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Stay Dangerous is on the cusp of menacing, at the least. At its most, it’s startling, but never bold enough to be as dangerous that its namesake implies. You would think that, from the moniker, YG would be aggrandizing his aloof persona evident on his previous irate album, 2016’s Still Brazy. But Stay Dangerous avoids picking up any narrative trails, opting for a wide array of gangster raps, attempts at wooing over the ladies, and weird, in-between types that are hard to categorize. Although YG has proven himself to be one of rap’s most blistering lyricists, Stay Dangerous is a slight step back from the rousing, trepidatious album that Still Brazy was.
YG almost met his end on July 12, 2015. It was a Friday morning; He was fresh from a recording session in the wee hours of the morning and was ambushed (by who, YG never tells; he’s reportedly very uncooperative when asked to speak on the topic). He and his entourage raced to the hospital, wrecking a car and hopping into another. His injuries ended up being non-life-threatening and he returned to the studio the next night. That following June, Still Brazy came out. It explored the shooting from every angle, the fallout from it, and his mental instability at the thought of it being an inside job. The album was haunting in its streams of thought and declarations of uncertainty; an audio journal of a man whose gangster persona was shaken to his foundation.
From front to back, Still Brazy was a masterpiece. Its narrative about the wild life that YG lives covered him at his highs and lows. There were tracks for the ladies, the club, and the intellectuals but, mostly, it was largely for the streets. “Toot It And Boot It” to “My Hitta” was a large skill jump for YG; “My Hitta” to “Twist My Fingaz” may have been an even larger one. Still Brazy established YG as a multifaceted, mafioso lyricist whose power comes from his snarling delivery instead of the content that he speaks about.
Still Brazy had the shooting to anchor the album’s release, giving it a cornerstone to build upon; Stay Dangerous doesn’t have that same luxury (or issue). There’s nothing necessarily new, or interesting, about YG’s disposition. He’s bigger, richer, Bloodier — not necessarily in that order. Where his previous album explored the gaps in his critical thinking, Stay Dangerous is just a loose-connecting plethora of B-level, album-filler songs — with maybe a song or two that hints at a deeper inner-conflict about the idea of “staying dangerous” amidst rapidly flourishing success. The album just feels pointless mostly; YG’s killer flow that weaponized his anger on Still Brazy hasn’t evolved at all. In fact, it’s regressed to a slow crawl.
If one thing’s immediately clear, it’s that YG has grown comfortable within the confines of his amaranthine gangster sound. Opener “10 Times” sounds remarkably Bay Area, like much of Still Brazy. His openly discordant vocals on the track are grating at best, with him spilling about the problems that come with being a “real nigga.” At most, it sounds like he’s just complaining about the fame that he’s earned. There’s always a problem lurking around the corner. “Bulletproof” is equally unmemorable; the plain, boilerplate Los Angeles bounce production rendering YG’s equally lifeless raps as boring as they sound. These are the album’s opening tracks, meaning that, theoretically, they should be some of the strongest.
For a while, things don’t get that much better. “SUU WHOOP” is a dark, glorious treatment about Blood gang membership that’s sandwiched between the incomplete “HANDGUN”—A$AP Rocky’s rap efforts on featured songs usually depend on the other artist’s effort; he’s hardly awake here—and the largely forgettable “CAN’T GET IN KANADA.” “TOO COCKY” is a slight, indolent reinterpretation of Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” that lacks the grease ball sleaze that makes the original an indecorous exemplar.
“Big Bank” is loads of fun, particularly because Nicki Minaj never misses on a feature. YG sounds equally confident here, with 2 Chainz and Big Sean delivering, as well. It’s perhaps the brightest, most vibrant, feel-good (if you really want to call it that) track on the album. From there, things make a turn to the more emotional, and that’s when things get slightly better.
“POWER” and “SLAY” could have been sandwiched into one song if Travis Scott were at the helm, because their subjects are damn near the same. The Ty Dolla $ign feature on “POWER” feels like a missed opportunity because it comes at the tail end; Quavo’s Auto-Tuned crooning on the second oddly feels as if Ty should have been on that one instead while Quavo hopped on “POWER.” Who makes the creative calls for cuts like this? “666,” “Too Brazy” and “PUSSY MONEY FAME” all make desperate calls for the chaotic vices in YG’s life. Instead of searching for help in his demons, he’s acknowledging them and embracing them. It’s authentic in that manner because YG’s never been one to search for help for coping with his vices. But none of it sounds thought out or vivacious enough to thrill as he did on Still Brazy. It’s just paint-by-numbers here, building to a serviceable conclusion.
And then, just like that, “DEEPER THAN RAP” comes and, with that, YG’s best vocal performance of his career. His voice twists and turns, slithers like a hiss from an angry cobra, as he angrily declares that people don’t want him for shit other than to have access to the world that he brings — whether it’s to fuck a gang member or have a chance at loads of money. A touching interlude in the form of a heartwarming voicemail from an imprisoned friend (BIG TC), to the backdrop of a softly strung guitar, sets the stage for the album’s best song, “BOMPTOWN’S FINEST.” It’s a mellow, yet assertive showing for YG, a fitting close to the album, and the first trilogy of his career. He spits thick globs of “respect me and my journey” phlegm that are hard to swallow, but instantly memorable. I actually grinned at hearing the vehemence with which he rapped; coincidentally, I’d recently watched the video for “Toot It And Boot It” and noted just how awful he sounded. Here, he declares his space and creates one of the most moving tracks of his career.
Just when you think that you have the album figured out, it closes on a melancholy note. Even its themes of staying dangerous aren’t wholly manifested until near the end, save for some church-speak that occurs in rare bursts. The outro at the end of “666” is a profanity-laced prayer from the father of a son embroiled in the street life about the hypocritical approach of older generations when discussing the pitfalls of the next. “Staying dangerous” is defined as hanging around thugs, according to the son. But the father attempts to let him know that there are many ways to be dangerous: power, knowledge, and wealth are all proper means. But the prayer, his son’s comment, and the song, all end with the ominous admission “Pops, I’m talking dangerous.”
And with that, YG and Stay Dangerous make a modicum of sense. “Dangerous” is more than a mindset, it’s a way of life, an escape from sensible evolution or a proper moral code. Still Brazy had much more to do with his own well-being when crafting an album with a strong narrative approach. Stay Dangerous is all about keeping up with being dangerous, and showing that he is. Because of that, there’s no growth evident. “BOMPTOWN’S FINEST” ends the album with a lifelong declaration to being dangerous.
It’s too bad that actually being dangerous isn’t an excuse for mediocre music. Stay Dangerous is serviceable, but not memorable. Much of it will pass into the next life by the end of next week. Even the bigger name features here can’t save the overall feeling of hollowness that permeates the album throughout. YG was more focused with showcasing his commitment to being an industry gangster than he was about making the kind of memorable lifestyle music that makes Still Brazy one of the best albums of the last few years. It’s a shame that it takes until the last couple of tracks to really bring the dangerous idea and self-reflective lane to the front. There are hints of a powerful album leaning somewhere in Stay Dangerous‘ shadows. It’s just a shame that we’ll never know just how good of an album it could have been.
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