The Breakdown: Still Brazy, by YG


Micah: I tried writing a review for this album in our typical format, but it didn’t work. It was difficult expressing how much I liked it while repeating myself on every song. Still Brazy needs to be addressed as a whole because the songs are incredibly similar to each other, but work together towards a single end. The album is straight up hard hitting West Coast gangster rap that combines glossy production with grimy and guttural raps. YG is menacing yet soft spoken, and his delivery is blunt. It is very clear what YG wants to say. He does not want you coming to where he’s from, he’d very much like to know who shot him, he thinks  American politicians and the justice system are against people like him, and to be honest, he’s probably right.

To say that YG’s lyrics aren’t complex isn’t a shot. He’s just colloquial. Kanye is colloquial. Drake is colloquial. It’s just that I’m not afraid of Kanye or Drake, but I am afraid of YG. There is an immediacy to his delivery that grabs your attention and once he has it, he tells you a story. When he says We killing ourselves, they killing us too / They distract us with entertainment while they get they loot / They never gave us what they owed us, put liquor stores on every corner there is no question about what he’s talking about. While album lacks diversity musically (aside from the standout Twist My Fingaz from Terrace Martin), each beat brings an energy and consistency which allows YG to paint a picture of a war torn and neglected corner of the country.

There are no weak tracks on the album and it has a lot of highlights. Don’t Come to L.A., Who Shot Me, and Still Brazy are doses of testosterone-fueled confidence that are perfect for working out or bumping in the whip. But unlike many of his thugged-out contemporaries, YG’s lyrical content isn’t just gangbanging and braggadocio, he also offers his perspective on politics (see FDT, Blacks & Browns, The Police Get Away with Murder). In my opinion, FDT is the best protest song made in the last decade. It’s incredibly catchy, to-the-point, and the musicality of the song stands on its own without the message. It captures the same combination of anger and awareness as Killing in the Name of and Masters of War,  not meant to be sugarcoated or ambiguous at all.

Still Brazy gave me the same feeling I got when I first discovered rap music listening to Get Rich or Die Trying and The Eminem Show on my discman on the commute to elementary school. Still Brazy is honest, brutal, scares me a little bit, and I love it. I’m looking forward to hearing more from YG and this album definitely puts him on the A-List for up and coming West Coast artists.

 

Henry: It’s been a divisive year. A number of prominent hip-hop artists, mostly hailing from the Chicago camp, have already released gospel-influenced albums exploring themes of spirituality, so it’s telling that YG has doubled down on the West coast gangster rap aesthetic, giving us a banger of an album that sounds like it could have been released on death row records sometime in the mid nineties. Still Brazy refuses kneel at the alter. Still Brazy refuses to even associate with the letter C. Central to this brand of rap is an indomitable will, one that absolutely refuses to submit, because in the world it inhabits, submission is synonymous with death. This is an album that at its best speaks truth to power, not eloquently but unequivocally–a simple fuck you will suffice.

Along with the political leanings of early N.W.A. and the like, Still Brazy also shares in the often unpalatable misogyny, drugs and violence associated with that era, but like the more conscious rappers who came out of that time, YG doesn’t really glamorize the things he raps about, at least not to the extent that some of the features on this album do. This is not music that imagines a better future but music that lays bare the problems of today, which, as it turns out, are much the same as they were twenty-some years ago: poverty, police brutality, institutional racism, and a political machine that seems further and further removed from the realities of everyday life.

This is a much more pointed album than YG’s last full-length project, 2014’s My Krazy Life, and though the content is similar, Still Brazy feels much more refined, both lyrically and in terms of the production, which is neck-snappin’ throughout. I’m interested to see where YG goes from here, since he’s clearly made a lot of progress in his expressive capabilities as an artist, but also comes off in this album as one of those guys whose underlying philosophy is one of stasis, of resisting change as a matter of principle. On the other hand, he makes music to represent the world he lives in, so his static perspective and throwback sound may in fact be a way of telling us that it is the world which has not changed. It is, as he says, still brazy.

The album as a whole raises fundamental questions about the role of art in society, about whether it should be a model for transformative action or a mirror in which we can clearly see our own faults, and of course the answer is probably somewhere in between the two, if there is even a single answer at all. For YG though, it’s the same as it ever was–clear as a sour synth lead floating over the squelch of a g-funk bassline, stark as the color of blood.


Henry Whittier-Ferguson & Micah Roehlkepartain