1st of the Month is a monthly column that reviews the notable rap releases. This month's edition tackles YG, Snoop and more.
Then he negotiates, presumably via text, his safe exit from his latest romantic entanglement, and explains to his astonished friend just how he was able to do it. And that’s all in the first thirty seconds of “Bool, Balm, and Bollective,” a B-side afterthought from YG’s sophomore album, Still Brazy.
Much has been made about the Compton rapper’s since-resolved falling out with his longtime collaborator, DJ Mustard, and his subsequent move toward G-funk on last summer’s lead single, “Twist My Fingaz” (included here to superb effect). But YG is no revivalist. While roughly half of Still Brazy finds its roots in Quik and Dre and Warren G and the elder Bush and Clinton administrations broadly, the other half chases later West coast strains, from the jerkin scene that birthed him to the hyphy that birthed Mustard’s brand of ratchet. But what ties Still Brazy together--what makes it this year’s first bona-fide classic, and one of the best albums from Los Angeles this decade--is the marked evolution of YG’s rapping.
That scene from “Bool, Balm” scrapes the surface. On “I Got a Question,” he poses a series of alternately plain and spiritual queries, and delicately traces the arc of a dissolving relationship; on “Who Shot Me?” he works through his paranoia over an attempt on his life last summer and imagines himself memorialized on airbrushed t-shirts. “Why You Always Hatin” makes smart use of this spring’s breakout star Kamaiyah on the hook; in the first verse, YG coaches Drake through a drawled flow well-suited for the track. After the nice man from Canada does his nice imitation, YG snaps upright and spends the rest of the song flexing, including over his ability to get Drake on his single.
Still Brazy ends with a three-songs suite that grapples with political issues, in the form of out-and-out protest songs (“FDT,” which appears in edited form, allegedly due to pressure from the Secret Service), and as critiques of law enforcement (“Blacks and Browns” and “Police Get Away With Murder”). When I interviewed YG in the weeks leading up to the album’s release, he told me that he was fed up with those artists who have a platform to speak on sociopolitical issues but choose not to. It’s a reminder that none of the surface-level hallmarks of gangsta rap (the ones recognized by middle America, at least) exist in a vacuum. Similarly, L.A. gangsta rap as a genre has grown and morphed and been invaded by the outside world, by crooked cops and Keak da Sneak and kids who make up dances on Youtube. YG’s seen all that, and he’s here to tie up loose ends.
It helps that he has one of the greatest voices to ever grace the genre; it also helps that he has the connections to bury a very good Timbaland beat as track 17 of 20. COOLAID isn’t essential, but it’ll one day be a compelling time capsule of sorts from one of half-dozen human beings who best mastered the physical act of rapping.
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