yg talks beyoncé, trump, and the classic codes of california style
The Bompton rapper’s sophomore record ‘Still Brazy’ and a new offshoot of his clothing line officially arrive today. We catch up with gangsta rap’s torchbearer about all things SoCal: from the pared-down poetry of crisply pressed Dickies, to the...
When YG arrives to our interview, his demeanor mirrors one title of the 17 tracks comprising his sophomore record Still Brazy — balm, bool, and bollected (his c's are replaced with b's out of deference to his Tree Top Piru Bloods gang). But I soon learn he's a bit pressed for time, as he's due for a meeting with Queen Bey. After the pop icon slayed a dance routine to a remixed version of Still Brazy's most viral hit, "Fuck Donald Trump," on the opening night of her blockbuster Formation tour in Miami, she called up the LA rapper to join her onstage during her sold out New York run.
Queen Bey and the Prince of Bompton are not an obvious duo. For all her dexterous genre bending — her ceaseless attempts to push pop's limits by concocting elixirs of country, gospel, and hip hop — Beyoncé hasn't yet played with the codes at the core of YG's sound: pure G-funk. But despite these divergent approaches — Beyoncé the ringleader of chameleonic pop experimentation, YG the steadfast student of Southern California — the artists do share important common ground. Both are increasingly using their platforms to speak urgently and authentically about the experience of being black in America.
Still Brazy, which celebrates its official release today, follows YG's explosive debut full length record, My Krazy Life. Similar to his Bompton compatriot Kendrick Lamar's breakout album good kid, m.A.A.d city, My Krazy Life sketches a day in the life of a South Central gangster. Yet where Kendrick's woozily artful character study enshrines a complicated relationship with his hood, YG straight up celebrates it. My Krazy Life didn't simply harken back to Doggystyle and The Chronic's sonic structures, but their humorous, revelrous realism.
Two years later, YG says his sophomore release also follows a personal path. Where My Krazy Life "incorporated skits and scenes," YG says he tried to "weave more interludes and my own narration into this album — approaching ways to set those scenes from a different style, a movie style." As a result, Still Brazy documents contemporary Bompton by interrogating how power politics shape lived experience. "The new album is really based on the last two years of my life. But as I've grown, as opportunities have grown, I've decided to speak about what was really going on — how I'm feeling, how the people is feeling."
The record's A-side contains both darkly personal tracks ("Who Shot Me" and "Twist My Fingaz" are windows into the rapper's mindset after being shot at outside a recording studio last year) and impossibly catchy cuts — like "Why You Always Hatin?" for which he teamed up with Oakland rapper Kamaiyah and reunited with Drake. The latter half of Still Brazy, though, contains "a couple political joints" — to say the least. "Police Get Away Wit Murder," the record's charged-up closer, sees the rapper read names of unarmed victims of police killings. "Fuck Donald Trump," a collaborative anthem with Nipsey Hussle that The New York Times has called "the first great protest song of this insurgent election season," makes the pair's feelings about the orange oligarch cathartically plain. "We came up with the idea just off a conversation about what's needed in the rap game, in the community, in life, and how we really feel. We knew it was going to come with some consequences, but we said fuck em," YG explains. "FDT" as it's now known not only had its music video shoot shut down, but prompted the FBI and Secret Service to investigate all of Still Brazy's lyrics. "We did this other song called 'Blacks & Browns,' where Sad Boy, a Hispanic artist, is talking about what they go through and what they got going on in they culture. He said some shit towards Donald Trump and [the FBI] made him take the lines out," says YG. "But we did it because the record is important."
The rest of the game seems to consider regional rap distinctions all but dead; think of the Harlemite A$AP Mob's simultaneous allegiance to Houston and Memphis sounds, or of DJ Mustard — who crafted many of My Krazy Life's bubbling ratchet beats — turning his mega-hitmaking Midas touch to genres like EDM. But YG remains faithful to the gangsta rap that raised him: its sonic structures — whiny synths, deep bass grooves, pitch-adjusted funk samples — as well as its lyrical tradition of confronting institutional power structures and encouraging communal resistance to injustice. There's a reason why Straight Outta Compton is the highest grossing music biopic of all time, and why forthcoming Tupac film All Eyez on Me is generating such immense hype: the issues shaping the West Coast's sounds and stories still feel tragically urgent. "The rap game has been watered down for a minute. There haven't been many people using their platform, speaking up, encouraging people to really get involved in politics and know what's going on in the world, in they communities — where we from, where we live, where we pay taxes at," YG explains.
Yet YG isn't simply the modern day torchbearer for the West Coast's seminal sounds, he's the epitome of its style legacy, too. Where brand names and luxury labels have long captivated East Coast power players, Southern California's most iconic MCs have largely remained faithful to the street's minimalist uniform: crisply pressed Dickies, tall white socks, clean Converse all stars, oversized plain tees, and starchy bandanas. YG celebrates and elevates this aspect of Cali culture in his own designs under his labels 4Hunnid and Bompton, a new cut-and-sew offshoot that launches today at a pop-up shop cum art installation in Los Angeles. "There really ain't been nobody from the West Coast to come out with a clothing line, so I'm trying to attack that — bring some shit that ain't nobody brought. I try to keep my approach to designing raw and true; I'm really coming from the culture, the gang culture, and bringing it to the fashion sphere to show people that we know how to get fly too," YG says.
Whether in sound or style — tapping into the West Coast's turn-up tradition or its potent political history — YG says he'll always keep California close. "That's just something that I'm going to do for the rest of my life. I'm always going to keep California in the mix, keep LA in the mix, that's just me. I don't know nothing else but that."
Text Emily Manning
Photography Eric Chakeen