In 1994, just outside of Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan, New York, Tupac Shakur was ambushed and shot five times. As he was taken out on a stretcher, he flipped his iconic middle finger to those around the scene. He suspected that it was a setup by Diddy and Notorious B.I.G., and alleged triggerman, Jimmy Henchman.
On June 12, 2015, Compton rapper YG was shot while recording at Studio City in Los Angeles, California. Similar to Pac’s shooting, YG believes that his shooting was closer to an orchestrated job rather than random act of violence. The shooter knew the studio’s gate code, but YG still hasn’t figured out who caused the three bullet wounds on his hip, all of which narrowly avoided a main artery near his groin. As much as YG is the prodigal son of the renowned G-funk era made possible by 90’s West Coast rappers, his insecurities dominate his consciousness – YG never raised his middle finger because he didn’t have a clear target.
Understandably, YG has been fucked up from this situation and the paranoia floods his sophomore album, Still Brazy. YG’s uneasy maturation is not just a reflection of his idiosyncrasies, but also of the multi-faceted cultures of gangs and blackness.
A little more than two years ago, YG debuted with My Krazy Life, and the album went gold. It’s a fly-on-the-wall tour of YG’s everyday life as a Blood affiliate in Compton, L.A. With the help of friend and producer, DJ Mustard, YG’s street-bred lyricism flourished and offered a perspective many active gang members may know, but few can articulate. My Krazy Life’s highlights like “Bicken Back Being Bool,” “BPT” and “Really Be (Smokin N Drinkin’)” proved YG could make the rough and rigid life in “Bompton” a visceral experience to his audience. On Still Brazy, he continues with similar narratives, but this time he’s less guarded, and his paranoia flows like the blood from his wounds last summer.
Still Brazy’s initial lyrical scope is personal. On “Who Shot Me?,” a clear reference to Notorious B.I.G.’s legendary diss track “Who Shot Ya?,” YG investigates his own shooting. With genuine vulnerability, he raps, “I can’t sleep at night this shit uncomfortable/ Having nightmares of me coming for dude/ Having a hard time putting together two and two/ They was in a brand new truck, somebody sent them dudes/ They knew the code to my gate that was awkward.” YG complies an unsettling list of potential causes and culprits. The betrayal, he decides, was probably because, “Shit, I’m the closest with some money that they know of.” On title track “Still Brazy,” YG reveals substance abuse to be a coping mechanism, “Shit real, I ain’t tryna be pretty/ Paranoia got this Henny in my kidney/ Cause I don’t know if they’re with me or against me.”
As Still Brazy continues, YG uses his personal experience to take on broader issues. “Don’t Come to LA” exposes the Blood lifestyle for not being what many perceive it to be. Don’t pose to be a Blood, he explains, because for the few highs there are many devastating lows that aren’t to be tried on as a costume.
At the album’s end, YG widens his outlook even further with a three-headed monster of socially conscious tracks – “Police Get Away Wit Murder,” “Blacks and Browns” and “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump).” Accompanied by Sadboy, in “Blacks and Browns,” YG unleashes bitter truths about the hardships endured by California’s Black and Mexican populations. As his first verse progresses, he raps about injustice in the prison system, explaining, “It’s fucked up around here, soon as you locked up around here/ The rest end up stuck up around here/ So I’m speaking for my peers cause I still see their tears.” Showing a deep frustration with institutional racism, he praises the notion of blacks staying united while continuing his uproar on “Blacks and Browns,” “We need to come together, fuck they system/ Tired of being a victim, tired of racism/ So I’mma spit this ism ’til this shit stop/ Cause this that “nigga, we all we got!” “Police Get Away wit Murder” breaks down the rise in killings of blacks by police in the past two years. Its ending and reverberating tribute to David Joseph, Kimani Gray and Laquan McDonald is reminiscent of outspoken West Coast predecessors like Ice Cube and Tupac.
Still Brazy’s lyrical ferocity is aided by a new, diverse range of production. DJ Mustard isn’t as much of a resounding force as heavy hitters like Terrace Martin, Hit-Boy and Ty Dolla $ign contribute to the sonic background. It was a successful experiment, and YG has moved from the party-themed, ratchet songs DJ Mustard provided for 90% of My Krazy Life, to a layered, synth-inclusive West Coast sound. He even followed the footsteps of Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Tha Dogg Pound by sampling. the legendary George Clinton on the album’s lead single Twist My Fingaz.
Since one of his first hits “Toot it and Boot it,” YG has been dedicated to unveiling the L.A. street life and the fun that can also arise. Still Brazy maintains that style, but the fun seems to be short-lived for YG. He may be the self-proclaimed best rapper on the West Coast, but his near-death experience keeps him looking over this shoulder.