March is a big month for YG. A few days ago, he turned 24. Next week, a documentary film about his life will be released on Complex. And in a few days, his debut studio album, My Krazy Life, will drop. There’s been a lot of hype about the Southern Californian’s upcoming album, which features previously released tracks (“My Nigga,” “Who Do You Love?” and “Left, Right”), as well as new music. But, before we get all excited about what’s to come, let’s take a moment to reflect on and appreciate the emcee’s previous work.
YG may be young, but he sure is prolific. From 2008 to 2013, the Compton native, who used to use his bedroom as his “studio,” released five mixtapes: 4 Fingaz, The Real 4 Fingaz, Just Re’d Up, 4 Hunnid Degreez, and Just Re’d Up 2. In other words, his 2009 hit “Toot It and Boot It” might have been his ticket to fame, but it’s hardly his only banger. Listening to all five of his mixtapes in succession is an experience in itself. Sure, not all of his early songs are genius and, yes, many of them tend to focus on the same subjects (women, sex, money, etc.), but that’s what makes listening to his old mixtapes so fun. You can literally hear YG mature and improve from tape to tape. All artists must go through a learning phase wherein they perfect their skills and better hone their craft and, luckily for us, YG just happened to put it all online (and for free, too).
In a few days, My Krazy Life will drop and we at RESPECT. have no doubts that it’ll be a banger. But, before we usher in his new collection of music, let’s give a shout out to the best of the best of YG’s earlier work.
15. “It’s So Hard” from The Real 4 Fingaz
“It’s So Hard” isn’t included on this list because it’s a great song (although we’re not saying it’s rotten, either). It’s really the lyrics that make this song so interesting by giving listeners a peek into the life and mindset of young YG. Even though this was only his second mixtape, (his first being 4 Fingaz), YG was already dealing with the downsides of fame. He talks about being used—“Ever since my name been buzzin / random people hit me up like ‘what’s up, cousin?’ ”—and manipulated—“they just wanna change my life.” In other words, fame is a bitch and with a hook that starts with “And it’s so hard,” it’s obvious the young emcee is still adjusting to it. Of course, not all of the lines in this song are genius—“I’m all about the bread like a muffin,” but so what? As the second song on his second mixtape ever, it’s not a bad slap, and the fact that it’s on the same mixtape as “Toot It and Boot It” (it’s actually the song right before it), is even crazier because we’re betting that once this mixtape came out, poor YG’s life became even harder. Oh, the struggle.
14. “Pillow Talkin” featuring Short Dawg from Just Re’d Up
It’s obvious that young DJ Mustard was trying something new here. If you ignore the lyrics and just listen to the beat, you’ll hear innovation at its finest. Sonically different from his other songs, “Pillow Talkin” is an organ-heavy track with a playful, carnival-like tune. Lyrically, it’s a song about blabber mouthed friends and the risk of post-coital conversation. In a word, it’s about gossip. YG sings directly to his male friends who have, so to speak, let him down by talking about his business with their female friends. It’s a relatable problem for many and a pretty ironic subject for the rapper who would later sell over a million copies of a single about loyalty and friends.
13. “Yo Body” from 4 Hunnid Degreez
“Yo Body” is another one of those uncharacteristic YG songs that goes light on the hyphy and heavy on the crooning. It’s more R&B than hip-hop and more appropriate for a candle lit dinner than a night spent at the club. The chorus is a sped up, Alvin and the Chipmunks-like version of parts of Keith Sweat’s “My Body” that mixes surprisingly well with YG’s gravely voice.
12. “On The Set” featuring Tory Lanez from Just Re’d Up 2
If you’re only just now starting to listen to YG, you might be surprised to learn that not all of his songs are high-energy, ratchet-fabulous club hits. Rather, some of his songs, like “On The Set,” are slow jams that sound sort of like a Charlie Wilson song, just with rapping and nastier lyrics. From a feminist’s standpoint, the chorus is pretty dumb—“If you respect yourself, I’m gon’ give you your respect, girl”— but there are also some endearingly sweet lines in it, too. Overall, it’s a pretty anomalous song for YG, which is exactly why it’s on this list. Plus, it’s popular with the ladies, so if you’re looking for a song to get your female in the mood, here you go.
