out here, we’re going to come together if it’s really needed. And it ain’t been like that, so I’m pressing that line.
Your early music is all about partying, but now that you have “Fuck Donald Trump,” you’ve become the face of that idea. What does that feel like, to have everyone asking you about politics?
I ain’t no politician. I just know when some shit ain’t right, and my people know it ain’t right, and my people ain’t feeling it. I’m speaking for the streets, for the people down here. I can be their spokesperson. I ain’t no politician. I can’t talk too much about that shit. But I know some shit ain’t right, bro.
Justin Staple is a producer for Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.
Kyle Kramer is an editor at Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.