ABOVE: YG. PHOTO COURTESY OF RO.LEXX.
YG dropped his debut album My Krazy Life in early 2014 and on Friday, he will release the much-anticipated follow up: Still Brazy. With a smooth blend of old school synthesizers and new flows, Still Brazy is comprised of 17 anthemic tracks fueled by storytelling and embellished with guest features including Drake, Lil Wayne, Slim 400, Sad Boy, and more. He takes listeners on a journey through political activism, paranoia, and authenticity while simultaneously managing to have a good time. “FDT”—which stands for “Fuck Donald Trump”—brings attention to American politics, and although lines such as “Where your L.A. rally? / We gon’ crash that shit,” make the song seem like purely an aggressive one, it’s not just that.
“It’s about getting our people involved and waking the culture up,” YG, born Keenon Jackson, explains. “It’s about being proactive, not reactive.” In addition to politics and identity, a resounding sense of suspicion filters through tracks like “Who Shot Me.” Literally not knowing who shot him, the 26-year-old is constantly on edge and has learned to keep his circle tight.
Just before the album’s release, we sat down with YG in New York to talk about the topics he explores, giving back to his community, and more.
DYLAN MCDERMOTT: On a song like “Gimme Got Shot,” you explain how you are fed up with people asking for handouts. Would you say that reflects the overall tone of the album?
YG: [laughs] Yeah, most definitely.
MCDERMOTT: So on “FDT,” you said, “When me and Nip link, that’s Bloods and Crips, where your L.A. rally? We gon’ crash that shit”—
YG: —it ain’t even about that, that’s the ignorant shit.
MCDERMOTT: Then what is it about?
YG: Waking our people up, getting our people involved, and voting. I can’t tell you who to vote for, because you have to do your homework to see who you connect with and see what they’re pushing. I felt like motherfuckers were talking about Donald Trump but weren’t doing anything, so we’re getting people involved. Hopefully this shit helps and makes a difference.
MCDERMOTT: Considering that your new album being named Still Brazy, did you originally want your first album to be titled “My Brazy Life” instead of My Krazy life?
YG: The first album was going to be called “I’m from Bompton” and then I changed it to My Krazy Life. I changed it because my team was telling me I shouldn’t come out with the “I’m from Bompton” album because it seems like I’m speaking to a specific crowd of people with the Bompton shit. I’m like, “All right for sure, this is my first album,” so I changed it to My Krazy Life. This album, I’m like fuck all that, I’m about to go do my YG shit.
MCDERMOTT: Considering the lyrics for “Twist my Fingaz,” would you say it’s still a popular thing to identify as a Blood in the rap game?
YG: Yeah, for sure that’s going on, but when I’m speaking about that, I’m not speaking about it to be like that. I walked into an interview the other day and the person was like, “Oh YG, you the biggest Blood!” I’m like “Man, miss me with all that.” I’m not trying to do that; it just comes with me. It’s real shit, but I’m not speaking about it to try to be on some “I’m the biggest Blood” shit. I’m speaking on it because it’s not being spoken on. There’s fraudulent shit going on.
So yeah, it is becoming a popularity thing, but that’s cool because I’m making the lane for gangs of other sorts—that’s the good side of it. On the other side, you got a lot of fuckery, weird shit going on. It’s making this look watered down. I’m talking about the motherfuckers who really are trying to come up and act like they’re Bloods and all that. When I jumped into that life, it wasn’t no popularity thing.
MCDERMOTT: In the same song you then go on to say, “I could’ve got a ghost / but I went and got a low low, because copying off you rap niggas is a no no.”
YG: Be yourself and set the trend, don’t follow.
MCDERMOTT: Moving onto “Who Shot Me,” what is going through your brain regarding that song outside of rap?
YG: Paranoia, darkness. I really live my life looking over my shoulder.
MCDERMOTT: I know you even wondered that your homies set you up. What’s that like? Has it always been that way?
