Album Review: YG - Stay Dangerous

It has been a long, tumultuous ascent for Keenon Jackson, the rapper known as Y.G.

Toiling in mixtape rap obscurity for a number of years, even after inking a deal with Def Jam, Jackson arrived in the latter half of 2013 with the infectious single “My Ni**a,” with the long gestating debut studio album, My Krazy Life, finally seeing the light of day in March of 2014. Partnered with ‘it’ producer of the time, DJ Mustard, Jackson was able to side step becoming a one-hit wonder through the help of the additional singles released from the album: “Who Do You Love?” and “Left, Right.”

The following year, Jackson was shot and injured outside of a recording studio—the paranoia, concern for his safety, and reflection on mortality following the event would seep into the lyrics of his sophomore release, 2016’s Still Brazy—an album that also saw Y.G. on the cusp of being some kind of (possibly unwitting) political mouthpiece thanks in part to the vitriol filled single, “Fuck Donald Trump,” issued a number of months prior to the 2016 presidential election.

Jackson, whether intentional or not, has become a bit of a foil to contemporary Kendrick Lamar; both hail from Compton, but while Lamar has used his recorded output as a means of forward thinking in an attempt to leave behind the violence that is nearly synonymous with his hometown—winning Pulitzers and the admiration of Barack Obama in the process, Jackson has, in a sense, embraced it.

The heir to the G-Funk throne, Jackson has made absolutely no attempt to hide his deep affiliation with the Bloods, and his lyrics, more or less, harken back to the gritty, surprising, explicit street tales of other West Coast rappers who came before him.

To call Jackon’s third album, the just released Stay Dangerous, a disappointment, is an understatement.

It, from nearly the moment it begins, lacks the immediacy, urgency, and energy that fueled the records that came before it, and the album descends into material structured around catchy, monotonous hooks that attempt to distract from the fact that the rest of the song lacks any real depth or interesting content—as well being weighed down by a number of unnecessary guest appearances, resulting in diminishing returns.

Jackson, himself, as a performer, sounds either tired, bored, or both, and only really comes to life, or at least finds something engaging to say, on the album’s last two songs. Following a falling out in their post-Krazy Life success, Jackson’s go-to producer, DJ Mustard, returns for 10 of the 15 tracks on Stay Dangerous—however, with that much possible cohesion in sound, the two can’t seem to find that same give and take they had in 2014, and a bulk of Stay Dangerous, even when Mustard isn’t involved in the production, sounds stagnant, repetitive, and uninspired.

Jackson’s lyrics were never, like, incredibly thought provoking to begin with, but on Stay Dangerous, a number of them are—well, I hesitate to say ‘problematic’—but cringe-worthy and unfortunate lines begin arriving almost right away. On the album’s second track, “Bulletproof,” Jackson utters that he doesn’t drive a Tesla because he has too much clout. He chooses then to rhyme that with “Take it out her pussy hole and put it in her mouth.”

There are lines similar to this—about his affinity for oral sex—littered throughout.

Later, on “Power,” Jackson, accompanied by D-List rapper/singer Ty Dolla $ign, write an actual ode to ‘the pussy.’ “I’ll hit it in the shower,” Jackson says. “I’ll hit it for some hours. Hold up—do it smell like flowers? That pussy limited edition—Eddie Bauer.” And yes, I’ll admit that the Eddie Bauer punch line is worth a laugh, but it doesn’t disguise how, overall, insipid Stay Dangerous is from start to finish, as Jackson mumbles his way from song to song.

Like, he seems so bored or disinterested in this material that he can barely be bothered to open his mouth all the way and annunciate the words—a frustrating habit that he carries throughout a majority of the record.

There have been three singles released, thus far, from Stay Dangerous—one of which, the underwhelming “Suu Whoop,” arrived very early in the year; the other two, “Handgun,” and “Big Bank,” are both thoughtless exercises, focusing on catchy hooks or monotonous repetition, rather than any kind of worthwhile content. “Handgun” is absolutely hypnotic in its use of repetition—“I just bought me a handgun and that shit came with a drum,” Jackson utters along with the pulsating beat. Later, he’s joined by A$AP Rocky, who provides an unmemorable guest turn.

“Big Bank” suffers from a lot of things—one of them being it is weighed down by insincere and lifeless guest appearances from Nicki Minaj, who, eight years after her introductory feature on Kanye West’s “Monster,” sounds like she has nothing left to prove. Here, she’s no longer ferocious and hungry in the way she delivers her lyrics; instead, opting to spend a bulk of her verse (12 lines total) coasting on the same near rhyme.

Some may see this as a clever device, however, to my ears, it came off sounding incredibly lazy and thoughtless. She and Jackson are joined by additional D-Listers Big Sean and 2 Chainz—the former has about as much personality in his rhymes as a box of hair, the latter makes the strange decision to rap in some kind of character or weird/unnatural voice, where he sounds either like a Muppet, or a nerd.

It, too, is built around a rather unimaginative, repetitive beat that never allows to song to really get off the ground—the whole thing, structurally, of verse, refrain, guest verse, refrain, etc., is predictable, sure, but everyone also seems to be waiting their turn and phoning it in, rather than feeding off of each other’s energy as a performer.

Jackson, for what it’s worth, tries to redeem Stay Dangerous with its final two tracks-“Deeper Than Rap” and the captivating “Bomptown Finest.”

One of the few tracks not produced to Mustard, “Deeper Than Rap” plunges Jackson into an ominous and menacing atmosphere, as the skeletally clapped out beat skitters along over a healthy amount of additional, spooky G-Funk sounding synthesizers.

And maybe it’s the production that causes Jackson to spring to life on “Deeper Than Rap,” or maybe it’s the subject matter, but he raps with a seemingly renewed vigor as he rattles off concerns over missing out on his young daughter growing up, his penchant for promiscuity, his lack of faith, and his anxiety—“They told me to talk to a therapist and I did,” Jackson says. “But that don’t change the crazy shit I do, did, and lived.”

The album’s finest moment is also its final track—“Bomptown’s Finest” deserves a place among other great ‘mythology dissecting’ tracks in the history of rap music, as Jackson, over an incredibly uncharacteristic beat created by DJ Mustard (it’s gorgeous sounding, actually) recounts his life and struggles over the last couple of years—since at least 2013, anyway, name dropping friends both living and dead, creating a surprisingly emotional experience, as Jackson, as best he can, gives a bittersweet look back, while still focusing on what is ahead.

Stay Dangerous isn’t bad enough, or uneven enough, to be a career killer for Jackson, but it is an unfortunate stumble and setback when compared to the quality of his first and second full-lengths. Maybe this was an ill-fated experiment at not so much a ‘new sound,’ but exploring a specific kind of production (that wound up being uninspired) as well as using a different cadence and delivery with his voice (which just didn’t work out in the end.) Stay Dangerous has its moments, though just because something is infectious musically, that doesn’t mean it’s, like, good or interesting.

It’s hard to believe something as tepid as this is called Stay Dangerous when, after so many listens through, I am uncertain as if there was any danger at all in the first place.

Stay Dangerous is out now, via Def Jam and 4hunnid, as a digital download; CD is available at the en of August; red (but of course) vinyl editions are out at the end of September.