YG proves "My Krazy Life" wasn't a fluke on the almost equally-satisfying "Still Brazy."
Two years ago, My Krazy Life surprised everyone. It was a debut album made by someone whose biggest claim to fame was novelty club smash "Toot It And Boot It," but somehow, it had the scope and consistency of a select few L.A. classics-- The Chronic, Doggystyle, and more recently, good kid, m.A.A.d city. YG wasn't the type of rapper you expected to attempt something as ambitious (to no-nonsense gangster rappers, "ambitious" usually just means including 20+ tracks on albums), and despite all of his hit singles at the time, DJ Mustard wasn't exactly the guy you'd bank on to excel in a curatorial executive producer role, but through hyper-personal and hyper-local focus, their chemistry and vision prevailed. Based on all that's transpired since-- an attempt on YG's life and a falling out with Mustard-- the forecast for album two was cloudy at best, but for great artists, those are the type of events that inspire rather than deflate. On Still Brazy, YG's gotten more insular, paranoid, and angry. It's very easy to spot the differences between it and its predecessor, but it's almost impossible to say that one's better than the other.
If My Krazy Life's main strength was its cohesive day-in-the-life narrative, the chief unifying aspect of Still Brazy is its sound. Mustard's g-funk-inflected ratchet dominated much of YG's last album, but it had its concessions for slow jams like "Do It To Ya" and "Me & My Bitch" that made sense as portions of a full day's worth of music (who spends 24 hours listening to the same exact style of beats?). This time around, the scope is narrowed, and every sound on the album has its roots in the last 25 years of music that have come out of the fertile territory of California's central coast. Non-Cali natives were rare on MKL-- Tory Lanez, Drake, Jeezy, Rich Homie Quan, Metro Boomin-- but even more so on the new album, where back-to-back cuts featuring Drake and Lil Wayne are the only evidence that a world outside of L.A. and The Bay exists. In Mustard's place is a lesser-known crop of beatmakers, all of whom seem to know g-funk, jerk, and hyphy like the backs of their hands, and for a less cinematic album, that dialed-in, less sprawling focus makes a ton of sense. Still Brazy's beats recall Dr. Dre's post-2001 work in the early 2000s, DJ Quik at his grittiest, Rick Rock's earliest Bay area templates-- periods that aren't necessarily overlooked, but certainly aren't as celebrated as other niche sounds in the region's history. YG and his team not only knew the exact mood they were going for, they also knew the exact source material that could provide it.
It's not enough that Still Brazy's a bit more cohesive on the instrumental side of things; for this type of project to succeed as a follow-up to one of the best-received rap albums of this decade, YG had to personally step his game up. He was writing snapshots on MKL-- vivid ones, but those songs were rarely about anything that extended beyond his own gaze. Still Brazy is chock full of tracks that tackle issues bigger than Gizzle himself-- gangsta rap tourism on "Don't Come To LA," the importance of honesty in tight-knit cliques on "Word Is Bond," the slippery slope that is lending money to less fortunate friends on "Gimme Got Shot," and of course, the sorry-ass current state of our country on the album's powerful last three tracks. We'll get back to the album's last moments in a second, but first there's the one outlying "big issue" Still Brazy cut that isn't cognizant of its contradictions, "She Wish She Was." Minutes after YG describes ghosting a girl on the previous song, he's reprimanding women for similar on-to-the-next strategies, saying that it "ain't lady-like." Is this 1950? This is some "know your place," "make me a sandwich" type shit that shouldn't be happening in 2016, but here it is: Double Standards, the song. Coming from the paranoid position YG's in for most of the album, that lack of trust towards women makes sense, but it's the one issue (save for facism) on which he doesn't seem interested in seeing both sides-- he even tries to reconcile the motivations of his would-be assassin on "Who Shot Me?"! Take away "She Wish She Was," and this is a near-perfect album.
Another thing Still Brazy does to match its predecessor's through-line is steadily build to a boil towards the end. We don't get a chronological narrative, but there is a more subtle emotional undercurrent that flows under the surface until it erupts on "FDT." The fiercest protest song of the year, this anti-Trump anthem is the latest in a long line of powerful blood-crip alliances in hip hop (Dre and Snoop, Young Thug and Peewee Longway, etc.), and YG and Nipsey Hussle use their collective strength to the most admirable ends imaginable. Then, in the final verse, they call for an alliance between South Central's biggest demographics, blacks and latinos! Then chicano rapper Sad Boy destroys the next track! Then YG lists the names of all of the innocent teenagers cops have killed in the last few years! It's fucking invigorating to say the least, hearing a rapper devote the final quarter of his make-or-break album to such important, universal problems, and it further compounds the paranoia that was already present throughout Still Brazy. Concluding the album with the line, "And they wonder why I live life looking over my shoulder," YG poses the question that he's spent the entire album trying to answer. There's no better way to urge the listener to run the entire thing back, which is what I've done nearly every time I've listened to the album.
YG's now the creator of the best one-two punch of albums this side of Kendrick Lamar in the 2010s, and they're the perfect foils to each other in that position. MKL and gkmc were both autobiographical journeys, and the follow-ups were both periphery-expanding takes on larger problems in Compton and the country at large, but they couldn't have been handled more differently. YG's never touching Kendrick's extended-metaphor strategy, and Kendrick's never coming close to YG's blood-boiling brashness. Never have two dominant rappers from the same city (neighborhood, even) shared the spotlight more graciously, and been in less danger of drafting into each others' lanes. They're the contrasting twin pillars L.A. needed to maintain its stronghold-- the Alpha and Omega, the Magneto and Professor X, the Lennon and McCartney. Kendrick's more frequently recognized as the unimpeachable talent, but with two consecutive near-flawless projects under his belt, YG now deserves almost as much shine.