YG: Yeah, well, half of this shit is regular because I’m a gang member. When you’re moving around and you’re from somewhere, you already have to watch your every move. Period. When motherfuckers get shot, it’s regular because most of the time they know who shot them—you know where it came from, you know where they hang out, and you know what they look like. So you have to watch your back, but you don’t have to watch your back too hard; it’s not paranoia. This shit, though—I don’t know where it came from, bro. It made me cut off all types of stuff in my life with homies, with me being the way I am. When that happened, it was like 20 motherfuckers up in the crib. Now, motherfuckers don’t know where I live. I don’t have any parties where I’m living—unless I’m moving out, like I just did. [laughs]
MCDERMOTT: Yeah, you can’t be traceable.
YG: Yeah, so I’m moving like that right now. I think it changed me. The change is for the better, though. All the shit that happened was a wake up call, because I was really loose with it out here, calling everybody to the spot, all females—ghetto ones, pretty ones, prostitutes—like we know ’em all, we invite ’em all. Now it’s different because it’s like, “Hold up, where she from? She can’t come, she look grimy,” shit like that. I needed that because I was too loose with the bullshit.
MCDERMOTT: On the same track, you claim that God has a plan for you.
YG: Oh, the interlude before—I was just saying that God has a plan for me because I could’ve been killed two times that night, you feel me?
MCDERMOTT: Yeah, what would you say that plan includes?
YG: Me continuing to do what I do, making a way for my people and passing the blessings. Just like my momma told me, “God blessed the right person, because if he would’ve put me in your situation, I would’ve been spending all the money and all this other shit.” [laughs] How my operation is, how I move, it’s like Each One Teach One; I’m giving opportunities to my homies and to the people. That’s my mission statement.
MCDERMOTT: Creating something bigger than yourself.
YG: Yeah, something that’s going to help motherfuckers around me and others that I didn’t grow up with—just my people. We share the same stories and are interested in the same shit. I’m creating a lot of opportunities out here; we’re creating a lot of opportunities out here. I could’ve had my shit run by other types of people, but it would’ve crossed out opportunities for the homies. But I’ve been sacrificing. I’ve been going through all the bullshit for this.
MCDERMOTT: Would you say it’s worth it?
YG: Hell yeah it’s worth it. If you don’t do that, at the end of the day, it’s like, “What did you do?” Yeah, you got the money, that’s cool, but what’d you do? Did the people feel you? Did you move the culture?
MCDERMOTT: You also have a nonprofit, 400 Ways.
YG: We’re changing lives, bro—Each One Teach One. Right now, my momma is opening programs and doing events. We’re doing little things until we get what we need to do what we have planned. We got big shit planned, though I don’t know if I can speak about it yet. There’s a lot of people in the world, a lot of celebrities, that’ll be like “Don’t do drugs, don’t gangbang,” but they’ll say something and then just walk away.
MCDERMOTT: That’s good. Did you always want to have a nonprofit and/or give back?
YG: I’m a giving back type of dude. I started giving back early, before I even had shit to give back. My momma had something to do with that, though. My momma ran daycares so she was always doing shit with kids and helping parents. When I start doing my thing, she started having me work with shelter homes. Eventually all that turned into bigger shit and I came up with 400 Ways. Then we linked with the Mayor of Compton, so we do all of our events with her, her husband, and the city. The goal is putting on my people, using my platform to bring other motherfuckers up. I’m not talking about, “Yeah the homies, this my day one, he don’t do shit, but he’s my day one.” I’m talking about [helping] real motherfuckers.
There are people out there like me, like I didn’t graduate from high school and I’m a gang member, but there’s certain shit that I just don’t fuck with. This industry right here, motherfuckers dream of being part of it, but for us, it’s one of our only ways to make it out. We got the rap game and sports. All the other shit is school related and we fucked that up already, so this was our way out.
MCDERMOTT: So you just really want to show other kids that route, that this is an option.
YG: Shit bro, that’s what it’s all about. It’s real situations out here. Motherfuckers is taking care of their families and learning about life.
MCDERMOTT: Let’s talk about the clothing line, 400.
YG: The clothing line—400, the collection. I’m 10-toes down with that shit. I’m in tune with everything. Me and my boy Gavin [McNeil] designed it. The clothing line is just another branch of the 400 brand. It’s authentic and it’s new street wear. We’re going to open up more opportunities. As the company grows, more motherfuckers are gonna get hired.