It’s official: YG’s debut studio album, My Krazy Life, is one of the best rap releases of the year thus far and a major statement from the West Coast. Now, the nation knows there’s potential for a superstar not named Kendrick Lamar or ScHoolboy Q from the warmer half of the country. Riding the hype of “My Nigga” radio domination and star-studded remix, YG’s primed to become a fixture in the bigger picture of rap. My Krazy Life is an album that jostles back and forth from mid-90’s G-Funk to modern-day rap, stopping almost everywhere in between. While YG does show a surprisingly deft storytelling touch, and a effortless versatility to bounce between soft-hearted tales (well, YG’s version of soft) to club banging tracks, he’s still just a co-star. DJ Mustard’s outstanding production–along with beats from Ty Dolla $ign, Mikely Adam and Atlanta wunderkind Metro Boomin’–creates a thrilling soundscape that is both timeless and so moment-defining that YG can’t do very much to mess it up. Together, YG and Mustard have created a modern West Coast classic. But for all its successes, though, it lacks surprises. But that’s not necessarily a problem.
As Spin’s Brandon Soderberg notes here, YG and Mustard created the perfect ratchet album to culminate a movement that’s both artists have led from underground to mainstream over the last few years. With that in mind, it can be argued that this album could have, and should have, been made two years ago.
In 2010, Tyga was a YMCB bench-warmer at best, withering away while Lil Wayne contemplated leaving the game for skating. But Tyga was a resilient studio hound like his boss and mentor. Tyga may not have been doing much of note, but he was releasing a steady stream of music and helping craft a sound out West that combined Bay-area hyphy music and the sparseness of Atlanta snap music that ultimately morphed into the unique sound that is ratchet. Eventually, he found a kindred spirit of sound in Mustard’s beats and their unique chemistry helped give both rapper and producer their first major tastes of the mainstream. Tyga’s love for party tracks and penchant for simple, earworm hooks melded well with Mustard’s simple, exacting beats, ultimately creating the monster that was “Rack City.” The track was originally part of the mixtape Well Done 2, but it gained so much traction over the course of nearly a year and a half that it ended up being re-released as an actual single that reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped Tyga garner enough hype that his 2nd studio album was, to the surprise of many, a fairly anticipated release. In the lead up to the album, Tyga dropped his #BitchImTheShit mixtape, which was full of sparse beats and catchy, memeorable hooks. (Sound familiar, YG fans?) The tape included songs like the “Rack City”-lookalike, “Make It Nasty” and the West-Coast-meets-Future ‘”Fuck With You.” In retrospect, #BitchImTheShit sounds eerily similar to My Krazy Life, only set apart by a Swizz Beat track and a lot less emotional depth, neither of which are necessarily good things.
When Careless World: Rise of the Last King hit stores and speakers, fans were expecting something along the lines of what Tyga’s mixtapes sounded like leading up to the release, but what they got was an artist unfocused and unsure of what he wanted to be. “Rack City,” and the club-banging “Faded,” were there, but they were lost and uncomfortable in the company of songs like the tragic-turned-forgettable “Lay You Down,” and the Robin Thicke-assisted “This is Like.” Tyga also found himself trading bars with the likes of Wale, J. Cole and Busta Rhymes; artists known for their lyrical prowess, something Tyga is not and will never be. Careless World faired OK critically and has sold over 340,000 copies to date. But instead of making a memorable, possibly genr-defining album, pushing a fledgling movement to the forefront, Tyga gave us something that ultimately was just another rap album that “faded” into ephemerality.
It’s not like Tyga is the only artist guilty of this offense. Maybach Music prodigy Meek Mill’s major label debut came and went with little fanfare due to its lack of direction. Instead of giving us an album full of high-energy tracks like “I’mma Boss” and “House Party,” Meek gave us the rather un-memorable Dreams and Nightmares, where he attempted to be “lyrical” and sacrificed the exact style that earned him his record deal with MMG. The album lacks that passion-filled, filthy Philly flow, until the bonus track “Burn” with Big Sean. (Meek even had a Mustard-Tyga type relationship with the producer in his back pocket, Roc Nation producer Jahlil Beats, who produced “I’mma Boss” and “Burn”.)
Identity issues abounded on J. Cole’s Roc Nation debut, Cole World: The Sideline Story as well. Cole, maybe for fear of early Kanye comparisons, moved away from the heart-felt flow and soul-sample style that laced all of his mixtapes for a more polished, pop-friendly sound, and the results were mixed. Even this past year, Big Sean struggled to find his identity on Hall of Fame, and this is all not to mention Cudi‘s rock and roll phase.
This isn’t to discourage artists from branching out to different sounds, styles, flows, or even genres. Some artists have done it to devastatingly beautiful effects (see: Future, Kanye, Drake, A$AP Rocky, etc). But when you’ve built your whole persona and career on a certain type of music, it’s shocking to take a different turn in once that momentum culminates in an album.
Some people will applaud the courage of those artists that chose to risk trying something new on their albums, and there’s courage in that for sure. There will be those that complain that YG’s album isn’t diverse enough, that it’s unsurprising, or, at worst, tiresome compared to his other catalog. For now, though, YG’s riding high as the co-king of the coast; the homegrown product putting his city, and it’s signature sound, on the map. To get there, it was simple. He followed a tried and true business plan that’s been around for centuries. Sometimes, you just have to give the people what they want.
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