YG, “Still Brazy”

YG-2016-Still_BrazyYG
Still Brazy
DEF JAM/CTE
7/10

YG knows what it’s like to be shot—last June, he took a bullet, fired at close range, to the hip—but for those who don’t, he has no sensory insight to lend you. Still, his chronicle of that day is no less visceral; “Who Shot Me?” breathes G-funk paranoia boiled down to a heartbeat, setting the tone for the rest of his tightly wound second album, Still Brazy, which comes across as something between a jeremiad and the sleep-deprived screed of a conspiracy theorist. Against DJ Swish’s stippled sitar synth, the emcee admits to “Having a hard time putting together two and two” before declaring that for all the fear and tension the event caused—not just for his family, but for the way in which his newfound fame can’t save him from needing to look over his shoulder—he offers a single diagnosis: “Somebody gotta pay for that.”

YG wrestles with the distance between the immediate feeling of having a hole opened up in his side and the less-acute feeling of dread filling his every waking moment throughout Still Brazy, attempting to reconcile his day-to-day job as a successful hip-hop artist with the reality of a way of life success was supposed to help him escape. Which is why so much of this album attempts to, as Drake mewls on “Why You Always Hatin?,” pile up “Slaps on deck for the Oaktown,” stacking one bounce-heavy anthem after another in order to distract from the bleakness at its core. At first glance, “Twist My Fingaz” moves like a celebratory bit of old-school flag-waving for all that’s come out of Compton (to which YG refers with the backhanded “I’m the only one who made it out the West without Dre”), but without Terrace Martin’s squiggly beat, the track is little more than Piru Blood allegiance held high, fret-bound on all sides by the terror his allegiance requires.  

As such, Still Brazy is so many shades of moral gray darker than YG’s 2014 debut, My Krazy Life. The emcee has honed down his already economic flow into something sharper, angrier, and more incisive than anything else currently on any major label. And by the time Ty Dolla $ign and Swish’s tumbling title track boils over (“Verse two, verse two / I got too much to spit for verse two”) into the infuriated “FDT” (née “Fuck Donald Trump”), there’s no question YG is done finding any semblance of balance. That distance closes: critical accolades and big money can’t keep the fact that “Police Get Away Wit Murder” from being a reality, and even Hit-Boy’s rally-ready chorus fails to wash over the exquisite sadness and rage at the heart of the album’s final track.

In its home stretch, Still Brazy becomes something that feels necessary right now. Aloof but urgent, steely eyed but heartbreaking, the album doesn’t provide any solutions so much as make beautifully clear the cost of all of the violence and hate embedded deeply within our American reality. And somebody, it assures us, has got to pay for that.

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