2018 has been a massive year in hip-hop. From artists of the highest stature (Drake, J. Cole, JAY-Z and Beyoncé) to newcomers just beginning to make a name for themselves (Juice WRLD, Gunna), everyone is vying for our attention.
Out West, especially in California, there’s been no shortage of impeccable music. Long-awaited debuts by Buddy and Nipsey Hussle did not disappoint; Kendrick Lamar’s executive-produced Black Panther The Album is a magical compilation, with SOB X RBE leaving a great first impression; and Ty Dolla $ign is arguably this summer’s MVP. The list goes on.
Two years removed from his sophomore album, Still Brazy, YG making his return this summer is only right. The Compton rapper has always had a compelling gift for making singles, but as he's proven over two full-length albums, he can also construct a stellar, complete body of work. In fact, YG's deep cuts are on par with, if not better than, most of his beloved party records, a characteristic seen in artists like 2 Chainz and Rich Homie Quan.
There hasn't been a large amount of fanfare surrounding STAY DANGEROUS, YG's third official studio album; with so much music being released as of late, it appears he’s been swept into the flood rather than leading the current. YG needs a strong album to serve as a reminder he's a still a rapper to be reckoned with.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish. *Mystikal voice* Danger!
1. "10 TIMES"
The return of YG and DJ Mustard. Keys are climbing. YG’s voice came in before an atomic drop slammed into my headphones like a chop to the throat. Middle fingers are waving in the most danceable, chaotic soundscape. YG is using a Pac-esque cadence and it’s pretty remarkable. Pac’s ghost is in the room with so many artists from the West—that’s immortality. Mustard delivered. Good performance from YG. I wish he had a bit more bite with the delivery. I can see this one doing well at shows. Choir! I love a good choir, gives me the taste of church I need to get through these reviews.
2. "BULLETPROOF" ft. Jay 305
I really like the title, STAY DANGEROUS. Nice trap bounce. Sounding a bit like Key! but most rappers do these days. Production is such a treat. YG’s flow switch was unexpected, but it was the needed spice to give “BULLETPROOF” flavor. Bassline sounds like it could be the dragon from YG’s album cover. Jay 305 sounds good. The same usual suspects appear on YG’s albums. “I got stabbed six times my mind different.” That’s a lyric you can’t begin to question the authenticity of. Jay pulled out the luggage for this verse; I like it more than what YG delivered. The punchy production is throwing the kind of haymakers people paid Pay-Per-View to watch Tyson throw. A pretty strong song, with a few reasons to revisit.
3. "HANDGUN" ft. A$AP Rocky
Is this the first time YG got a TM88 beat? WHOA! This is a scorcher. TM has some of the wildest hi-hats. YG sounds very good in this darker, trap atmosphere. The "super Blood" trick is one that should be much bigger. Actually, there are a few tricks in this YG verse that should fair well in live settings. The "duck, duck" is another one. Good hook as well. It’s a banger if I ever heard one. Rocky! “Goku, Trunks asthma pump.” Even when I don’t care for his lyrics, Rocky’s presence is irresistible. He came through for YG. This was a better performance than most of TESTING. “HANDGUN” is an infectious record. Okay, a skit at the end. It’s a sermon. A gangsta sermon. Not too funny, but fairly amusing.
4. "SUU WHOOP"
Blood anthem alert. YG being a proud gang-banging dad is very on-brand. There’s a nice thump to the beat. Not enough to join an actual gang, but I understand why IHOP was a fake Blood for one week. Eh, I love that YG is repping, but there’s a repetitiveness to the lyricism thus far that is losing me. I miss the conceptual focus of My Krazy Life. He is great when there’s a theme, and I’m not hearing one so far. The hook is good. His flow is solid. It’s just not hooking me. “I’m not with the pink hair Blood shit” haha. Okay, now this is what I’m here for. That’s the energy.
5. "CANT GET IN KANADA"
Kanada should be the new spelling for Canada. Let's start a petition. Another thumping West Coast banger. Was hoping Mustard brought the flamethrower to the studio but this is just a lighter lacking fluid. The flow he has is cool, bouncy in the pocket. A nice tone switch, adding a bit more weight to his voice. I just can’t get all the way into this one. It’s not bland, but I’m waiting for the song to become bombastic; to blast me away like a NASA spacecraft. Leaning toward skip.
6. "TOO COCKY"
A "Too Sexy" interpolation. Okay, they might have done something. Eh, I might’ve spoken too soon. There's definitely some promise here, but I just don’t love these Mustard chords and the rowdy ayes in the background. I needed this beat to shake the earth, the kind of shake that demands dance floors to be flooded, and it barely rumbles. YG is carrying this one. He’s all charisma and it works in his favor. I like the scratches, Mustard. Also, that Hibachi line, I cringe. Another skip.
7. "BIG BANK" ft. 2 Chainz, Big Sean & Nicki Minaj
BANGER! I did not care for this record upon release, but the song has grown on me. From Mustard’s cartoonish beat to Nicki’s verse, it’s almost impossible not to allow this song to sink its teeth into your veins. 2 Chainz will go down in history as one of the most consistent and entertaining rappers of this generation. Sean! I still hold out hope that he’ll find his bag and return to form. Also, a big middle finger to Madden and the NFL in the name of Colin Kap. Nicki came with the slapstick energy, though. Except for the last line, the hip-hop Barbie delivered.
