Written by Kyle Kramer (@KyleKramer).
Toward the end of last night's listening party for YG's debut album, My Krazy Life, someone finally handed the microphone to "the hottest producer in hip-hop" (per host Elliott Wilson), DJ Mustard. "We the new Snoop and Dre," he started saying before correcting himself: "We the new 'Pac and Dre."
Either way, for the first time in a long time, there's a strong case to be made that the West Coast is hip-hop's gravitational center. L.A. can boast hip-hop's biggest new star (Kendrick Lamar) and a half-dozen of its most talked-about artists (from ScHoolboy Q to Earl Sweatshirt to Nipsey Hussle). But it's also got an important aesthetic movement that's been building for years around DJ Mustard and YG (right now, five of the top 20 songs on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart are Mustard productions).
In a short promo video they played last night for My Krazy Life, Jeezy (who's taken on a sort of mentoring role) called YG's music "timeless." It seems like an appropriate word in the sense that YG and Mustard are defining an era. They've offered a distinct sound that captures a feeling, a place, and a time, as much as Dre and Snoop's G-funk did for the region more than two decades ago. Incidentally, Jeezy also declared in person at the party, "I'm comparing that shit to The Chronic, because that's how I felt when I heard it."
It's just simple black-and-white portraits of Lil Wayne, Meek Mill, Nicki, Quan, Mustard, and YG (with a cameo from Lil Durk). But it's a perfectly-polished portrait of the 2014 zeitgeist in one neat package.
Watching DJ Mustard DJ—which everyone did, moving toward the front of the room as soon as he came on for a brief set—it was clear that he's an excellent DJ, not just a producer. And he already has a stellar lineup of hits ready-made to blend into each other. It also seemed inevitable that, no matter where his career takes him, it will probably feel special to watch him DJ in 15 or 20 years, too. This became even more apparent at the end, when someone queued up the video for the "My Nigga" remix. It's just simple black-and-white portraits of Lil Wayne, Meek Mill, Nicki, Quan, Mustard, and YG (with a cameo from Lil Durk). But it's a perfectly-polished portrait of the 2014 zeitgeist in one neat package.
That said, YG still looks a little out of place with this caliber of star. He's plenty confident, but his lyrics aren't quite as tidy, and his physical presence isn't quite as crisp or magnetic. He's still very much the rough-and-tumble, good-natured Compton dude who managed to charm his way into the party on sheer charisma. The label is pushing hard to present him as the genre's next big name: the same promo video Jeezy appeared in features Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill, and A$AP Rocky explaining what a unique talent YG is. (Drake: "You want to win in the club, you just play YG"; Kendrick: "When I listen to YG it's a whole different side [of Compton]...like some shit I ain't even get to talk about"). Not-so-subtly, this is pretty much a roll call of the last few new artists to be welcomed into the industry A-list. In the same video, YG slouches and mumbles about the West Coast in a set of way less professional-looking shots.
So yeah, he might still be a little too reckless, too unpolished, to be quite on the level of those other big stars. But that's also a large part of YG's appeal. My Krazy Life is a reckless, wild album. It doesn't have the same casual brilliance as YG's mixtape output; it is clearly a painstakingly labored-over project in comparison. And the impression of an irrepressible smooth talker is replaced by a rowdier, more explosive character that might not even be immediately recognizable to mixtape fans. The opener, "Bpt" stomps out the words "West. Coast. Shit." in a massive preview of what's to come. Loosely, the album tells the story of a day in YG's life, touching on gangbanging, partying, a cheating girlfriend, and a little introspection regarding his mom.
One of the most arresting songs, 'Meet the Flockers,' gives detailed instructions about how to rob a house.
One of the most arresting songs, "Meet the Flockers," gives detailed instructions about how to rob a house (YG went to prison for residential burglary exactly five years to the day before the album's release date). "I Just Wanna Party," featuring ScHoolboy Q and Jay Rock, seems like it could be a sleeper hit. Elsewhere, Tory Lanez floats over the heartbreak anthem "My and My Bitch" ("All the real niggas that had they hearts broken gonna feel that one," YG explained). And the final, saxophone-tinted song with Ty Dolla $ign is stunning.
The obvious highlights are still "My Nigga," which YG managed to coax Jeezy into rapping live, and "Who Do You Love," which has a killer hook and Drake, whose verse immediately set off screams in the room. It's a remarkably consistent album, and it sounded great blasted incredibly loud. A lot of people clearly want YG to be a star, and this album could make him one. But at the very least, it's important as a key document in what's become a landmark era for the West Coast.