YG, the Los Angeles rapper who’s released two acclaimed albums of political invective, street narratives and lowrider-sproinging DJ Mustard beats returns this week with his third album, Stay Dangerous. Though he caused a sensation in 2016 with the Molotov-tossing “FDT (“Fuck Donald Trump”),” YG is thinking more locally than globally on Dangerous, making rap records that talk about L.A. gang life and the reality of violence. However, the club-ready beats and rhymes of “Big Bank” was universal enough to crack the pop Top 40. Rolling Stone caught up with the rapper on a brief stop in New York.
First and foremost tell me about the title, Stay Dangerous.
Well the title came from the streets. L.A. The gang culture. It was really something that the homies started saying a long time ago. Like the Blood community — the homies just kept saying “Stay dangerous, stay dangerous, stay dangerous, stay dangerous.” And that was like the lingo of the city. Now it’s bigger than the Bloods. The whole city’s saying it now. It was just like the mindset of the city, mindset of the homies, that’s where I’m at. When you say “stay dangerous,” it’s across the board, it’s outside of the streets, it’s like your approach to life, your approach to your business.
More so than the last record, you seem really intent talking about your street bonafides. What made you want to focus on that?
I mean I was just in the studio trying to get back to the basics. Because the last album, [2016’s] Still Brazy, it was a little left field. Because I started speaking about the politics and all that. That was cool. That was good. But I feel like, for me, not putting an album out for two years, I gotta go back to the basics, the streets.
Why is that so important to you?
That’s what the people love me for. And if you look at the game, the rap game, that type of music is the shit that’s topping the charts.
The basics or the politics? Because they’re both working right now.
The politics shit work, if you’re really like an artist and that’s what you about. If I come out with some politics shit, my shit ain’t gonna top the charts because, I’mma be talking crazy, I’m gonna be saying crazy shit. They gonna try to ban the record and all that type of shit. My shit ain’t gonna go to the top of charts, because I’m talking greasy. I ain’t talking nice, I ain’t putting it in radio format. I ain’t doing that. But, when it comes to the club records and the street shit, I can do that for sure.
“I don’t wanna do nothing with Trump. I got an open case right now, I’m cool. I’m straight.”
“Big Bank” has a classic feel, with punchlines and a groove and a funk and a minimalism to it. Is there like a rap song that you see as sort of an ideal for the the type of mood you wanted?
We was going off our old shit. When we made that record, like the whole conversation… What we was trying to make was like doing the type of records we did when we came in the game. It’s before [2014 debut] My Krazy Life, it’s the mixtape shit. We weren’t thinking about nothing else, we was thinking about our shit. That’s a whole sound that the world ain’t really heard from me and Mustard unless you was listening to YG back in the day on the mixtape shit.
More than most other L.A. rappers, your stuff has that bounce. L.A. is miles away from the Bay Area, but did hyphy float down to you?
Yeah. Me and Mustard the same age, and when we was growing up, he was DJing all the parties, and I was at all the parties. I was performing at the little parties on some young shit. And at the time — this is like 2005, 6s, 7s — around that time, the music that we was partying to at the clubs, was all the shit from the Bay. Because at that time, that’s when the whole L.A. shit was dead. Like we didn’t really have nothing cracking in L.A. And then E-40 had all this little shit from the Bay that was cracking. So we was partying and growing up to that shit. So, as we started to make our music, we got that shit in our veins. So it’s like, when Mustard would make his music, he got some of that shit in him. I got some of that in me.
You were so far ahead of the curve with “Fuck Donald Trump.”
We’re actually a block and a half away from Trump Tower…
I know I seen that shit up on the map. I don’t wanna do nothing with Trump. I got an open case right now, I’m cool [Laughs]. I’m straight. I ain’t fucking with nobody.
Speaking of your open case, is it hard book a tour and all this stuff you want to do in the fall with this looming over you?
Nah, not really. I ain’t tripping. I’m innocent. Y’know what I’m saying? I’mma live my life.
We’re under a real wave of explicitly political rap music right now. What did you think of “This Is America” by Childish Gambino?
That’s fire. Yeah, that record fire. I fuck with it. I liked how he made the record. He was talking about all real shit, shit that need to get talked about, but he did it on like some world shit, you feel me? And that’s hard to do. Making like records when you really talking about some real shit that you wouldn’t think is radio-friendly, and he made it a radio record. It’s crazy, bro. And the video crazy as a motherfucker too.
“I do what I do.”
When “FDT” came out before the election, it felt a little radical, but eventually it felt like a lot of the world was saying “Fuck Donald Trump.”
You know, I think that song really brought people together. Everybody was already talking about it, motherfuckers would talk about it in they little circles, with they friends, with they closer people. I think that record just helped the conversation be more like, “Ay, yeah, ay, fuck Trump.” Like, from across the hall. I feel like that record did that for sure. And for the people that is Trump supporters, we found out. [Laughs] Like how I found out at the shows. Them motherfuckers, when that song came on, they in the crowd not singing and shit. [Laughs] That shit was crazy.
The simplicity of the chorus is like a punk rock song, or an N.W.A song, it’s not a Donald Glover video full of allusions.
That’s what I’m saying. I started speaking about that shit, I’m going straight there with it. I don’t know how to do nothing else.
Did you see the IHOP campaign? [In a marketing stunt, IHOP briefly declared itself IHOB, and began Tweeting about “bossibilities” and “batience, similar to slang used in YG songs]
Yeah, I seen the IHOP campaign, and I was fucking with it at first, but then I wasn’t. I hit my peoples, and I told them, I’m like, “Hey, hey reach out to IHOP and tell them like, like ‘holler in’.” Since they doing all that, you feel me, they should’ve really did it in a real way. I was trying to pitch to them commercial ideas and shit like that.
Using slang and fashion associated with gang communities, is it hard to get a record label, to be onboard to with like, “I want this album to be red, I want it on red vinyl, I want everything in this iconography?”
Hell naw. I do what I do. The only shit that’d happen is like, certain songs, when we shoot the video, on certain shit in the video, they just be like, “If you put this out like that, YouTube is gonna red flag it and it ain’t gonna get as much views as it could get without all the crazy shit.”
What type of stuff do they say like YouTube is going to flag?
When they see guns and, fucking gang sings on the walls. Motherfuckers throwing up gang signs and all that shit. But some of the songs and the videos gotta look like how they gotta look.
On “Slay,” you say, “If you’re a bad bitch, I’ll fuck you to my own music.”
Have you ever actually done this?