11. “Sprung” featuring TeeFlii from Just Re’d Up 2
“Sprung” is one of those songs that baffles you and makes you wonder why you never heard it on the radio. It’s got all the right elements—a catchy beat produced by DJ Mustard, fun lyrics, and a dance-like vibe—and yet, it never made it that far. The music video for it has over a million views, so at least someone’s listening to it, but you’d think that a song like this, brought to you by YG and the man who made the chart-topping hit “This D,” would have gone further. But you know what they say, timing is everything, so maybe the radio stations were already over-saturated with hyper-sexual R&B-meets-pop ballads at the time of its release. Or maybe it just got overlooked. After all, there are 28 tracks on the Just Re’d Up 2 mixtape and that’s a lot of music to digest.
10. “Cali Livin” featuring Dom Kennedy from 4 Hunnid Degreez
Everything about this song is on point. It’s got two California natives crooning about life in the Golden State. It’s got a laid-back beat with a hypnotic melody. The bars are spit rapidly, yet casually at the same time. In other words, it is California encapsulated into a song, and both YG and Dom Kennedy do a superb job of painting a picture of what life in their home state is like. Case in point, the song’s chorus: “I got my top down in my whip / Her hair blowing in the wind. / I got my shades on cuz I’m bent /she roll it up with no stem.” I mean, can you get more Californian than that?
9. “Make It Clap” from Just Re’d Up 2
Clapping is like twerking’s younger sibling—just not as annoying and over-used. And though “Make It Clap” is not the most original song title, (there must be at least a dozen songs with the same name), this version stands out. Like many of YG’s songs, it’s the DJ Mustard-produced beat that makes it worthwhile. Within the first few seconds, the listener is drawn in. The high-pitched tunes characteristic of DJ Mustard’s work (think “Rack City”) are undeniably catchy and it would be hard not to want to dance—or clap—to this.
8. “2 Step” from Just Re’d Up
Like the dance itself, “2 Step” is a simple song. Its got a tinkling, piano-like melody that almost sounds Oriental. YG’s bars are chill and laid-back, unhurried and casually spit. He raps about what he does best—picking up girls—and even that is an apparently simple task because, as he says in the song, “I don’t dance, I just two step and pull up my pants.” This song is YG at his chillest. There are no frills, no featured artists and no surprise tempo changes. It’s just YG pulling up his pants and two stepping.
7. “I’m Good” from Just Re’d Up
“I’m Good” is the opening track on the Just Re’d Up mixtape and damn, is it good. It’s a perfect example of YG and DJ Mustard coming together to make music at its best. The beat that DJ Mustard created for the song certainly bangs, as YG says in the first line, and the song as a whole is catchy as hell. YG’s way with words, not to mention his sense of humor, are apparent throughout, with lines like, “I’m so straight / Cops so crooked” and “I don’t want her / You can have her. / Bitch you ugly like yo daddy, Reggie Miller.” It’s also one of the first YG songs to introduce the theme of loyalty and connection to one’s hood, which has since become a staple motif in YG’s music.
6. “Don’t Trust” featuring Young Scooter from Just Re’d Up 2
To call “Don’t Trust” a precursor to “My Nigga” is probably a stretch, but the two songs certainly have much in common. Both songs focus on friendship and trust, but where “My Nigga” celebrates YG’s friends, “Don’t Trust” berates them. Yes, the love and loyalty for his crew are there, as the hook goes, “I ride for my niggas/ I die for my niggas / but hopefully none of us go,” but not everything is peaches and cream. YG has beef with some people and if that’s not already obvious in the title of the song, he makes it clear with lines like, “They say you live and you learn / Well I learned” and, “Keep calling my phone, asking me for favors / So I had to put a block on your bitch ass.” We never find out exactly what or whom he’s talking about, but that hardly matters. In fact, it’s good that we don’t know more because otherwise the song would be less relatable. Everyone has trust issues, everyone’s been stabbed in the back, and everyone’s gone through hard times. This song could be anyone’s anthem (and it probably is). We’ve all got dirty laundry, so to speak, but for some reason it’s cooler when you hear someone like YG airing it out.
