Album of the Week: YG's 'Still Brazy'

On June 20, 2016

by Michael Penn II

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Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week's album is YG's sophomore album, Still Brazy. 

Within the first 90 seconds of Still Brazy, YG and the homies placed a ban on all perpetrators who suddenly mutate their way into Piru status once they see their first palm tree out of LAX:

I don’t give a fuck who you niggas paying / Who name you saying, you ain’t good round here / Cuz y’all niggas fuckin’ up the rep / Y’all playin’ with the set, it’s really war round here!

Off top, it’s clear YG 400 is through with the fake gangsta shit. It’s a territorial moment of clarity that’s necessary in the dialogue around gang culture’s mainstream impact; after YG and many others - Young Thug, Chief Keef, ScHoolBoy Q, of course older Lil Wayne - it’s as easy as it’s treacherous to see street phonetics transcend into default American modern slang. I know because I’m as guilty of it as the tenth-graders I see describing how bool their school day was in iMessage. Not to mention how casually “bang bang” and “3hunna” became staples in random conversation after “I Don’t Like” catapulted drill music into national consciousness.

The casual fan knows damn well not to play with any B, C, or K replacement in Compton or The Hundreds or East New York. It’s a tangled web we weave, the adoration of our gangsters. To hear such resentment from YG begs the question of how mainstream success has affected him; to swim in the money of whomever can afford the ticket, while seeing the kids dabble in hood shit like it’s gospel. Then again, that’s the least of his issue on Still Brazy: he still doesn’t know who shot him, he’s watching cops shoot other people, he’s falling out with his closest friends, and everyone finds time to beg him for money even if they’re not there in his darkest hour. Where My Krazy Life played out in the reminiscent coming-of-age format that birthed the style he’s advancing, the chip on his Chuck Taylors are clear: YG is embodying “mo’ money, mo’ problems” and he’s stepping up because he’s tired of the bullshit.

In 47 minutes, YG gracefully takes the quintessential steps in avoiding the sophomore slump: delving deeper into his personal darkness, curating a grander step in addressing the worldview, and not fucking up the wave that got him there. He fires on all three cylinders by embracing the challenges around defeating perceptions of himself and where he comes from. There’s little-to-no fat in this tracklist, with the skits serving as short bursts to contextualize YG’s mindframe.

Still Brazy is an album you can run through at any point in the summer without feeling drained, thanks to the standard YG fare like “Word is Bond” and “I Got a Question,” which features an above-average Wayne verse that feels harder to come by in 2016. “Why You Always Hatin’?” isn’t exactly a home-run in the YG/Drake saga, thanks to Drake sounding more dialed in, but we’re graced with Kamaiyah’s chant that’ll prove relevant for the next few years at least, whether or not the record goes platinum as YG prophesizes.

But there’s an instant classic in “Twist My Fingaz:” in the vein of “Who Do You Love?,” Terrace Martin’s inviting synth/talkbox combos provide a refreshing reintroduction we didn’t know we needed: the one where YG sounds like he’s having fun with all the shit he’s inherited no matter who wants to see him fall. It’s the joyful-but-careful record that rings off as theme music for our protagonist with enough space for him to describe how antagonizing his world is. If Baby Boy caught a remake this summer, Tyrese and Yvette would bump this in the 2000 Honda Accord with the gold Daytons, on the way to cop two steak tacos from Lucy’s. The shit is that serious.

Despite the noted absence of DJ Mustard - they’ve fought, and since made up - the sonics of Still Brazy are certified G-funk that’s unmistakably designed to bump any-and-everywhere. DJ Swish, Terrace Martin, CT Beats, P-Lo, and 1500 or Nothin found the balance to turn the new effort into a period piece that’s conscious of the present while being firmly rooted in the Dre, Snoop, and Quik before it. The best G-funk of that ‘90s aesthetic carried an imaginative quality that articulates its surroundings to the point where the listener could envision the fun as well as the paranoia. “Who Shot Me?” sounds like spare thoughts over a blunt by yourself at the end of the day, while “Bool, Balm & Bollective” is as breezy as its title, giving YG room to breathe and reflect while seeking counsel from the OGs that’ve seen the game before.

I bet those same OGs told him about the type of bullshit police be on in neighborhoods like the CPT. If they didn’t, YG damn sure experienced it and is sickened by it. So much so, the last few laps of Still Brazy - another instant-classic “FDT,” the vignette-style “Blacks & Browns” and the grimacing “Police Get Away Wit’ Murder” are dedicated to condemning violence of the physical and political nature. Without revealing too much, it’s one of the most intriguing sections you’ll find on a rap LP this year.

From his interview with Matthew Strauss of Pitchfork in June 2016:

“I see a lot of motherfuckers ain’t speaking up in the rap game, or just powerful motherfuckers with the platform to speak up and make a difference about what’s going on out here. They really not doing that, so I’m sitting back peeping what’s going on, I really be feeling some type of way about a lot of things, so it was just like, “Fuck it, I’m about to start saying something about it.” I already got blackballed and police already got something against me so it’s like, “Fuck it, I might as well keep taking it—fuck it, probable cause.”
On that note, the one large blemish I found on the album is “She Wish She Was” with Jay 305 & Joe Moses: a record condemning the hell out of women who want to fuck whomever they want, in a pool of records where the cast and crew are fucking whomever throughout with no issue except for catching a disease or beefing with another man over it.  It’s a conflicting moment we (the men) must learn to deal with. “She Wish She Was” is eerily reminiscent of the explicit rhetoric found in G-funk, with the MCs berating the ladies in-between the chorus, something easily found on The Chronic. To suggest this rhetoric is newfangled or invented by YG, or any gangster rapper, is the very fallacy built on the mainstream’s simultaneous reverence and reviling of hip-hop and Black people overall.

But within this moment lies an opportunity: as YG continues to push forward with his art - reconciling with his own demons while targeting the societal and structural violence plaguing his community - will he shed the patriarchal normativity he, like all men, inherited to whichever degree? Time will tell, but he shouldn’t be robbed of his chance to engage with that in the same fashion he’s engaging the police on his block or the fools attempting to run our nation into the ground.

Still Brazy is an impactful elevation of the blockbuster G-funk efforts YG is staking his claim for. He’s paranoid and unsure of what the hell is real in his world, but it hasn’t consumed him to the point where he can’t fuck the streets up every summer. The more overt political implications of this album are already leaving their marks… it’s safe to assume the Secret Service is the reason why the album version of “FDT” is censored in an ungodly fashion. Threats of sniping Trump are one thing, but why censor “Black love and brown pride in the sets again” as if that’s not positive building for the hood and the nation? Furthermore, will the white kids who bool outside of Starbucks shout about dispelling Latino stereotypes or say LaQuan McDonald’s name when YG comes to their town? All in all, if the Grammy committee doesn’t want elementary-school kids bicketing through the streets in anti-Trump gear this time, the case is stronger than ever to throw a nomination to the Tree Top side this time around.

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Michael Penn II

Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.

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