Exclusive Interview: YG Is One With the West
YG is an anomaly: a gangsta rapper with a club pulse. His music gets the party turnt up, and his latest effort, Just Re’d Up 2, bangs like usual, fitted with thick, pulsating bass, hypnotic melodies, and spastic claps. YG, along with super-producer DJ Mustard, known for hits like Tyga’s “Faded,” have created something — some call it “ratchet music,” in the best way possible — that’s taken L.A. by storm. Fresh off a tour with Mac Miller, he’s back to claim a sound that’s been borrowed by the likes of Meek Mill, Young Jeezy and even Drake.
We catch up with YG while he’s chillin’ in the hills of Hollywood, California, where he’s recently moved his family. It’s not too far from the streets of Bompton (Blood Gang, Compton), but far enough. Barely 23 years old, YG utters few words, but he’s clear and concise. On his new track “Im 4rm Bompton,” he say, “And I ain’t into doing interviews / ‘Cause criminals don’t like talking.”
But right now the streets are doing all the talking for him, even if he hasn’t dropped an album more than two years after his hit, “Toot It & Boot It.” To the Def Jam signee, it’s much more than just putting out an album. “I don’t want to be an artist to just come out with low sales,” he reveals. He also mentions that while he’s been nominated for a Grammy already thanks to a vocal sample used in Uncle Snoop’s “Young Wild & Free,” that the golden trophy remains “one of [his] goals.”
YG, born Keenon Jackson, grew up listening to the ’90s West Coast classics, including legends like Tupac and Snoop Dogg. “I didn’t get into Jay-Z until a couple years ago,” he says, as Kendrick Lamar did before him. It’s not a surprise. When it comes to rap, L.A.’s as territorial as it’s famed street gangs. “I didn’t get it at first, but after I’ve grown I see what he’s talking about,” he says.
In interviews, Jackson has embraced the “ratchet” label wholeheartedly, but he makes it clear: “The fans named the music that.” Yet after creating the movement as YG and DJ Mustard did, it must be disheartening to hear almost every rapper co-opt it just to get some shine in Los Angeles. He agrees. “I was a little frustrated but I talked to DJ Mustard,” he says of the popular sound, “but he said we created this shit, so we just have to keep reinventing it.” While the tape does expand upon the original sound, YG’s less concerned with people catchin’ fades. On Just Re’d Up 2, there’s a lot of material for the ladies, including a sample of Brandy’s “Wanna Be Down,” and Tony Toni Tone’s “Lay Your Head On My Pillow” somewhere in the middle. YG’s gunnin’ for the mainstream.
Most of the New West movement, including artists like Nipsey Hussle, Dom Kennedy, and Kendrick Lamar, are carrying on tradition, rapping in the memory of the MC Ren’s, Eazy E’s and Tupac’s, but YG’s riding a wave of his own. While he is a far cry away from what some may perceive as the New West, he still considers them his peers. “Beyond this rap shit, Nip and Dom are my niggas,” he says. While fans would be quick to not put them in the same circle, they continue to rap together, and both are on his current mixtape. But what makes YG’s so-called ratchet music a great alternative to more lyric-driven music is its unabashed will to entertain. While the gang violence will continue in Bompton every year, it feels good to hear something designed to make you dance.
So, Where does YG fit in in this culture? Is he going to be another Soulja Boy, with singles on end? “ We’re going to do it,” he says, speaking confidently about his album. “I just need things to be perfect and lined up so we can get things crackin’.” Only time and his reinventive hits will tell.