Music

Hip-hop

LA rapper Y.G. sells swagger and menace on ‘Still Brazy’

LA rapper Y.G., pictured at Coachella in April.

Michael Tullberg/Getty Images for Coachella

LA rapper Y.G., pictured at Coachella in April.

Y.G. is a rare breed in 2016: a major-label “gangsta” rapper who stuck around long enough to release a second album. On merit, his 2014 debut, “My Krazy Life,” proved worthy of a sequel: Working in lockstep with producer DJ Mustard, the 26-year-old lyricist from Los Angeles followed a path laid by Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent before him, packaging aggressive bravado and street stories into a catchy package palatable for mainstream audiences. It sparked hits in “My [Expletive]” and the Drake-assisted “Who Do You Love”; logic would dictate that having nailed that sweet spot on his first attempt, Y.G. would offer more of the same on his second.

To a certain extent, he does. Y.G.’s swagger and bristling menace still permeate his verses on “Still Brazy,” the West Coast vibe is heavy again, and Drake makes another perfunctory appearance on “Why You Always Hatin?” Yet here, it’s less about what Y.G. does than how he does it; digging deeper into vintage G-funk flavors with a blend of personal, party, and political tracks, the young Compton rapper takes a sizzling step forward.

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While “Krazy” at times echoed Dr. Dre’s muscular funk, “Still Brazy” sounds as if its beats were pulled straight from the Death Row archives. With DJ Mustard absent, a roster of producers steps in to collectively assemble a cohesive sound gloriously steeped in the works of DJ Quik, Above the Law, and late-era N.W.A. Synth lines stretch and bounce around handclaps on “Word Is Bond,” while “Twist My Fingaz” is uncompromising in embracing LA gang culture, through both Y.G.’s brash verses and Terrace Martin’s drooping bass slaps and sprinkled piano keys. The same producer laces “Bool, Balm & Bollective” with an active vibe that complements Y.G.’s story about simmering neighborhood drama, but the lo-fi stomp of “She Wish She Was” takes the prize for most likely to blow out your stereo speakers.

Thankfully, Y.G. doesn’t just embrace the aesthetic of past heroes, but also makes strides of his own as an artist. On “Gimmie Got Shot” he shows flashes of DJ Quik’s witty, street-level storytelling, switching voices and points-of-view to portray a character from his neighborhood. “Who Shot Me?” is a brooding postscript to an incident last year that left Y.G. with a bullet wound, seen through slivers of hazy detail.

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Y.G. is passionate and direct rather than cool and detached; when he does lash out, it’s with a purpose. Witness the devastating “FDT,” which sounds something like if Ice Cube had aimed “No Vaseline” at Donald Trump. It’s fierce and funny (“He got me appreciating Obama way more”), but also credibly delivered on behalf of a disgusted community rather than one individual. Closing tracks “Blacks & Browns,” a powerful call for black unity with Latinos, and the incendiary “Police Get Away Wit Murder” are delivered with sincere, compelling rage. After this impressive album, it’s clear living brazy works for Y.G.

Martín Caballero

ESSENTIAL “Bool, Balm & Bollective”

Y.G. performs at Xfinity Center, Mansfield, Aug. 3.

Martín Caballero can be reached at caballeroglobe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @_el_caballero.
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