Filled with numbing vulgarity, warmed-over nostalgia, and actual nursery rhymes, YG’s third studio album is a mindless step backward.
With his 2014 triumph of a debut, My Krazy Life, YG transitioned from an anonymous L.A. mixtape rapper to a dynamic artist establishing a fresh lane for West Coast rap in the wake of Kendrick Lamar’s ascendance. He took a cache of buzzy and bouncing beats from his friend DJ Mustard and offered a gripping take on growing up in Compton, an origin story filled with charming swagger and bristling confidence. His second album, Still Brazy, showed a different side entirely. YG was shot in a recording studio while making that record, and with his back against the wall, he was able to plumb the depths of 2Pac-indebted nihilism and political consciousness. Scowling, hardened, and paranoid, he let his hurt and fear unspool over eerie soundscapes largely provided by an unknown producer named Swish. Still Brazy also revealed YG to be something of a profound soul-searcher. “When the police gon’ stop pressing me?/When my bitch gon’ stop stressing me, second guessing me?/Will the truth really set you free?” he asked on “I Got a Question” with the morbidity and hopelessness of Hamlet.
But if you’ve followed YG over the past year, from Cardi B and Post Malone collaborations to a new look anchored by patent leather dress shoes and tiny glasses, you would never know that Still Brazy even existed. Stripped of the raw desperation that once made his rapping so gripping, Stay Dangerous, YG’s third studio album, spends most of its 15 tracks toasting success, repping for the gang, and picking apart women. It’s fun and flashy and club ready. But for YG, an artist we’ve come to expect the unexpected from, someone currently standing at a career-defining intersection, Stay Dangerous is an exercise in predictability.
Maybe the biggest change on Stay Dangerous is simply YG’s rapping. He’s more performative than ever here, his voice speeding and slowing with winded breaths, jumping clumsily between low-pitched mumbles and elongated whines. YG’s never been a master lyricist—his flow and excitement carry his rhymes—but even his most boneheaded proclamations usually have a role in a bigger picture; here, they more often than not land as dead weight. Throughout the album, his verses are increasingly one-note, filled with repetition, dumbed-down jokes, and eye-rolling word play. “Handgun,” an infectious A$AP Rocky collab, has YG locked in from the jump over an ominous beat, but throwing out lazy, meaningless nursery rhyme verses (at one point, he actually recites “Duck Duck Goose”). This is Drunk Uncle YG—wasting his energy leering at women and shouting at hooligans from his porch.
Stay Dangerous has YG once again teaming up with DJ Mustard, but the producer is off his game too. No longer hip-hop’s go-to hitmaker, he’s instead become a purveyor of syrupy pop and cheap imitations of his old songs. “Can’t Get in Kanada,” “Suu Whoop,” and “Too Brazy” (saved by a fiery guest spot from Mozzy) flaunt superficial layers of trademark Mustard bounce, yet they end up falling apart due to YG’s hammed-up flow. At times, it feels like the two of them are playing caricatures of their former selves.
When YG and Mustard do find their stride, Stay Dangerous becomes incredibly fun. Calling back to their early mixtape days, the two serve up “Too Cocky,” which flips Right Said Fred’s “Too Sexy” into a sweaty jerkin’ club song that Mac Dre would’ve slid all over. “Power,” a team up of YG, Mustard, and Ty Dolla $ign, is a winningly raunchy ode to sex. And “666” may be the one sonic experiment that works here, with Mustard handing the reins over to Mike WiLL Made-It, who builds a twinkling Atlanta fantasy world for YG to hiss out a sing-songy ode to hedonism: “Damn this beat got bass/Everything that’s bad for me right here in my face.” And then YoungBoy Never Broke Again shows up, and you forget YG was even there.
Stay Dangerous is void of the narrative and thematic coherence of YG’s first two projects, and as a result, momentum ebbs and flows: For every silly, successful club track, there’s a clunker. The Quavo-featuring “Slay” is the most egregious of all, with a lazy chorus—“One time, if you a bad bitch/Two times just for the savage/All you wanna do is just slay”—seemingly delivered for the sole purpose of providing future Instagram captions. On the Lil Rich-produced “Deeper Than Rap,” YG shows flashes of his talent as a storyteller, sounding genuinely concerned about something other than women, money, or fame: “I got a daughter now/I’m barely around,” he huffs. “Should I choose this life?/Shit, I don’t know.” For a moment, his angst feels real. But then he directly follows those worries with, “I’m in love with stank hoes/When I say stank hoes, I don’t mean stank/I mean the ones that fuck the first date/Dick all in they face!” What, dude? It’s disgusting, nonsensical, and particularly bizarre considering those previous lines about his daughter. What’s most disappointing, though, is that the incessant, inane bludgeoning of Stay Dangerous feels purposeful. For the first time in his career, YG sounds like he’s trying too hard.
Closer “Bomptown Finest” has YG finally removing the mask he’s been wearing throughout the album. His voice returns to the one we’ve come to recognize, harsh and spit-filled, like the sound of throwing a handful of dirt against a wall. Backed by hazy guitar strums, YG beats his chest and stakes his claim, recapping his life and celebrating his hustle. “The past year I been makin’ all profit/My whole team got it/Then somebody shot me,” he raps, “That’s just the devil my nigga/But thank god it didn’t end with a shovel my nigga.” Through this lens, it’s easier to see Stay Dangerous in a more forgiving light: YG escaped a near-death experience and earned the right to party. Yet it’s never that easy. On Still Brazy’s title track, when YG rapped, “Got some problems, a whole lot of ’em/So I stay dangerous,” that final phrase meant looking deeper and seeing clearer, taking risks because there was nothing left to lose. Those problems, whatever they were, most likely haven’t gone away. Now, though, it seems like staying dangerous only means playing it safe, hiding behind tiny glasses that fracture the world into thin, incandescent slivers.
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