On 2016’s excellent Still Brazy, Compton’s foremost gangsta rap revivalist dug deep into American sociopolitics from the stance of someone who’s experienced its ills firsthand. (See “FDT,” a rallying cry the full meaning of which you can surely guess). For his third record, YG’s mentioned that he wanted to ease off on the political explicitness, but within the first couple bars of opener “10 Times,” he’s already fired shots at the D.A., the president and the police. You can take the politics out of the gangsta rap—wait, no you can’t!
Still, listeners whose introduction to YG came from his pair of narrative-focused albums might be initially thrown off by Stay Dangerous, an album that feels more akin, in sound and spirit, to the raw, hedonistic mixtapes that first established the rapper. That’s partly thanks to YG’s glorious reunification with longtime collaborator DJ Mustard, who produces the majority of the album’s 13 tracks after being left off of Still Brazy. Mustard’s beats here don’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but they serve as hydraulics to YG’s low-riding delivery; on “Too Cocky,” the producer’s minimalist West Coast bounce pairs perfectly with YG’s unexpected and inspired Right Said Fred interpolation.
YG’s spent years grappling with the tensions from his life as a celebrity gangster, but for most of Stay Dangerous, he seems content to let his guard down a little: on “Suu Whoop,” named for a Blood greeting, he crows, “I’m a gang-bangin’ ass dad!” But alongside the partying and set-repping, there’s some real soul-searching: the mellow, drumless “Bomptown Finest” is a gorgeous, gripping ode to the city and the people that made him. And on “Deeper Than Rap,” YG talks anxiety and trauma, layering his voice to sound as though you’re inside his head: “Did I choose this life? Shit, I don’t know / But fuck it, it’s life now, and it’s just how it go.”