The state of Rock and Roll has long become one of going round in circles consistently reviving and updating old genres. You had Punk, Pop-Punk, and even Pop-Punk revival then Post-Punk and Post-Punk Revival. Little Richard was copied by The Beatles, who was then copied by Oasis, who was then copied by a legion of Dad-Rock bands in the 2000s. In Hip-Hop’s 40-year lifespan, the genre has done a good job of avoiding such patterns, it’s always evolving and creating an ever-growing amount of sub-genres. Like Rock, there have always been people we like to call ‘Rap Conservatives’ who mourn the days of real Hip-Hop, but the genre is beyond recycling old trends every 20-years.
In the past few years, we’ve seen signs that Hip-Hop may be on the cusp of having a revival period burst into the mainstream. First of all, we have the entire Beast Coast movement, that predominantly exists to put New York back on the map. However, one their biggest player – Joey Bada$$ – has a distinct Boom-Bap style of production. While rapping in a way that acknowledges the current, he chooses to stick to traditional flows and topics; his debut album B4.Da.$$‘ even taking song topics straight from Nas‘ debut album.
Most corners of the Hip-Hop avoided this. The South dominates the radio waves with the Trap explosion for the last 3-4 years; Chance The Rapper currently dominates Chicago with his ability of genre hopping; and Kendrick Lamar blended of traditional Hip-Hop, Jazz, and Soul. One of the sound that Kendrick toyed with on his album To Pimp A Butterfly, while never diving into fully, was G-Funk; the style that was capitalised by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg in the 90’s and last year, became in high demand with the film release Straight Outta Compton.
Enter YG‘s second album, his first away from producer DJ Mustard, entitled ‘Still Brazy‘. An album that takes on fairly simplistic topics – dealing with the gangster lifestyle, while having the conflicting with success. The track ‘Gimmie Got Shot‘, YG takes on the typical topic of people reacting to his success. ‘Who Shot Me?‘ tells the story of how YG dealt with being shot last year – like the spirit of Tupac, he was out of the hospital in no time and back in the studio. Although both themes aren’t new, it’s still refreshing to hear and see it stand out against modern Hip-Hop. No one is making songs so defiantly getting over survivors guilt like ‘Gimmie Got Shot‘, and there is a distinct lack of artists simply reporting what is happening in their neighbourhoods like ‘Who Shot Me?‘.
Although YG makes claims on this album that he’s the only person to make it out the West without Dre – which may be true in a literal sense – he’s very much indebted to a sound that he helped to shape and create. YG, now on his own from DJ Mustard, takes the massive dive into G-Funk and classic West Coast Hip-Hop. YG blends modern rapping techniques with the classic seamlessly; the standout track ‘Twist My Fingaz‘ is everything that a gangster-rap song should be. He does a fantastic job of taking on plenty of older tropes of the genre, but not letting them define him or letting them be too much of a throwback. He manages to get booming powerful hooks that don’t sound contrived, and every song takes on a different story or theme. A testament to how brilliant YG blends the old sounds with the new is how well fitted Lil Wayne and Drake both sound of the distinctively West Coast production; both rappers should be out of their comfort zones, but they completely nail it.
There are still certain elements of the old that YG needs to drop. ‘She Wish She Was‘ is what happens when old Hip-Hop misogyny meets the underbelly of Twitter modern misogyny and forms an ugly takedown of women expressing sexual freedom. Yet there is also something distinctively fresh and modern about the rest of the songs’ topics especially towards the end of the album. ‘FDT‘ (Fuck Donald Trump) gives a street perspective on the current political state of the US, and ‘Police Get Away Wit Murder‘ echoes Public Enemy.
There’s room for artists like YG in Hip-Hop right now because there’s a call for the homage of the greats, and not just from the Hip-Hop conservatives. Hip-Hop is a strong enough genre to not have to rely on the past for ideas for the future. YG carved his own lane by modernising an older genre and bringing this music to a generation of music listeners that might consider this sound as vintage. He doesn’t pander to an old sound to back when Hip-Hop was real – like some consider Joey Bada$$ to do. YG knows that he has to progress as an artist and that Hip-Hop has to progress as an art form.