There’s something to be said for the slow burn of success. In an era where a single YouTube video can garner a million-dollar record contract, it’s becoming rarer for a rapper to build a legitimate following with only the help of word of mouth. It is what happened with Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 major label album Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. Lamar had slowly been building a following by putting out music for nearly a decade before it culminated with an endorsement from Dr. Dre followed by the platinum-selling album. Compton rapper YG has had a similar trajectory, albeit one much less consistent than Lamar’s accelerated snowball. Nonetheless, it has culminated with YG’s first album My Krazy Life, out today on CTE and Def Jam Recordings.
YG has been dropping mixtapes since 2008, but unlike Lamar, his sound has consisted of average-to-good rapping that’s mostly served as filler to his longtime producer DJ Mustard (YG is the one saying “Mustard on the beat, ho“). So while Mustard blew up with “Rack City” and “I’m Different,” he kept slipping really good beats to YG, staying loyal to the artist he came up with. It pays off with MKL, an ambitious debut that has me wondering if I’ve been tepid on YG this whole time because he was saving his best ideas for this.
Very much in the vein of Good Kid, MKL attempts to create one long narrative, complete with skits, to take place over a single day. Concept rap albums tend to be either half-baked or bogged down with the formula, but YG and Mustard (who produced 8 of the 12 credited tracks) find a sweet spot with both a story arc and slapper after slapper. It will no doubt be compared to Lamar’s “instant classic,” but it reminds me of another somewhat recent classic, Waka Flocka Flame’s Flockaveli. In addition to similar song titles (“Smokin N Drinkin,” “Bicken Back Being Bool” and one called “Meet the Flockers”), the way rapper and producer seem to find a perfect harmony is not unlike what Flocka and Lex Luger created not 5 years ago. Where GK,MC would drag and wander through Lamar’s thoughts, MKL is banger after banger, even when he slows it down for the ladies.
The album starts with his mom calling out his whole name and warning him not to end up in jail like his father, carefully lying Checkov’s gun on the table. The first four tracks are produced by Mustard. “BPT” is similar to his mixtape song “I’m 4rm Bompton” (which appears on the deluxe version as a bonus track), laying out where he’s from before “I Just Wanna Party” and “Left, Right,” which remind everyone YG isn’t going to stop being a party rapper because his album’s on iTunes. The whole thing feels perfectly sequenced, surely the product of Mustard’s days as an actual DJ, knowing exactly what the crowd wants. At “Bicken,” I turn my speakers all the way up, at “Flockers,” I’m mad my car stereo isn’t louder, and then the smash hit “My N***a” materializes like every single person at the party is on the dance floor. It builds momentum better than either “side” of Danny Brown’s LP before the DJ has to flip the record.
The next three tracks feature singers – local and Mustard-squeezed TeeFlii singing to his Annie, Tory Lanez doing his best The-Dream impression, and Drake both rapping and stealing Rappin 4-Tay’s lyrics. By then the sun has fallen below the Pacific Ocean after a long day of cooling with homies, playing with girls, and at least one home invasion. So nighttime is where the party’s at, but “Really Be” focuses on the reasons for drinking and smoking – his parents don’t make enough money, his friends are dying, his city isn’t embracing him – more than spilled liquor and weed crumbs. By “1 AM,” YG is sneaking past his mom out the house to roll with some stick-up kids. By the end of the song, he’s picked up by the police and the following “Thank God” interlude, his friends are calling his mother to tell her what happened.
The final track, “Sorry Momma,” features a melancholy piano and a Ty Dolla $ign hook for a heartbreakingly vulnerable revelation now that YG’s facing years in jail. He remembers all the annoyances he made for her in nostalgic times. He tries to tell her he did these illicit money-making activities for her. And he apologizes for everything he’s done, hoping his incarcerated absence will be a weight off her shoulders. It’s similar to Biggie’s confessional “Suicidal Thoughts” from his 1994 debut album. There’s actually a lot of references to classic hip hop across My Krazy Life. Everything from the DJ scratching on “Who Do You Love?” and chanting on “Left, Right,” all the skits, copping Suga Free’s line on “Party,” flipping Tha Dogg Pound and 2 Live Crew on “Do It to Ya,” the Dr. Dre line and Three 6 Mafia beeper on “1 AM,” the vocodered “make money money, take money money” on “Flockers,” and even flipping another Ready to Die track with “Me & My Bitch.” It’s the rare album that blatantly attempts to be a “classic” and succeeds.
It’s also a decidedly West Coast affair, even with the East Coast influence and the Drake and Jeezy singles. YG is 24, he’s grown up with access to all types of music. It actually sounds like what The Game was rapping about when he said The Documentary was, “Ready to Die, Reasonable Doubt, Doggystyle in one.” I’m not trying to call anything a “classic” when there’s barely any universal experiences with music anymore, when everyone has their own Pandora station and favorite mp3-dump blog. YG still isn’t the most charismatic rapper, hella punchlines miss their mark, a couple of the TDE features feel forced and I’m already kind of tired of the singles. But I’m personally going to be listening to this all summer, which was a pretty good indication in the past.