ALBUM: My Krazy Life
You have to think it’s all high fives and gifted bottles of scotch at the Manhattan Def Jam offices this week. As YG tweeted, “If it wasn’t for that fuckin frozen album”, the 24-year-old rapper would have opened atop the Billboard charts. They deserve those pats on the back: My Krazy Life is an exceptional debut, the best Los Angeles party-rap record in years. Running just over forty-five minutes, the album is a lean, refined take on YG and his DJ Mustard-crafted aesthetic. The suits threw some money at the wall, sure (Drake and Kendrick Lamar appear on consecutive songs), but they mostly stayed out of the way. There is no shoehorning the young emcee into sounds for which he isn’t suited, no guest features that take the listener out of the carefully crafted universe. This is a personal statement, and it arrives at the listener’s ear uncompromised. And that’s no small wonder—Compton is a long way from New York.
In fact, YG’s Compton is a long way from even Lamar’s. The latter’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city has been compared in hundreds of clunky analogies to Nas’ classic Illmatic. The connection is drawn on lines that aren’t exactly parallel, but the records do share a perspective: that view from the proverbial project window. Considering that, My Krazy Life is more akin to It Was Written—a present-tense look from the front lines. When we meet the man born Keenon Jackson, he’s already a full-fledged gang member. (Two of the first four songs are named “BPT” and “Bicken Back Being Bool”.) But YG’s fellow Bloods’ influence isn’t one of pervasive violence. When My Krazy Life doesn’t have its sights set squarely on the strip club, it’s usually content to sit on an overstuffed couch at a house party. The menacing undertones of “I Just Wanna Party” (“I just wanna party—but I’ll beat the fuck out of a nigga”) are buried beneath layers of red Solo cups and dried vomit. “My Nigga” is sure to engender lots of well-intentioned but racially uncomfortable bro hugs at frat parties, which is exactly the point. YG’s upbringing is foreign to almost everyone who still buys rap records in 2014, but he consistently taps into something more universal.
Fortunately, YG doesn’t arrive there by way of tropes and platitudes. The language is coded; the blunts are tightly rolled. There could never be any doubt My Krazy Life is a product of Los Angeles. There are enough pre-set synths and lingering piano keys to go around, and enough negative space for YG to get comfortable. While not a prototypical rapper’s rapper, he has an innate sense of where syllables should fall for maximum impact. His matter-of-fact drawl to open “Who Do You Love?” is enough to ensure the Compton native out-charismas a certain Canadian megastar. Similarly, the remarkable first verse on “Really Be (Smokin’ N Drinkin’)” is enough to pull the song out from under Lamar, who is at his best. Where YG’s writing really shines, though, is on “Meet The Flockers”. His verse is a step-by-step guide to breaking and entering (“First, you find a house and scope it out/Find a Chinese neighborhood ‘cause they don’t believe in bank accounts”) that reasons with the student: “That ain’t them talking, that’s your mind playing tricks on you/You’re conscious ‘cause you know you got nines with two clips on you”.
My Krazy Life is following a loose narrative structure that brings color to YG’s world. In a clever, unconventional choice, the penultimate track doesn’t feature YG at all. Instead, his homie RJ is left to explain to YG’s mother why her son is in jail, and what it’s going to take to bail him out. The risk pays off in spades, largely because RJ is a deft rapper who writes clearly and without pretense. The desperation (“Can’t let him fight the charge in his cell/He didn’t bail on me”) bleeds into closer “Sorry Momma”, where YG strikes a balance between reconciliation and holding the kind of childish grudges that define him. DJ Mustard’s repertoire (a wheelhouse mostly imported from the Bay area) is put to fine use; My Krazy Life is a singular, kinetic record meant to be played loud in crowded rooms or smoky cars. The pacing is a work of art; the four-song crescendo to start the record gives way to the mid-tempo but high-energy “Flockers” and “My Nigga”, with only the two-song love suite of “Do It To Ya” and “Me and My Bitch” as a reprieve before Life ramps up to its climax. Each emotional high and low comes thirty seconds before you expect it.
He isn’t loud or too eccentric, but YG is an innovator. As he complains on “Bicken Back Being Bool”, “I used to rob niggas, now they’re trying to rob my style”. Mustard will rightfully go down in history as the ambassador for the ratchet sound, but no rapper has felt at home there the way YG does. My Krazy Life is a joy for how eagerly it falls down the rabbit hole of home invasions and sexual frustration, never stopping or second-guessing itself. If there were one concession to the mainstream, it would be the title. YG originally wanted to call the record I’m From Bompton—a bold, surely alienating choice. To not only invoke the name of the most feared neighborhood in America, but to color it with gang affiliation would likely have landed YG a spot on Russell Simmons’ magic shelf. Never mind Frozen; I’m From Bompton would be competing with the straight-to-DVD release of The Pirate Fairy. A simple change in packaging seems like a reasonable price to pay to set yourself on the course for stardom, and the young rapper probably agrees. After all, there was a second sentence to YG’s tweet about his spot on Billboard: “It’s Bool doe.”
“Momma know I’ve been bangin’ lately”