8. "POWER" ft. Ty Dolla $ign
Mustard, Ty, and YG are back. This might be my favorite Mustard beat thus far. He does well when working with G-Funk-esque R&B records. There’s a lot of good grooves to get lost in. Ty is having an all-star summer. I can’t believe this is the same guy who gave us “Ratchet In My Benz.” I need Mustard to give Ty 10 of these for him and Jeremih. A keeper. Everything works like a well-oiled Gundam. These three should bring the band back together for a full-length or an EP. Something more than this!
9. "SLAY" ft. Quavo
YO! Okay! Is this a sample? Those background vocals are angelic. Mustard tag. He slowed it down. We didn't need these drums man. The piano and a light kick would’ve made this pure molten lava. There is such a thing as overproducing. Sigh. Quavo is shining like the star quarterback that he is. He’s been skipping between hits and misses as of late, but this is the kind of record that shows why he is a maker of magic. Other than wishing this beat was stripped of the excess, it’s a solid record. YG trying to be a promiscuous rapper with the suave delivery is comedy. Shoutout to Atlanta and Peachtree! Still sending love to Courtney at Hooters!
10. "666" ft. YoungBoy Never Broke Again
Now, this is interesting. The ticks are building some atmosphere. I can’t recall where I know this flow from, but it’s good. Bass so crazy, it’s like they sampled an LA earthquake. YEP! This is one. Thank god for Mike WiLL. If YG would’ve allowed Mike to do half the album instead of Mustard, the project would be more enjoyable. Well, at least more lively. One of his best verses thus far. The “move bitch” is a trick. Good one, guys. I haven’t played much YoungBoy but he has wings and is soaring. Completely took off. This is such a knocking monster. A praying man at the end. “Pops, I’m staying dangerous.” Favorite thus far and it’s not even close.
11. "TOO BRAZY" ft. Mozzy
That snare just snapped my neck. We going back to back with stronger street sweepers. YG is gliding smoother than the Silver Surfer over this Mustard beat. Why couldn’t everything he cooked up have a Boyz N The Hood vibe? Mozzy! Another rising star who is killing it. We needed a Kendrick verse on this one. He would’ve levitated into a new universe. Nevermind, YG’s second verse going back to back with Mozzy might be better than anything Kendrick could’ve conjured. That was a well-executed dance.
12. "PUSSY MONEY FAME"
The vibe is smooth. The beats are much better on the back half. So is the rapping. If the album started at “666,” I would say he’s three for three. Whoever produced this wanted to make a song that sounded like G-funk in Compton infested by zombies. It’s beautifully bizarre. YG is finding the bite I wanted to hear earlier. He’s in a completely new zone, like he just woke up as a man with a lot on his heart that he has to get off. Yep, another keeper.
13. "DEEPER THAN RAP"
The pocket in this beat buildup sounds like where Freddy Krueger would vacation. Yep, a full haunted house is happening in my ears. YG sounds as if he’s been drinking with Krueger, Jason, and all the demons haunting him. Loving the way he’s playing with his voice. It’s starting to get deep, introspective. THIS IS THE YG THAT IM TALKING ABOUT. “I don’t like that rap nigga I told the homies to rob him,” sheesh. Don’t tell me YG got rappers tucking their chains when they’re out west. He wasn’t kidding, the song title is a perfect reflection of what's being said. I could type "deeper than rap" to describe these lyrics and it would perfect explain how much of this song reflects sides of YG way beyond the rap persona. Very personal and perfectly executed. Keeper.
14. "FREE THE HOMIES INTERLUDE"
The title says it all. His homie is calling him from inside the pen. He’s been in jail for five years. It’s a call of appreciation. When someone from the inside is reminding you life can be different. Perspective.
15. "BOMPTOWN FINEST"
Loving these riffs. Man, this album would’ve made a great six-track EP. YG is rapping with the most passion I’ve heard all album. I’m starting to see the album theme, I get it now: you can take YG from Bompton but you can’t take Bompton from YG. “Who would Master P be if he wasn’t bout it bout it? Or Hov without the Marcy Projects?” Say that YG. I’m here for the reflection. He is talking to someone who has passed and mentioned Game’s Documentary 2. The third verse he’s talking to another homie, but three years later from the second verse. Mentioned falling out with Mustard. “Living like I can’t lose much.” It’s a beautiful outro about staying near your roots and how life changes and homies change, but that love doesn’t change.
Final (first listen) thoughts on STAY DANGEROUS:
YG’s STAY DANGEROUS starts strong with the hard-hitting bangers. He's clearly at his best when his lyricism and personality are larger than life, a giant among men. It’s in the middle where the humdrum moments cause dragging; when YG isn’t the compelling artist he needs to be, or when the lyrics aren’t sharp enough to pierce waning attention spans.
DJ Mustard is back with a bulk of the production. When he’s outside of his template, he shines. But when the beats aren’t slapping, the project begins to wobble. There’s a sense that the two still have chemistry, but when there's a lack in their combined luster, the entire album hurts.
STAY DANGEROUS shifts with the Mike WiLL Made-It-produced “666” and suddenly the album comes to new life. It is the last five records where YG discards the search for a record and shows the heart that the album was missing. STAY DANGEROUS isn't the ideal balance of searching for a single and constructing an album, but the latter half is where all the pieces start to come together. The album reveals itself to be the story of a rapper who isn’t a product of his environment, but the son of a home that raised him. The son who has returned home rich and famous.
Ultimately, STAY DANGEROUS needed to focus more on heart rather than the hits. There are too many records that sound as if they were made for the sake of variety and mass appeal. When YG ceases the chase and speaks his truth, STAY DANGEROUS becomes an incredible portrait of the artist as a larger-than-life gangbanger. Sadly, it comes a little too late.
By Yoh, aka, Yohtown Finest aka @Yoh31