YG & The Enduring Legacy Of Gangster Rap

Doc Zeus is from Bleveland. If your only contact with rap music was through the lunatic rantings of Bill O’Reilly (who reflexively equates “rapper” with “criminal”), you might not know that...
By    March 20, 2014

yg-my-krazy-life-artworkDoc Zeus is from Bleveland.

If your only contact with rap music was through the lunatic rantings of Bill O’Reilly (who reflexively equates “rapper” with “criminal”), you might not know that the influence of gangster rap has declined during the last decade. The transformative success of eclectic, “middle-class” artists such as Kanye West and Drake along with disappearing resources in the music industry have led to shifting consumer interests. The result is that the harder elements of street rap have often been marginalized.

In recent years, major record labels have often found that tried-and-true gangster rappers aren’t worth the resources spent in developing and marketing them as artists. Branding and sponsorships are often the only sure-fire way for the music industry to recoup their investments with artists as sales continue to dwindle. Concurrently, corporate brands have been lax to get behind new artists with controversial or violent material fearing a potential backlash or Fox News-led boycott on their product. Even formerly street-centric artists such as Jay Z and Lil Wayne have largely dropped the tales of crack-selling in favor of Basquiat carols and endless sex puns.

YG has been a simmering figure in West Coast gangster rap music over the last five years. Despite a devoted regional following in his native California, YG was unable to find sustained mainstream success after his buzzy 2010 early single, “Toot It & Boot It,” dwindled from radio rotation. YG was featured on XXL’s annual Freshman cover in 2011 but his notoriety was easily surpassed by his fellow cover mates Meek Mill, Mac Miller and Kendrick Lamar. However, YG’s career took since last summer after his collaboration with Rich Homie Quan, “My Nigga,” became a breakthrough smash. Meanwhile, his obvious chemistry with his longtime producer DJ Mustard helped build the ratchet sound, which has owned radio for most of the last 2 years, and fully manifests itself itself into My Krazy Life – YG’s excellent Def Jam debut.

At its core, the album is a synthesized slice of ice cold gangster rap music built to put asses on to the dance floor. The album feels stylistically reminiscent of Snoop’s Doggystyle, without leaning heavily upon the West Coast’s traditional love for G-Funk (save for the occasional “Let’s Play House” sample). From the production down to the songwriting and hooks, YG and Mustard have crafted an LP that feels sonically original in an increasingly homogenous world of mainstream rap. The record’s sound borrows from the authoritative stomp of Dirty South crunk music and the pimps-in-space funk of the Bay Area. All the while telling classic L.A. gangster rap tales of home invasions, shady women and creeping on a come-up. The album feels dangerous while still making you want to sing-along.

If you are looking for a certain type of “He’s Got Bars, son, BAAAARS” lyricism, YG might come up short. At times, he can be overshadowed by Mustard’s show-stopping production and his voice sometimes feels like it can be an afterthought But his strength is in his songwriting. He overcomes his faults with his the ability to write memorable hooks and flows that melt into the beat.

My Krazy Life is loaded with songs that seem built for mass popular consumption and endless rotation. “I Just Want To Party” featuring ScHoolboy Q and Jay Rock (who is quietly becoming the west coast rapper most likely to steal the show) is a menacing, assaultive banger while “Left, Right” and “Bicken Back Bool” seems primed to terrorize in dance clubs this summer. In other places, the album devolves into nightmarish gangster rap of the highest order, “Meet The Flockers” and “1 A.M.” show off YG’s budding growth as a storyteller as he narrates tales of home robberies and stick-ups.

Along with Freddie Gibbs, ScHoolboy Q, Kevin Gates and the Chicago drill scene, YG is part of a budding class of young rappers who are re-writing the rules of modern gangster rap. Despite the cultural dominance of the Drake World Order, there are also a bubbling class of new artists interested in making street music with decidedly modern feel. Even 50 Cent’s new single is pretty great. Cynics might point out it selling only 45K in its first week, but YG has already seen commercial success with the platinum-single, “My Nigga.” After nearly 7 seven years in the wilderness, My Krazy Life is more evidence that you can’t kill gangsta rap, no matter how wool-knit sweaters you try to stomp it out with.

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