Thursday, March 27, 2014

album review: 'my krazy life' by yg

I was going to skip this album.

And honestly, on first look, could you have blamed me? I've said a number of times in the past that the current crop of gangsta rappers have rarely interested me if they don't do something fresh with the formula, and YG looked like the poster child of not only cementing himself to that formula, but doing it worse than everyone else combined. Frankly, I was shocked to see him with a new album at all - for a rapper who built the first steps of his career off of the oh-so classy track 'Toot It And Boot It', I thought we had consigned him to the same memory hole in which we dumped Chingy, Mims, and Soulja Boy.

But then I thought to myself, 'Mark, get your head out of your ass, just because it's superficial and dumb party bangers doesn't mean they have to be bad, and it's not like all the material in this genre is stuff you dislike'. And to a point, that's true - I'll admit I've got a soft spot for certain brands of dumb gangsta rap, particularly in the crunk vein that was popular in the early-to-mid 2000s. But I guess some of my unironic liking for acts like Ludacris and especially Lil Jon came from the fact that what they didn't have in intelligence they made up in explosive, high-energy beats or solid technical rapping or even just an ability to go over the top with a populist vibe that can suck you in - call it the Andrew W.K. methodology, if you will. And yet with YG, his main collaborating producer is DJ Mustard, a producer who has already picked up a bad reputation in the hip-hop community for making sterile, lifeless beats that aren't all that interesting. 

In other words, the only reason why I'm covering this at all is because critical outlets that I normally respect started throwing scores that seemed suspiciously high at this album, so maybe I was presumptuous and missed something. And to give YG some credit, he did say he was drawing more inspiration from the 90s G-funk scene, most of which I do like, so I gave this album a couple of listens - how was it?

Well... it wasn't as bad as I was expecting, and I get why some critics really like this album. But to me, there's just not enough new or interesting material or flavour here to really grip me, even by gangsta rap standards. On top of that, while I get what YG was trying to do with this album, I don't think he stuck the landing. All of this adds up to an album that isn't exactly bad, but is pretty far from great or critical acclaim, at least in my books.

Let's start with YG himself, and I'll be straight with you here: I don't think he's a great rapper. Sure, he occasionally has some good flows on occasion, but too often his delivery just doesn't have the same intensity or flavour, and it really shows on 'I Just Wanna Party' the collaborating track with Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock, neither of which are their best but they stick out more than YG does behind the microphone. On top of that, on a technical level, YG isn't exactly witty and he can get pretty lazy with his punchlines and rhyming, more often than not resorting to rhyming words with themselves and repeated rhymes I've heard multiple times throughout the course of the album. It's very telling when Drake and Kendrick Lamar show up on this album on their songs and deliver verses with actual subtext and they sound like they're from a completely different universe than YG.

And then we have the lyrical content - and at this point, I'd have a hard time calling this violent fantasies or even vaguely justifiable thug activities - there are tracks on this album where it would hard not to make the argument that they actively endorse gang activity, specifically throwing down for Blood affiliation, especially on 'Bickin' Back Being Bool'. On this album, we're treated to step-by-step home invasions, gang bangs, and shootouts - and as much as YG shouts out 'Rest In Peace' at the end of his Drake collaboration 'Who Do You Love?' where it feels really out of place and only kind of works with the next track, nobody dies. He tries to add some weight of consequences on the last three tracks, where he gets arrested and tries to play it off by saying he doesn't have to hustle anymore thanks to rap and that he was doing it all for his mother, but here's where it doesn't quite work, because we never get the introspective moments anywhere else on this album. It comes across as weak excuses attempting to rationalize the previous songs, and it's not remotely convincing. Furthermore, it's hard to take this sudden moment of conscience seriously when his biggest hits come from this brand of gangsta rap, and I don't buy for a second he's going to stop making this sort of material - his collaborator Jeezy has been doing it for years, why should I believe YG is going to stop talking about this? And the worst part of all of it is that YG is such a limited rapper that his gang activity doesn't really come across as all that interesting. He seems to be more descriptive when it comes to his sex jams, none of which I think work because nobody in his songs, he or his partners, come across as remotely sympathetic, especially on the pair of songs 'Do It To Ya' and 'Me & My Bitch', where everyone is cheating and yet we're supposed to buy into YG's emotional plight? Uh, no? The one time it kind of works is the party jam 'Left, Right', but that because he's supported by the sleaziest strings line I've ever heard and the synth has some impact, and even then he talks about sex how he should 'Beat it like OJ'. Classy.

And speaking of the instrumentation and production, this is where I feel the album suffers the most - mainly because in terms of club bangers or gangsta tracks, the beats YG has are incredibly unconvincing and minimalist, often a watery synth line, gang vocals, and a beat courtesy of DJ Mustard. Now let me make this clear, I'm not going to say DJ Mustard is an outright terrible producer - on the right slick club bangers, he's not bad, and his work with Kid Ink on 'Rollin'' earlier this year was a great fit. But YG's brand of harder street music seems to demand more texture and grime in the instrumentation, or at least greater bombast - and DJ Mustard just does not deliver that. On top of that, his melody lines are all really similar to each other, mostly because they consider of the same three or four notes in a minor chord, albeit with a different keyboard setting to mix it up. It's so basic and rudimentary that when paired with YG's not particularly complex flows, you get a record that really doesn't turn out to be that interesting or special, and it doesn't have the flair or power to make that sort of simplicity compelling. Want more proof - whenever the instrumentation does get some texture or flair, it's either sampled or from a different producer, all of which are a better fit for YG or at least gives him something with more unique flavour. 

Look, at this point, I get YG's appeal - he's a very basic gangsta rapper with beats clean enough to cross over to pop radio and he's not remotely threatening. So he's catering to the lowest common denominator and just edgy enough with the gang and sex references to appear to have more personality than he really has - and I'll admit, there are a few points where it kind of works. But his wordplay is sloppy, his instrumentation is weak, his material is recycled and unconvincing, and his one good punchline came on 'Really Be (Smokin' and Drinkin')', and then Kendrick blows him out of the water with his verse. I'm not going to call this record bad or offensive, as you can tell there was effort here, but it's not good either, and thus it gets a 5/10 from me. YG might have found some brand of potency in simplicity, but he's not a polished or interesting enough rapper to make it all that special.

And Jeezy, this is who you're throwing your name behind? Really? Well, okay, you can stick by YG - I'll stick with Freddie Gibbs.

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