5. “Blunted” featuring Casey Veggies and Shitty from 4 Hunnid Degreez
“Blunted” is a synth-heavy, trippy tune about, well, smoking a blunt. Like most songs about weed (think Whiz Khalifa and Kid Cudi), there is a palpable haziness to “Blunted” that gives you the feeling of having blazed one, even if you haven’t. Casey Veggies starts off the track and his crisp, high-pitched voice melds nicely with YG’s later bars. It’s a stoner’s song, relying heavily on repetition and isolated melodies, and a nice change from YG’s usual energy-packed, get-up-and-get-moving tracks.
4. “IDGAF” featuring Will Claye from Just Re’d Up 2
It’s hard not to like this song. From the get-go, it pulls you in with its staccato opening and from there, it only gets better. It’s an upbeat song with a catchy beat and even catchier hook that you can’t help but sing-a-long to, even if you normally aren’t one to utter profanities. To call it a motivational song would be taking it too far, but there is definitely something about it that instills hope and happiness in the listener. Maybe it’s the fact that Will Claye, an Olympic athlete, has a verse on this song, which is sort of like a real life example that anything is possible. Claye even says so himself at the end of his verse when he raps, “Never thought I was rapping material / But the fact that I’m killing, human / I’m cold and I’m tellin’ you / Could’ve switched occupations.” Takeaway message from this song: Don’t give an F and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
3. “I Wanna B Down” featuring Brandy from Just Re’d Up 2
If there’s one thing this song makes clear it’s that YG sounds amazing when paired with a female vocalist. Seriously, this song makes you wonder why he hasn’t done more collaborations with female musicians and why so few hooks in his songs are sung by women. (It also makes you want to listen to the entire Brandy album on repeat, which you can do, after you hear this song.) This is the kind of song that deserves to be played at full volume in a tightly confined environment, like a car or through headphones, because it’s just that good. The craziest part about it is that Brandy’s original 1994 hit is fully preserved in this song. DJ Mustard didn’t chop, screw, or alter any of Brandy’s voice to fit the song, but rather built the song around it. Brandy’s vocals give way to Mustard’s beats which give way to YG’s bars and then the cycle repeats. It’s genius in its simplicity and it’s a bummer that collaborations with female artists are such a rarity in YG’s music. (Also worth a listen: “I Made It” featuring Tanea on Just Re’d Up)
2. “Go So Deep” featuring Ty Dolla $ign and PC from 4 Hunnid Degreez
“Go So Deep” is another YG rarity. In fact, it hardly sounds like a YG song with the soft crooning in the background and the overall R&B style of the song, but that’s the beauty of it. In this song, YG demonstrates not only his versatility, but his daring to try something new. And, as “Toot It and Boot It” already proved, when you put YG and Ty Dolla $ign together on a track, you’re gonna end up with something golden. It’s a fact.
1.“I’m 4rm Bompton” from Just Re’d Up 2
“I’m 4rm Bompton” is a YG classic. It’s got all the components that you’d expect in a YG song—dope beats sprinkled with a little bit of hyphy and a little bit of ratchet; synths up the wazoo; and tongue-in-cheek lyrics. It’s silly and it’s serious at the same time and autobiographical to boot. YG may not have coined the term “Bompton,” but he certainly gets credit for popularizing the term and introducing it to the main stream. YG has always been proud of his roots and he’s dropped mentions of both his city and state in many a song, but none are more memorable than “I’m 4rm Bompton.” Case in point: YG’s Twitter profile lists his location as Bompton, California, not Compton. Now that’s saying something.