I know I’ve seen a picture of YG, the 23-year-old Compton rapper, before. I watched the music video for his breakout 2010 single “Toot It and Boot It” more times than I’m willing to admit, I’ve seen the videos for “Function” and “Act Right,” two West Coast anthems he’s featured on, and I’m sure a picture of him has shown up in one of the internet feeds that’s connected to my IV when I open my laptop. Not to mention him getting sucked up and spit out by the legal system on his smash hit with Young Jeezy and Rich Homie Quan, “My N***a.” But it wasn’t until the video for YG’s second single, “Left, Right” off his upcoming debut album My Krazy Life, that I found out what he looked like.
To be fair, YG (short for Young Gansta) is filling out his white tees more now that he’s well into his twenties and his face looks to have cleared up some. There’s something more than just looking grown, however. YG has been the amorphous clay for DJ Mustard to mold his minimal ratchet party jams around for years now. YG wasn’t outperforming the fancy Mustard beats he was on, and it’s why the man born Dijon has had his biggest hits with Tyga and 2 Chainz, but but it gave his DJ room to breathe and access to some of his best beats. It’s not that YG is exactly outshining the clapping wall of synths on “Left, Right” with his rapping, but that the presence behind the mic is felt on the same level as the guy with the soundboard.
It’s personality that Los Angeles has been missing from its rappers, give or take Odd Future and TDE. There’s Dom Kennedy, who thrives as an everyman, but who’s fans would even say is like the best worst rapper. There’s Nipsey Hussle, who has a fairly intense following due to the conviction with which he presents himself, in song and in interview, but looks like a movie knockoff of Snoop Dogg. Tyga can sometimes look like the second most interesting member of Young Money from a certain angle, but will always be known as Travie McCoy’s cousin. After that it’s Joe Moses, who’s simply too ratchet for a NY Times interview, then Problem and Kid Ink, who both sound flatter than YG lying on the street and don’t have the ear or hook-up for Mustard beats. These are the main culprits who made The Game the most notorious West Coast rapper of the past ten years.
YG probably won’t appear in video games, star in a VH1 reality series or even date someone as famous as Blac Chyna, but there is a good chance he’ll be bigger than wherever the King of New York Kendrick Lamar is now. Lamar does songs with Lady Gaga and wins one of GQ‘s Men of the Year awards, but is virtually unknown to people like Grammy voters. Now YG isn’t going to occupying the same cultural space as Kanye or Jay-Z, but there’s gotta be some room between Kendrick’s rappity raps and like Jason Derulo or Flo Rida or whoever. YG’s songs are hood and fun as hell. His last project, Just Re’d Up 2 had Jeezy and mixtape-era Wiz, panty-dropping slow jams, plenty of ratchet anthems, and a beautiful song with Ray J.
The video for YG’s “Left, Right” has an extended opening with shooting dice and hollering at girls, and is much better executed than Drake’s sketch comedy in “Worst Behavior.” Huddled around a driveway craps game, YG assumes the spotlight when talk of a party begins. He wins the roll and promises to buy the booze. Inside the liquor store, YG legitimately flexes his acting chops. While arguing with the clerk over an ID, he grabs control of the situation by threatening to rob the place. The rhythm of YG’s delivery of the line, “Or we rob yo’ ass and you end up on KCAL 9 News” sounds both cinematic and realistic, somewhere between Juice and Snow on tha Bluff. They encounter three ’round-the-way girls after securing the tequila, and YG whips his charisma out for all to see. From immediately informing the girls he’s got a long dick to the mischievous-ass smile after he gives them his number, nothing’s forced and focus never strays to his crew. I really thought they hired a professional actor the first time I saw this video.
Once the music starts, it’s a fairly typical video, with red cups, ass and ass bouncing in the front yard of an L.A. home, and YG rapping on the roof of Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles (the one on Pico) with Kennedy, Hussle, Mustard and Jeezy alongside him. It’s not a video will turn YG into an immediate star, but he seems to have all his ducks in a row. “My N***a” was by far his biggest hit, “Who Do You Love” featuring Drake leaked early but is great despite Drake’s stolen bars, and “Left, Right” keeps with the blueprint that got him this far. YG makes turn up music that allows him to be popular than the time everyone posted the Nipsey Hussle Crenshaw cover on Instagram. The landscape of pop music is too unforgiving for a new rapper to find the success they might’ve 10-15 years ago, but even if YG doesn’t make it as a rapper from Compton, there might still be a future as an actor in Hollywood.