"I just gave y'all L.A. I gave Y'all what I seen, what I went through, what I know, my lifestyle. And my lifestyle is a lot of people lifestyle, you feel me." —YG, 2014
In late May 1993, over a month before the second anniversary of Boyz n the Hood—John Singleton’s Academy Award-nominated debut as a film director—twin filmmakers Allen and Albert Hughes delivered to the box office an attention-seizing tale of urban, black life in 1990s Watts, Los Angeles, with their coming-of-age oeuvre, Menace II Society.
The stark parallels between these directorial debuts are many. Both occupy a time where black youths in the inner cities of L.A. are living in the post-tension produced by Rodney King's brutal police beating and the riots born from public outrage; the desperation and damage influenced by poverty-stricken homes and Ronald Reagan’s cocaine flooded streets; and the aftereffects from a culture of manhood dictated by colors, neighborhoods, and pride that turned boys into brothers and rivalry into murder.
If Boyz n the Hood stars Cuba Gooding Jr. (Tre Styles) and Morris Chestnut (Ricky Baker) appeared in any scene alongside Menace II Society leads Tyrin Turner (Kaydee "Caine" Lawson) and Larenz Tate (Kevin "O-Dog" Odum), the crossover would’ve been natural as the sun sharing the sky with the moon.
In Roger Ebert’s 1993 review of Menace II Society, the late, acclaimed film critic wrote, “If Boyz N the Hood was the story of a young man lucky enough to grow up with parents who cared, and who escapes the dangers of the street culture, Menace II Society is, tragically, about many more young men who are not so lucky.” Ebert articulates how he saw a movie within another; not because of overlapping themes and similar character archetypes, but how real-life depiction, when done convincingly, presents just one story in a setting with many stories to tell.
Compton rap star YG released his debut My Krazy Life on March 18, 2014. The album arrived seven months before the two-year anniversary of fellow Compton son Kendrick Lamar’s universally acclaimed debut good kid, m.A.A.d city. Like the two aforementioned films, the two major-label debuts coexist in the same world.
There’s omnipresent chaos that ebbs and flows throughout My Krazy Life and good kid, m.A.A.d city. Both albums display the forms this disorder takes on through focused, day-in-the-life narratives that place a magnifying glass atop the city they call home.
Yet, YG and Kendrick approach Compton from thoroughly different vantage points. YG isn’t like Kendrick, an innocent flower trying to blossom in concrete made of fire; he is the fire.
There are no protagonists or antagonists in the Compton YG builds, only the mothers who scream consequences at their trouble-attracting sons and answer collect calls when they don’t listen (“Momma Speech Intro” and “Thank God.") There isn’t a Helen of Troy-esque lover who provoked conflict between opposing sides, just women who orbit passionate wildfires in a cycle of being burnt or doing the burning (“Do It To Ya” and “Me & My Bitch”). Mayhem is invited where there are parties (“I Just Wanna Party”), sunny calm can suddenly become a downpour of bullets (“Bicken Back Being Bool”), gangbanging is a neighborhood inheritance (“BPT”), and to live by-any-means is risky as it's rewarding (“Meet The Flockers” and “I’m Sorry Momma”).
The vivid events of YG’s debut all unfold seamlessly; cinematic as it may be, My Krazy Life is more akin to Damon Russell-directed Snow on Tha Bluff than any big budget feature film. Successfully, Snow on Tha Bluff turns the lawless life of Curtis Snow and his Atlanta neighborhood, The Bluff, into a documentary-style drama that represents how ordinary chaos becomes when it’s a part of your daily life. This is exactly what YG accomplishes on My Krazy Life, capturing the effects that are caused by decisions made in his environment. As the now 29-year-old rapper explained in a 2014 interview with NPR about the album, "This what the life is”—nothing more, nothing less.
“That's real s--- though in them interludes. That's real life, you feel me, that's real s---. That's s--- that's happened. Like the flock — when they was breaking in houses, that's how you break in a house. That's how it go down. You ain't got no gloves, put your sock on. That's really how it go down. The one that come before "Bicken Back Bein Bool," we outside on the block and the OG homie, he walk up, spittin' his little poetry. That really go on. That's the homie that really do that.” —YG, NPR
As a rapper, the man born Keenon Jackson doesn’t employ remarkable bars or prodigal wordplay, but his lyricism throughout My Krazy Life contains what’s necessary to translate reality. His writing shines as a replicator of life. Every lyric is rapped with the intention of grounding the audience to a place that is physical and emotions that are legitimate. YG’s Compton couldn’t be abstract.
The duality between YG and Kendrick’s major label debuts can’t be helped. They both followed similar playbooks left behind from previous, timeless albums and drew inspiration from the same muses. It's easy to imagine the friend who Kendrick portrays in the first verse of GKMC's "Sing About Me" as a voice who occupies the space o YG's down-to-earth skits; the same can be said about how the young men breaking into homes on YG's "Meet the Flockers" are the same homies on "The Art Of Peer Pressure." Even the stellar verse Kenny contributes to "Really Be (Smokin N Drinkin)" is more like a crossover cameo than an ordinary guest feature.
Technical prowess aside, when paired together these separate but equal portraits complete an extensive worldview of a community of men trying to survive. Their debuts will age and Compton will continue to change, but the world will forever know about their crazy lives in a mad city.
good kid, m.A.A.d city, much like Boyz N the Hood, is regarded as the masterpiece, and rightfully so. My Krazy Life is a perfect match with Menace II Society, not heralded with awards and nominations, but respected by critics and fans alike for offering a reality that’s as striking as it is entertaining. What matters isn't what they accomplished, but in what they delivered, and both movies, like with both albums, are stories built to be remembered long after the final credits roll.
Five years on, the nuanced details of YG's turbulent lifestyle, accompanied by DJ Mustard’s thoughtful, G-Funk-inspired production, is the reason My Krazy Life remains untouched by time. Rather today, yesterday, or in the distant tomorrow, to hear My Krazy Life is to be a visitor without having to arrive, to enjoy the thrill of danger without the fear of peril, and to return whenever the desire burns for a vision of Compton only YG could offer.