YG - My Krazy Life

Paul Thompson reviews the week's best non-Disney album.

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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”

1. Momma Speech Intro
“I hope you ain’t outside hangin’ with them gangbangers!”
2. BPT
Depending on how you look at it, “BPT” is either a party that sounds like a gang fight, or a gang fight that sounds like a party. “It was hard in the hood/I was rapping, the homies selling hard in the hood.” YG isn’t afraid to get out of the beat’s pocket. By the middle of the second verse, the energy is too much—he lets loose an excited “woo!” before the song cuts off abruptly just after the two-minute mark. If this song doesn’t elevate your pulse, you probably don’t have one.9.5
3. I Just Wanna Party
If there’s one thing My Krazy Life does that no one could have expected, it’s the successful casting of YG as a peer to TDE, who are without question the dominant crew in hip-hop right now. Here, he sets the bar for Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock. All three turn in stellar verses. It should be noted that all three Californians have well-documented gang ties, and none of the sets traditionally get along. But isn’t that the point? They’re just here to party. There should be no question that YG’s choice to rhyme “Hennessy” and “enemies” in his opening line is homage to the most famous West coaster of all.9.0
4. Left, Right
When Angeleno rappers rose to national prominence, they terrified middle America. Whether it was NWA’s vicious brand of politics or Too $hort’s slick pimp talk, there was little room for the left coast in the Cleavers’ living room. YG seems to be on a mission to resurrect that menace with one line on the hook of “Left, Right”: “You know I’ll fuck you like I’m fresh out of jail, right?” The stripper anthem is an intoxicating blend of pan flute and Chanel that neither Queesha nor Syida would be able to resist.8.0
5. Bicken Back Being Bool
The title is a misnomer: there’s nothing laid back here. A frantic song about home invasions, “Bicken Back Being Bool” is arguably the strongest cut on My Krazy Life. YG’s left-field wit seeps into the crime tales (“Wifey like Sega—I don’t play that bitch”), and he crams in too many syllables when laments his need to masturbate in jail when his girl won’t visit him. The song is one long exercise in cause and effect, the endless chain of dominoes that fall after the stupid crimes of youth get out of control.10.0
6. Meet the Flockers
Perhaps YG’s greatest strength is his ability to make precise studio wizardry feel spontaneous and honest. Not only is his verse on “Meet the Flockers” a gripping how-to on robbing houses in Compton, it’s a clinic in syncopated flows and how to ride a beat with maximum swing. His verse is likely the best writing on the album, but Tee Cee more than holds his own when he follows up. Interestingly, this is yet another instance on My Krazy Life of YG palling around with cats regardless of affiliation.10.0
7. My Nigga
Maybe it’s the complacency that comes with a few million dollars; maybe it’s the corrosive effects of age. Maybe it was clairvoyant embarrassment about Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s “Real”. Whatever the reason, there’s no denying that Jeezy’s paint-by-numbers verse is the one thing holding back “My Nigga”. Other than that, it’s gold, Jerry, gold—YG echoes Rich Homie Quan’s lilting, gravelly flow. The hook (which borrows from Wayne’s Mike Jones-exiling “Ride 4 My Niggas”) is anthemic and irresistible.8.5
8. Do It to Ya
Context is everything. “Do It to Ya” is good, but it’s a standard song about a rapper’s sexual prowess that gets dropped in the middle of an album’s tracklist. But this time, there’s a twist: The song ends with a skit that makes it clear that the girl the song is written for is a side chick. So the Pac flow and the slew of compliments are even more id than you suspect at first.7.0
9. Me & My Bitch
Timing is everything. What YG has with this girl is special (“Fuck it—I’m ‘bout to get your name tatted on me”), but things never quite line up. After moving in together (to his mother’s surprise) YG catches her cheating. The third verse presents him with a terrible paradox: After stringing her along for a while, she finally has her come-to-Jesus moment about their relationship—only after he’s become famous. “She text me like ‘I love you’/I text her back like ‘fuck you’.”9.0
10. Who Do You Love?
“I’m the nigga with the plugs/I’m the nigga who got homies that be selling drugs”, slurred out in YG’s deadpan, is the coldest, most unforgettable opening of 2014 so far. Coupled with “I’ll never do my nigga like Pac did Q”, they highlight his star turn on “Who Do You Love?”, a single that sells its artist by creating a scarcity. Drake drops by for a solid verse that nevertheless feels like valuable time YG could have been using to put more figures in his Bank of America account. This is one of Mustard’s finest beats, a simple, smoldering burner.8.0
11. Really Be (Smokin’ N Drinkin’)
According to YG, Kendrick Lamar heard the almost-finished My Krazy Life and insisted he be added to this song. That’s nice, and his verse is great, but it’s YG’s show. The opening line (“I woke up this morning, I had a boner”) is already approaching meme status, which is fine, but it’s a legitimate starting point for a sincere, emotive verse. He wakes up alone, realizes that “if I don’t make it with this rap shit, nigga, I might be homeless”, as his mother is unemployed, living off meager checks from his father. “That’s why I move like the mob/I’m watching movies too much” is the most poignant self-correction in recent memory.10.0
12. 1AM
Ironically, it’s Metro Boomin—a St. Louis native currently based in Atlanta—who provides YG with his most traditionally LA-sounding track. “1AM” is exactly what its title might suggest: It’s what a Southern California riding song would sound like under the shadow of night. The narrative is colorful and familiar, but bubbling under the surface is a foreboding sense that something is wrong. That’s intentional; the skit at the end depicts the robbery that ultimately goes wrong and lands YG in jail. This one should go straight to the canon.10.0
13. Thank God (Interlude)
After a long intro, RJ delivers a harrowing verse for YG’s mother about his friend’s incarceration after a botched robbery. Balance is restored—the robberies from earlier have consequences. The most powerful moment is when he loses his cool: “Man, I told him not to fuck with them niggas/I’m sorry, I don’t mean to curse, but I just never trust ‘em at all”. More than anything else, staying off of “Thank God” completely is a supremely confident choice on YG’s part.8.5
14. Sorry Momma
“Sorry Momma” ties things up nicely on both sides of the fourth wall. DJ Mustard and Ty Dolla $ign are the two people most responsible for YG’s initial prominence. For his part, the verses for his mother are sincere but conflicted. His mother threatening to kick him out still stings; if he is supposed to “call her for anything”, why not bail money? But his pain at the sight of his mother hooked up to an IV is something only a son can express.8.0
Paul Thompson is a writer based in Los Angeles. He is a the lead writer at 2dopeboyz and a frequent contributor to Passion of the Weiss.

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