Think modern Compton rappers and two prominent names will easily come to mind: Kendrick Lamar and YG. But while K.Dot plays the city’s golden boy, the good kid trying to escape his hometown’s bloodstained streets, YG, on the other hand, is the anti-hero who revels in crime.
Born Keenon Daequan Ray Jackson, the rapper (whose stage name is an acronym for Young Gangsta) has always been outspoken about his affiliation with the Original Blood Family, a Los Angeles street gang. His critically acclaimed 2014 debut album, My Krazy Life, paints YG as a carefree, party-loving mobster. He gets with girls, lands into trouble and does it all over again. The cycle repeats throughout his next two records, the gangbanging narrative remaining a pivotal theme on 2016’s Still Brazy and last year’s Stay Dangerous.
This week, YG returns with his fourth album 4REAL 4REAL, a project dedicated to his late friend Nipsey Hussle. In honor of its release, we look back at the tracks that pathed the rapper’s way to become one of West Coast’s undisputed rap figures.
1“My N***a” featuring Jeezy, Rich Homie Quan
A standout on his debut My Krazy Life, “My N***a” is a phenomenon to be reckoned with. An ode to brotherhood featuring Jeezy and Rich Homie Quan, the song took off instantly thanks to its infectious hook and earworm of a beat, courtesy of Mustard. Dripping with attitude and swagger, “My N***a” was YG’s breakout hit that resonated with hip hop lovers worldwide.
But the song didn’t just attract the attention of fans. Rappers like Meek Mill, Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj also caught wind of it, later jumping on the track’s official all-star remix. Rick Ross also joined the fun by dropping a freestyle over the burgeoning hit single.
2“Who Do You Love?” featuring Drake
If the success of YG’s My Krazy Life proved anything, it’s that whenever he and Mustard come together they only create pure magic. The longtime collaborators share undeniable chemistry, the producer’s saucy, tongue-wagging West Coast rap production laying the groundwork for the emcee’s equally raunchy rhymes. Songs like “BPT,” “Left, Right” and “Meet the Flockers” are all certified bangers.
For instance, their Drake-assisted collab “Who Do You Love?” was the soundtrack to countless block parties. Built around a simple yet sinister piano arrangement, the menacing trunk-rattler depicts YG as a gangsta rapper who just wants to have fun. Drizzy and him trade cocky verses about earning six figures, dining at lavish restaurants and their drip collection. But whenever the song verges on party rap territory, YG snaps it back to reality with lines like “I’m the n***a on the back street / With the fat heat, n***as better run like athletes,” just to remind you that despite all the frills, he’s still Keenon Jackson from Bompton.
3“Who Shot Me?”
Following his breakthrough year, YG enjoyed life in the limelight and on the road to fame. But one unlucky summer night put a dent in the rapper’s rich and famous fantasies. On June 12 of 2015, YG was shot in the hip three times by an unknown assailant while in a recording studio in Los Angeles. Although the rapper only suffered minor gunshot injuries, as TMZ reported, the wounds left more than a physical scar.
YG slowly became paranoid and suffered from anxiety. He even started to feel suspicious of his close ones, the rapper later revealed in a therapy session. His growing doubts culminated in the seething track “Who Shot Me?,” which interpolates the Notorious BIG’s controversial B-side, “Who Shot Ya?” On the song, YG tries to unravel the identity of his mystery shooter by listing potential suspects. “I’m like, ‘Damn, did the homies set me up?’ / ’Cause we ain’t really been talking much / I know that sounds sick, my thoughts dark as fuck,” the rapper spits over the gnarly DJ Swish-produced beat.
4“FDT” featuring Nipsey Hussle
YG isn’t one to mince his words, especially when it comes to politics—but even more so when he’s taking shots at his longtime nemesis President Donald Trump. On the Still Brazy single “FDT”—short for “Fuck Donald Trump”—the rapper unleashes his fury at Trump, who back then was a candidate for the 2016 election. Alongside fellow Cali native Nipsey Hussle, he hurls lethal bars that threaten and taunt Trump atop bouncy G-funk production. “All the n***as in the hood wanna fight you / Surprised El Chapo ain’t tried to snipe you,” YG raps.
But the mic drop moment didn’t arrive without any backlash. Shortly after YG released the blazing protest song, the Secret Service approached the rapper’s label, Def Jam, to try and take it down, citing the song’s violent nature. As a compromise, YG ended up removing parts of the lyrics, but that didn’t stop him from dropping “FDT Pt 2.” The “white boy remix” features G-Eazy and Macklemore in an alternate version that, according to the rapper, proves even “[Trump’s] own kind don’t fuck with him like that.”
“Suu Whoop” from YG’s third studio album, Stay Dangerous, is a shout out to his gangbanging roots. The track—which derives its title from a Bloods gang call that mimics the sound of a police car—showcases the Bompton rapper unabashedly making his Bloods loyalty known to the world. YG takes it upon himself to rep his color and call out the fake Bloods on the hard-hitting track. He fires shots at Tekashi 6ix9ine and questions the latter’s affiliation to the gang. “I ain’t with the pink-haired Blood shit (Suu Whoop) / I ain’t with the only-at-the-club-Bloodin’ (Suu Whoo-Suu Whoop),” he raps. Needless to say, YG and his crew aren’t to be trifled with.
Stream 4REAL, 4REAL here.