Words by Grant Brydon
Images by Hayley Louisa Brown
When talking about the year 2014 in hip-hop, it’s likely that My Krazy Life is going to be an album that is remembered. YG set out to make a classic. Encompassing all of the elements that would make up the year’s strengths; the Mustard sound, features from Drake, Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Rich Homie Quan and Ty Dolla $ign, as well as a remix from Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and Meek Mill.
Throughout our conversation as he packs to go on tour, YG talks about deconstructing classic rap albums in the process of making his own debut, and his belief that the rap game is being damaged right now by artists saturating the market with sub-standard albums. He wasn’t going to be one of those artists. With DJ Mustard and A&R Sickamore, YG started out working on My Krazy Life in February 2013, carefully crafting records around concepts that he’d come up with based around the storyline that he was crafting.
While he agrees that My Krazy Life is autobiographical, the album isn’t necessarily chronological, drawing from different times in his life. “It’s a mixture of everything, stuff that happened back in the day, stuff that happened when I started being successful, right up to now,” he explains. The stories that draw from the earlier part of his life, ‘Meet The Flockers', ‘BPT’ and ‘Sorry Momma’, are the ones that carry most of the album’s storyline, telling the tale of his more reckless days, burgling houses (also known as flocking) and ultimately ending up serving a prison sentence in 2009 for his crimes.
Fresh out of jail he was signed by Def Jam, and struggled to connect with the predominantly East Coast label for a few years, despite having some success with his Ty Dolla $ign-penned debut single ‘Toot It & Boot It’. He signed with Young Jeezy’s Corporate Thugs Entertainment imprint in 2013 announcing that his debut album Welcome To Bompton (later changed to appeal more widely) would be a joint venture between CTE and Def Jam.
The album format is of great importance to YG. “To have that people can listen to the album all of the way through, that’s rare in this generation,” he says with disapproval. “All these motherfuckers out here they be putting out half ass albums, they be fucking up the rap game. Anybody can rap right now. Niggas be getting in the studio just rhyming to beats and putting it out and there’s nothing behind that. It makes it seem too easy, and that’s fucking up the rap game because there’s so much music that it’s harder for real music to get heard.”
“To me, in street value, that really lived the streets. Not like, I don’t want to say no rappers names, but just talking about street stuff,” fellow West Coast rapper, ScHoolboy Q, told BRICK of My Krazy Life. “We make two different types of music, his is more party-based, and mine is more backpack, or if you could call it hipster, whatever you want to call it. At the same time we still have that detail, that we both can relate to, that’s why he got one of my favourite albums out.”
And it’s the attention to detail that really makes YG’s tales more vivid and sets the record head and shoulders above other releases of the year. “I was listening to a whole lot of classic albums when I was in the process of making mine and that was one thing they did,” YG says. “They put you there in they shoes, and they did that by saying all type of detail. So when you heard the shit it sounded like some real shit. That’s what makes a classic. That how you do that shit.”
“He really A&R’ed it, did his homework and studied albums, it was all a collective thing though, we all put in the time and work,” says DJ Mustard, the man behind the sound of My Krazy Life. “It really showed me how to become a producer and adapt to doing a persons whole album, instead of just being the guy who does the singles. It was a whole storyline and painting pictures to the words that he was saying and stuff like that. So I think it was a good learning experience and it helped me a lot.”
The chemistry between the pair is undeniable. Initially a DJ in the traditional sense, Mustard didn't start crafting beats until he started working with YG who's work rate was too fast for the producers he was working with. In fact, the last time a West Coast producer and rapper have had such a rapport was Dre. Dre and Snoop Dogg, which has drawn heighty comparisons for the relative newcomers to live up to. "I’m cool with it, it’s a big comparison and that’s a blessing for us," says Mustard. "It’s saying that we sound like one of the greatest. I just take it on the terms of me and YG being homies, we’re just friends and we do that type of music. I feel like me and YG are the closest to Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg that people are gonna get."
Mustard has been dominating the sound of hip-hop - extending into pop and R&B - for the past 12 months, but My Krazy Life saw him prove himself as more than a passing fad. Enlisting West Coast veteran, Terrace Martin, to play live instruments on the album opened up Mustard’s sound. “I just wanted to take my sound to a different level and Terrace plays almost every instrument. Terrace played on Dr Dre records and stuff like that, so for him to even allow me to use his talent, it was like, ‘Why not?’” explains Mustard. “That’s still my sound but it sounds fuller and it’s better. “Terrace helped me bring out my sound and make it a lot bigger than what it was.”
Between Mustard and YG the pair have succeeded in creating tracks that appeal to club and radio audiences, whilst staying on track within the story arc of the album. A prime example of this is the ScHoolboy Q and Jay Rock assisted ‘I Just Wanna Party’, which sees the trio of gang-affiliated LA rappers hoping that their nights won’t turn to violence.
“It’s a club type of vibe, the beat has that bounce to it, but it’s dark,” describes YG of the track. “The concept of the song is ‘I just wanna party, I don’t wanna hurt nobody.’ So on the verse I’m giving you that, I’m saying real shit that people can relate to and feel when they’re in the club, or you ain’t gotta be in the club, it’s a real record. Each artist is giving you something different but it’s all the same concept.”
Ty Dolla $ign, the vocalist and producer that joins YG and Mustard to form the West Coast’s current Holy Trinity, also put in work on the record, producing the Kendrick Lamar-featured ‘Really Be (Smokin N Drinkin)’ and contributing his soulful vocals to the album closing confessional ‘Sorry Mama’. “It was a great experience just coming from my house in the beginning, doing all of the mixtape shit, to now being in the big studios and hearing YG blowing up all over the world and travelling everywhere,” says Ty of the progression to My Krazy Life. “It’s a big reward bro.”
ScHoolboy Q remembers recording his verse close to the deadline for My Krazy Life, he was in the studio next door recording a verse for Far East Movement when YG came by. “He was like ‘Yo, I’m about to have the homies come through and listen to the album,’” remembers Q. “He was waiting on a verse from a rapper, and the rapper never sent the verse in time. It was mixed and it was the last day. So after hearing the album I was already blown away by it, and he’s like ‘Yo, I need you to do me a favour. Come through for me, can you do this verse right here.’ It’s already like 1 or 2 in the morning. I’ve already wrapped my session up, just getting ready to go home. I’m tired, I’m like ‘Fuck it, lets do it.’ Re-opened the session, went to the next room. Did it for him, handed it to him. And that was that I’m happy to be on the album, that’s what’s up. That’s how it happened, last day, he asked for it, he got the verse.”
My Krazy Life is one of the rare albums these days that are worth returning to beyond the month of its release. The amount of LPs that we get that outlive their hype, organically growing outside of the label’s campaign, is reducing rapidly. It’s a testament to the work that went into crafting the record; researching the classics that came before it, creating a storyline that allows for singles that don’t sound forced, the cohesion of the sounds curated by Mustard.
YG is pleased with the outcome. “Everybody’s showing love and that’s a blessing. We put in some real time and work and for the album to come out and we get that back, that’s a blessing in itself,” he says as thankfully as his gravelly voice will allow. “It feels like all the work paid off. But it ain’t over, we’re just getting started. I don’t get too stuck in the moment. I’m hungry I’m over here thinking about my next album and all that, right now. That’s what’s going on.”