YG Still Brazy

[Def Jam; 2016]

Styles: West Coast hip-hop
Others: Kendrick Lamar, Bricc Baby, Nipsey Hussle

The cover art for Still Brazy withdraws from access, as it opens itself to the viewer. YG turns to face us, the camera, as he moves past our lens, perhaps crossing a street, casing his surroundings, red-striped Where’s Waldo? t-shirt signaling an incognito slink through time-space, his form blurs like someone caught on a traffic camera (“Stick your hand up like you guilty”), like an imperfection in recording due to the inevitable, tampering imprint of one quantum particle trying to measure the momentum of another. As this occurs, he is suffused by a Blood-red background, a flag, a Pacific sunset or a sea of blood.

Along with the record’s stark, antiporous sonic aesthetic, the ever-present specter of Blood mythology on Still Brazy is maybe what The New York Times’s Jon Caramanica refers to when he euphemistically calls the record “insular” — indeed, the Blooded physiognomy rhapsodized on songs like “Twist My Fingaz” (“I just do my dance/ And cuff my pants/ And twist my fingers with my hands”) are the emergent properties of hyperlocalized zones in space-time, closed off to outsiders, to the Times, to me (a Midwestern, white male critic). Those who attempt mimesis from the outside are immediately conspicuous, laughably inconsequential (see: “Don’t Come To LA”). The hardening repetition of the songs, with their minimalist, West Coast-indebted compositional strokes courtesy of the same production team behind To Pimp A Butterfly, withdraws from the listener as it unfurls, resists interpretation as anything but what it is. This resounds in YG’s unadorned, spoken interlude pieces, which come off as moments of off-the-top reflection. His words are deliberate but never cryptic, grounded in the small scope of one man’s experience but steeped in a viscous eraism.

Identities shift and recombine, sliding atop layers hyperlocal (“Twist My Fingaz”) and intersectional (“Blacks & Browns”); hyperlocal affects, sonic and lyrical, turn inside-out, dizzyingly metonymic yet with an obscure core of origin, juxtaposed against the overwhelming towering-into of human precariousness in an era of accelerating identitarian bloodshed and incoherent, obvious violence, most poetically rendered on the unanswered question that is “Who Shot Me,” based on YG’s real-life brush with death last year. This anxious bow to mortality echoes also in the final lines of fellow Los Angelan Bricc Baby’s verse on “Don’t Come to LA”: “You walkin’ round like you can’t get touched/ But JFK was president and he still got his head bust.”

This dual stroke of closed-off locality bursting open into metonymic viscosity is a non-cynical attempt to grapple with a painful, increasingly obvious irony: human perspective is tragically, shockingly limited, whether our gaze adapts the auspices of a “macro” or “micro” lens; in this very gesture, Still Brazy is analogous to the very biosphere we inhabit, becoming oblique in the same instant we perceive it most lucidly. To The New York Times, Still Brazy’s “insular” qualities merit categorization as a “protest record,” which is not entirely inaccurate considering the inclusion of “FDT” (“Fuck Donald Trump!”), but YG’s brilliance need not be understood within the context of a neoliberal political machine. If anything, it lies precisely in how I (again, a white male critic) fail utterly to tell you what it is.

Because in the same instant we perceive Still Brazy’s sonics to be insular, it suffuses the very space we inhabit, in the same moment it is expanding glacially, a quake in our understanding of the ground we believe we’ve been standing on. “Word Is Bond,” with its sung repetitive chorus, circles this concealed apparentness, becoming truthful in the act of asserting itself as such, theoretically exchangeable at a later date (which never arrives) for the verification of said truth.

So when YG poses on “I Got a Question,” “Will the truth really set you free?,” he prods at the fabric of a millennial neoliberal “stay woke” ideology. It’s not that awareness isn’t a form of power — indeed, Still Brazy’s primary mode of sociopolitical interrogation is plainspoken observation — but unvalenced by cynical irony, smug self-satisfaction, and the absorption of agency by the deep channels of global capitalism, consciousness (especially manifested in the castrated form of “conscious hip hop”) has never been more insufficient to stand against brutal, flagrant exertion of asymmetrical force. One can speak at length about Foucauldian notions of abstract power, but as “Police Get Away Wit Murder” plainly states, the exertion of violent force, or the threat thereof, is constantly, irreducibly real. Likewise on “Who Shot Me,” where the violence originates not so much from an obvious outside but from within one’s sense of self, the incoherence of violence renders suspicion and deep isolation the only logical emotional responses.

In the end, all I can say is that Still Brazy is an amazing piece of music. There are some guest spots from some guys named Lil Wayne and Drake, and there are no singles like My Krazy Life’s DJ Mustard-produced “My Nigga,” but every song lands, resounds, resists, and repeats true to its aim.

Links: YG - Def Jam


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