Bompton’s very own keeps it West Coast with his sophomore LP
‘Gangster’ (or ‘gangsta’, which ever you prefer) is a term that’s thrown around lightly a lot by modern-day rappers to back up their persona or the message behind their music. Sure, it’s a significant component in what makes up hip-hop, but these days it’s practiced far more scarcely in the mainstream than it was back in the ‘golden age’ of the 90’s, where this gangster aesthetic was the image that people most associated with the genre. Nowadays, it seems rappers are much more akin to starting the new fashion trend than staking their claim to the street life; with the likes of Kanye, Drake and A$AP Rocky all dressing themselves in the finest furs as opposed to advocating the way of the thug. Then there’s YG’s ‘Still Brazy‘. And YG doesn’t give a shit.
Exploring the more nostalgic sounds within hip-hop is something that’s done pretty frequently across the genre in contemporary music. No, not in the more prominent rappers at the top of the game, but if you look in the right places there are plenty of artists (from both coasts) that seek to revive the many old-school styles that served as the foundation for the music we know today. Born and raised Compton rapper YG is one of these artists looking to keep the signature West Coast G-funk/Gangsta rap sound alive. His debut album ‘My Krazy Life‘ certainly reinforced the gangster image that YG was keen to advocate, but the production from DJ Mustard, while certainly unique, didn’t exactly scream California. For this follow-up project however DJ what-you-put-on-a-hot-dog is nowhere to be found, with DJ Swish and a host of other different producers behind the instrumentals on this record. Following a short intro skit, you instantly get a sense that this LP has been crafted with more purpose than the last, with the ominous bass guitar and eerie keys of ‘Don’t Come to LA’ setting the scene of the gritty, perilous Compton streets. It’s a hell of an introduction to the record too, YG warning those that dare come to his area and try to be part of the gang culture that there will be consequences; saying not to let him”Catch yo ass slipping at the BET Awards“.
When I say ‘setting the scene’ I mean it, too. While some tracks do it better than others, the whole record manages to keep up the consistent modern-day G-funk style and YG matches it with a cadence and flow that perfectly captures his tough guy persona. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the track ‘Twist My Fingaz‘; one which sounds like a more edgier Snoop Dogg record from the mid 90’s. With its use of a talk box vocals throughout and the drawn-out theremin-like melody it’s a real throwback to old-school Cali’ anthems that stood as the flagship sounds of the past decade. Here, he represents his Piru Bloods colours and proudly beats his chest claiming “I’m the only one who made it out the West without Dre“. Another standout track is ‘I Got A Question‘ featuring Lil Wayne, where the hook addresses less relatable problems to the average person such as “When the police gon’ stop pressing me? / When my bitch gon’ stop stressing me, second guessing me? / Will the truth really set you free?“. The beat is stellar here, the bouncing synth-bassline and brittle snares really place you in the suspicion-filled Compton streets, sat in a ’64 Chevy Impala with the window down and the music loud.
Though the instrumentals are a real treat, YG takes the reins at certain points to eclipse the beat and really capture what it means to be a celebrity thug and the tribulations that come with the fame. The track ‘Who Shot Me?‘ addresses the very question you think it would; who shot YG? Last June, while leaving the studio, the rapper was shot in the hip and later hospitalized. The identity of the shooter is still unknown to this day. As you would expect, the bars here are fueled by paranoia and doubt about those close to him, epitomized by the hard-hitting opening lines “I’m like, “Damn, did the homies set me up?” / Cause we ain’t really been talking much / I know that sounds sick, my thoughts dark as fuck / Like the barrel of the pistol I saw when he sparked it up“. Merged with the slow, creeping bass and you have one of the most enjoyably real tracks from the LP, showing the ugly side of life as a target due to being not only an enemy of the Crips (the other African-American gang in Compton), but also being a rich celebrity figure that others from the hood may resent. His affiliation to the Bloods gang is no more apparent than in the cut ‘Bool, Balm & Bollective‘, named as such because of Bloods gang members refusal to pronounce words beginning with C as a middle finger to the Crips. The track in fact kind of juxtaposes the aforementioned one, proclaiming he’s collective (or ‘bollective’) in the face of danger and his mindset is still the same, even after being shot.
Don’t think just because the California rapper is hood through and through he can’t get a little political either, as he’s not afraid to show off his socially conscious side towards the latter end of the album. The track ‘FDT‘ (standing for ‘Fuck Donald Trump‘) is probably the political hip-hop anthem of the year, a diss track entirely dedicated to America’s most controversial figure, and in all honesty it’s a fantastically blunt piece of political satire that doesn’t beat around the bush to send its message: “I’m ready to go right now, your racist ass did too much / I’m ’bout to turn Black Panther“. Shortly after this we get the final track of the LP ‘Police Get Away wit Murder‘, a more hyphy, up tempo cut that blends a rolling hi-hat drumline with a host of gritty synths that back YG perfectly as he expresses his anger at the Police, especially those that shoot innocent African-Americans in the California area; an all too regular occurrence. It’s a wonderfully energetic and anger-driven song that the rapper kills with a combative delivery across lines like “The truth motherfucker, hear the truth motherfucker / I’ve really got a story, this ain’t a spoof motherfucker / We’ll put our hands up and they’ll still shoot motherfucker / And post on trial for one to two motherfucker“.
Even when the instrumentals switch the style up just a little the album still mostly shines through its combination of producer and rapper. The song ‘Still Brazy’, that of course shares its title with the record, has a more uptempo and frenetic atmosphere , with its rolling hi-hats and jumping bass. YG discusses how his life has become so crazy due to the various aspects of being both rich and famous merged with the responsibility of still being a gangster. He questions “Why everybody want a piece of my pie?” in rebuttal to those that only come to him now he has money, accommodating his flow to good effect and showing he can spit over more than just a slower G-funk beat. The rare occurrence where a change in style doesn’t result in as much enjoyment is in the case of one of the pre-released singles for the LP; ‘Why You Always Hatin?‘ featuring a verse from the chart king of 2016 – Drake. The flat beat really doesn’t really have much flavour to make it as likeable as the others found here, and the plain hook sung by some half-asleep vocals doesn’t do it any favours. Both the Compton and the Canadian native provide solid verses, but in the end its the most forgettable cut on here.
YG hasn’t just taken a step up in quality since his last LP, he’s taken a leap. It’s more focused, more conceptual and more memorable than anything he’s put out before; and is a solid addition to the large number of great West Coast records that will be talked about on the Cali side of the USA for years to come . The instrumentals manage to find the perfect balance between a throwback to 90’s G-funk/Gangsta rap and the plethora of modern-day hip-hop styles, while at the same time being all wrapped up with the writing and delivery of a hard-hitting persona of street culture with enough self-awareness for social commentary. The appeal of the record spans across decades; both old school and new school fans will find something to like here. That’s a feat that’s achieved by very few with the status of YG in the modern industry, and he should be wholeheartedly commended for it.
Highlights: Police Get Away wit Murder, Who Shot Me?, Twist My Fingaz, Still Brazy, I Got A Question, FDT