YG Adds to His Gangsta Rap Cred on Stay Dangerous
The rapper born Keenon Jackson was serving six months for burglary charges when he signed to Def Jam in 2009 on the strength of his collaborations with fellow unknown Angelenos DJ Mustard and Ty Dolla $ign. His debut album My Krazy Life dropped in 2014. If good kid, mAAd city was Kendrick’s Oscar bait vision of a day in the life of Compton’s youth, YG’s album was the gritty independent counterpart. Less navel gazing via multiple timelines, more bass lines that people could dance to. As if to prove his own artistry after Mustard’s sound crossed over into pop ubiquity, YG kept the producer off his second album Still Brazy. The follow-up expanded into masterful paranoia about ascendant reactionaries, would-be assassins, and haters, including a Trump diss track so potent the Secret Service came calling. YG’s third album, Stay Dangerous, dropped last Friday. Though it doesn’t quite reach the heights of his first two, Stay Dangerous is another solid project from one of the best on the West Coast.
From the title down, YG’s latest is about maintaining. The world may have changed around him, but for better and for worse YG has not. While his clout-chasing peers might arrive at the Grammys in Teslas, he’s tossing the valet keys to a ‘64 Impala. The trophies and plaques help him provide for his new daughter, but the demands of success keep him away from home and dangers from his past keep him wary on tour. On “Deeper Than Rap,” YG notes he can only bring his daughter to the “safest shows” before rapping that talking to a therapist “don’t change the crazy shit I do, did, and lived.”
If he can’t escape the past, why mess with what’s providing for his future? With Mustard back producing a majority of the album, the rapper is comfortably in his zone. “Suu Whoop” does not sound like a hit, making it a peculiar choice for a lead single, but it’s a prime example of the chemistry between the two artists. The beat is heavy 808 drums and a two-tone melody that sounds like a bell clanging underwater. YG turns a gang call into a boast, rapping “Suu whoopin’ in my songs, my enemies sing my songs.” No matter your affiliation, YG’s music stays irresistible.
YG has always mentioned sex in his lyrics, but the highlights on Stay Dangerous are genuinely sexy. He dabbles in Auto-Tune for the Quavo collab “Slay.” The layers of modulated keys evoke the hazy feeling of sweaty flesh in the summertime. YG boasts “If you’re a bad bitch, I’ll fuck you to my own music,” and it’s hard to blame him for it! On “Too Cocky,” he repurposes Right Said Fred to purr the titular double entendre over Mustard’s signature off-beat “Heys”. Ty Dolla $ign continues his ludicrous streak of phenomenal features on “Power.” Cocky after making his partner “scream like the opera,” he croons a request for a threesome. It’s a testament to his relationship with YG and Mustard that Ty interrupts his pleas to shout-out their record label.
All the featured artists bring their best to Stay Dangerous. A$AP Rocky brings the jiggy energy that was missing from his last album to “Handgun.” He ends his verse with “I was 13 with fake bling when Killa Cam was on the corner with the pink mink. My little man was on the corner with the clink clink, gold bankroll, 8 gold links, whole gang, hold weight, ho.” The flow is slippery enough to leave you dizzy. On “Bulletproof,” Jay 305’s yelp sounds like the Eazy-E to YG’s MC Ren. “Big Bank” is a posse cut for the “keep it simple, stupid” squad over a beat that sounds like a children’s xylophone. Big Sean shouts out Kaepernick and cryptocurrency, Nicki Minaj jokes about dating Eminem, and 2 Chainz drops brilliantly dumb bars like “Big sack, a lotta hoes like Santa.”
YG’s own lyrics do not always land. The last line of “Can’t Get In Kanada”’s chorus is “Ay Mustard, tell these niggas catch up,” a pun so basic that the producer used it for a mixtape title five years ago. At one point, the rapper compares a woman’s curves to Mr. Klumps, Eddie Murphy’s fat-suit protagonist from The Nutty Professor, then insists she’s still “on [his] nuts.” Worst of all, YG threatens “I’m strapped up, I’m too much for you poo butts.” Fecal puns are a matter of personal preference, but it’s hard to get more infantile than “poo butts.”
Despite the clunkers scattered throughout, Stay Dangerous ends on a serious note. The penultimate track is a voicemail from Big TC, YG’s incarcerated older brother. It’s gut-wrenching to hear his earnest warning that some people spend their whole life walking the yard because of a single decision. Like the album as a whole, it’s not groundbreaking, but it’s powerful. On the following track “Bomptown Finest,” YG makes sure his locked-up friends’ kids get gifts on Christmas. “Them suckers try to tell me, take the hood up out me,” he raps, but “Who would Master P be if he wasn’t ‘bout it bout it,’ or Hov without the Marcy Projects.” Master P and Jay-Z, two MCs and moguls that lasted longer in the rap game than most anybody, regional titans with conveniently little claim to the West.
Whether it’s the cancerous growth-over-everything logic of capitalism or the short attention span of rap fans raised on 10 second Instagram clips, it feels like rappers can’t make just good albums anymore. Anything less than an instant classic and they must have fallen off, popular opinion stepping over them to make room for the latest rainbow-haired viral star. But Jay-Z put out a few just good albums in his time too. If YG can keep dropping projects like this, the rest of us will stay streaming.
Originally published in summary and podcast form on Consequence of Sound.