It’s been nearly a decade since Keenon Daequan Ray Jackson, best known to the general public as the rapper YG, stepped on the scene. Starting off as a member of the ‘jerk’ movement, it seemed unlikely that he would become one of the most important rappers of his decade, defining the various sounds and trends coming out of L.A. for the 2010s. Nevertheless after a consistent grind, with multiple respected albums and hit singles under his belt, he stands with only Kendrick Lamar and Tyler, the Creator as his competition in who can claim a greater influence on the West Coast’s place in current day rap. Sadly, that is also due to the passing of his friend and collaborator, Nipsey Hussle, an event that weighs heavily on his fourth album 4REAL 4REAL. The album works its hardest to not only pay tribute to the legacy of his departed comrade but to continue to demonstrate his capabilities as a rap star. 

Going over the discography of YG, every album prior to this one felt like it had a strong goal. My Krazy Life was fueled with the purpose of crafting a modern classic, balancing great displays of all YG’s strengths next to massive bangers to establish his starpower outside of Los Angeles. Still Brazy followed up that with an attempt to diversify the range of his content while Stay Dangerous was an album that managed to luxuriate in YG’s ability to speak his mind on any number of subjects. The goals of 4REAL 4REAL, however, remain fairly inscrutable. The second half of the album features YG often retiring to the background of his own songs to let guests take the center stage, including one song that basically functions as a new single for another artist (the Day Sulan-assisted “Her Story”). Even the official final note, a recording of his speech in tribute to Nipsey, ends up leaving the listener with stronger feelings about the recently slain rapper than the man paying homage to his friend. Why is it that 4REAL 4REAL is so meager of an offering from a rapper who’s provided us with so much more engaging material?

One problem for certain is one that there is nothing necessarily new to this album for YG, and it showcases a bizarre weakness at crafting singles. Years ago, YG was so natural at pinpointing hits he was practically giving them away (specifically helping make Jeezy’s “R.I.P” and Tyga’s “Rack City” become realities). Nowadays however, YG’s attempts at hits don’t register with the same sort of effectiveness. The up-tempo Memphis-tinged “Stop Snitchin” just doesn’t feel like a comfortable fit, with a remix featuring rising star DaBaby wavering away from being the jam it could be. Meanwhile, alongside his frequent collaborator DJ Mustard, the two have tried capitalizing on Tyga’s recent wave of singles throwing back to YG’s old sound with the listless and cheesy “Go Loko.” Later on, with “I Was On The Block,” we find both the DJ and MC desperately trying (and failing) to emulate the formula of guest rapper Valee, a confounding error of judgement from a team with such a reliable signature sound and a general understanding of the other’s strengths and weaknesses. Were it not for the Moroder-gone-ratchet synths of “Bottle Service” or the gloomy throb of “In The Dark,” you’d start to wonder that maybe the former dream team had lost their special spark. 

While the obvious fumbles are there, there’s still a decent amount more of good material to enjoy. The album’s opener, the lean “Hard Bottoms & White Socks”, is a sullen but combative bit of jazzy boom-bap that finds YG swagging effortlessly in a mode unfamiliar to him. The Swish produced “Keisha Had A Baby” however is very traditional YG goes G-Funk, with him going in a contemplative story-telling mode. From here a lot of the album switches into a much more traditional West Coast Rap vibe, with HBK Gang affiliate 1-O.A.K. contributing the silky smooth R&B vibes of the lovesick “Play Too Much” and the Lakeside-sampling “Do Yo Dance” (amusing considering the band sampled includes the father of guest Ty Dolla $ign). Unfortunately, the good times and good vibes aren’t without their turbulence as “Do Not Disturb” is mostly skippable were it not for the G-Eazy verse, and likewise on the languid “Heart 2 Heart” it honestly feels best if you just fast-forward to hear Meek compared to the excessive guest singers and a fairly forgettable YG verse.

Although there are more than a few exemplary moments on 4REAL 4REAL, it is still among the weakest of YG’s studio albums to date. Given the fact that he’s barely gone a year between albums, and the additional confusion of his grieving (rightfully so), it feels understandable that YG is relatively less focused on this outing. However, now that the rapper is no longer of ‘the new-school’ but instead one of the top tier of the West Coast, he’s most certainly at a crossroads where he can either adjust and remember how to excel or he may be consigned to depend on his legacy. Nevertheless, YG remains one of the best to ever do it of his generation and overall for the city of Los Angeles. No doubt he’ll demonstrate the skills and the energy that he's used to get this far time and time again.