October 25, 2016

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If you’d asked a half decade ago whether the rapper best known for “Pussy Killer” and “Toot It and Boot It” would write three of the best political screeds of 2016, I’d have probably bet on him wearing a marine blue tuxedo down Spruce St. first. But during that time, Satanic rap got swapped out for celestial hymns, YG had a daughter and became one the best album artists of the decade, and a reality show contestant disguised as a fascist flaming Cheeto became the nominee of the G.O.P. Strange days have found us.

As Quik said about growing up in Compton, it’s impossible to be “a stranger to danger.” When I interviewed him in 2011 for an LA Weekly cover, we wound up with 30 Bloods, Crips, and non-affiliated blue collar workers in a body shop just off Spruce Street. We brought two hand-held cameras to film his tour of the Hub City. The mere presence of unpaid videographers, coupled with a peaceful gathering of admirers, was enough to bring the cops out en masse. Harassing us, breaking up the impromptu congregation, ticketing everyone they could. Several stills shot that day somehow wound up in a Y.G. video. Every thorn has its rose.

With “One Time Coming,” “Police Get Away with Murder,” and “Fuck Donald Trump,” Y.G. delivered three of the best political anthems of the year, delivering a blunt force retaliation that such bleak situations deserved. If Trump’s cynical ingenuity stemmed from being able to reduce complicated issues to memorable one-liners, Y.G.’s gift is similar, if not antithetically opposed and legitimately righteous.

When he says “Fuck Donald Trump,” it feels like you’re seeing his fat fake-tanned gullet decapitated via guillotine. You can read treatises on racial profiling, systematic abuses of power by law enforcement, the toxic blue shield mentality that reinforces corruption, but Y.G. offers a succinct truth — the police get away with murder.

His latest, “One Time Coming” offers the same straight-forward effectiveness. Over a beat that sounds like a wailing siren layered on top of the beat for “Still Brazy,” Y.G. sits the listener riding shotgun in the middle of a frenetic chase. He knows the details too well, operating as both the omniscient narrator and the victim targeted for driving while black.

Keenon Jackson captures the fear and loathing, the fight-or-flight impulse, the rightful paranoia instilled from hundreds of years of persecution. He feels like Pac, who wrote the original best song about ducking one-time. He thinks back to telling his daughter that he loved her that morning, explains why the constant threat of death by police leads to spending everything you have (“you can’t take it with you.”)

When he says “you know how the law get?” the question is rhetorical. You can disagree, but you can’t ignore the corpses gunned down and strangled for no sane reason.  Maybe the most powerful part of the record comes on the coda, where Y.G. is reduced to a mumbling wrathful sneer, attacking those who think black lives don’t matter because “our families are scattered.” He indicts those who would rather that he sells crack instead of records.

It’s aimed anyone who dismisses rap as one of one of the most effective  weapons of resistance. If he taunted a cop “think you hard with your badge, huh,” in real life, it would probably lead to a brutal civil rights violation. The cop would perjure himself. So would his partner. Unless it was filmed and even if it was, the judge would inevitably let them go. Y.G. is speaking for those whose stories got warped and distorted, those who never had the chance to explain, those who should still be here right now.

If you ever wondered why people run from the police, the answers are all here. This is a great and important rap song. I should probably update this tape.