To understand the unlikely triumph that is Compton rapper YG’s debut album My Krazy Life, you need to go back to his breakthrough single “Toot It & Boot It.” Released in 2010, the song is an innocent trifle about one-night stands that nonetheless features an irresistible sing-along hook by a then-unknown singer and producer named Ty Dolla $ign. (The melody would later be interpolated by Bruno Mars on Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa’s “Young, Wild & Free,” earning Ty a roundabout Grammy nomination.) It became a fleeting pop hit in America and a regional smash in California, but it didn’t exactly portend greatness from YG, who was 20 at the time but rapped with the skill and assurance of a high school freshman mumbling his first raps into his bedroom computer.
“At first, I didn’t understand,” Ty Dolla $ign told me during an interview a few months ago, speaking of “Toot It & Boot It”‘s runaway success. “I didn’t get it because I felt like he wasn’t rapping on beat. It was hella Auto-Tuned. It was really weird for me. I hated the song.” YG released a string of mixtapes over the following three years, honing his aesthetic and growing more confident as an MC but, divorced from that golden hook, he never came close to replicating his breakout success.
At around the same time YG was flush with local fame, another L.A. native named Dijon McFarlane was shaping his own rap beats after spending his teenage years spinning records in clubs. In 2010, the L.A. scene was still gripped by jerk music, a fleeting sub-genre that blended the tempo and synth tones of Bay Area hyphy with the space and drum sounds of Atlanta snap music. (“You’re a Jerk,” a trademark hit, liberally sampled snap kings D4L’s “Scotty” in its original version.) MacFarlane, adopting the name DJ Mustard, would release a compilation album called Let’s Jerk in August of that year, but soon landed on his own sound, one which added the distinct flavor of classic Cali g-funk to jerk’s cross-coastal recipe. Dubbed “ratchet,” the sound combines the simplicity and drum sounds of snap and jerk with the thick, loping low-end of old Dr. Dre beats. You can hear it in Tyga’s “Rack City,” Mustard’s first hit, which sounds exactly like an Atlanta strip club record with most of the bass vacuumed out.
YG was one of Mustard’s earliest collaborators, but he wouldn’t benefit from the ratchet sound until other, bigger names helped bring it to the radio. First there was Tyga with “Rack City” and 2 Chainz and Young Jeezy with “RIP.” Jeezy, sensing a new hitmaker, signed YG to his Corporate Thugz Entertainment imprint. It was only when Mustard’s mutation of Atlanta’s club music subsumed Atlanta clubs that his old friend from L.A., in other words, was invited to ride the wave.
My Krazy Life, released mid-March, is a coronation for YG and Mustard, but it’s one for L.A., too. The first song opens with a whiny synthesizer straight off The Chronic before YG calls out his gang affiliation (Tree Top Pirus) and the exact address of his childhood home (400 Spruce Street in Compton). Later, there are interpolations of Tha Dogg Pound (“Do It To Ya”) and Dre and Snoop (“1am”), and an entire track (“Bicken Back Being Bool”) rapped in the peculiar slang of Bloods who change C-words to B-words to avoid referencing Crips. My Krazy Life is an L.A. gangsta rap record to its bones, in other words, but rerouted through a city 2,000 miles away. In contemporary rap, all roads eventually pass through Atlanta.
The most remarkable thing about My Krazy Life, then, is how it helps L.A. rap find and assert its voice for the first time since Dre left music behind to become a headphones executive. Game, who at one point was in the position YG now finds himself in, flaunted his connection to L.A. rap history to fill a void, like a man with a driveway of luxury cars but a mountain of debt. YG, meanwhile, alludes to those who came before him while effortlessly exuding the qualities that made rap fans from all over the country fall in love with his city’s rap music in the first place. My Krazy Life has those explicit tributes, but it’s the blood in the veins — the attitude, the swagger, the inflections — that make the album feel so intrinsically of a place.
The wild card in this narrative is Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. The album’s massive success is a grand feather in Compton’s cap, and L.A. seeped through that album in the street names and landmarks that peppered Lamar’s verses. But the album’s sound reflected an era when L.A. rap slinked into the background: Lamar’s memories were marked by songs by Atlanta titans like Usher and Jeezy, and the one called “Compton” was produced by East Coast totem Just Blaze. YG both pays tribute to good kid, m.A.A.d city and claims it firmly for Compton by framing his album the same way — as one day in the life of a Compton kid.
There is another sneaky parallel to good kid, m.A.A.d city in the album’s tone. There is a humanity that permeates My Krazy Life, even when it’s ugly. YG structures the album so that you understand him as a person, like when the bluntness of the home invasion tutorial “Meet the Flockers” is followed by the celebratory survival anthem “My Nigga.” It was Kendrick, in fact, who best summed up the relationship between YG’s album and his: During a New York listening session, YG told journalists that Kendrick called My Krazy Life the album written by “the guy outside the window” committing the crimes described on good kid, m.A.A.d city.
My Krazy Life cements a city’s artistic renaissance, a rarity in a genre in which tectonic shifts can calcify — New York, though people there would never admit it, has been waiting on its My Krazy Life for years. It absorbs the classic rap that came before it while still feeling like the crest of something impossibly fresh and cutting edge. All this from a guy whose first single was initially detested by its creator: My Krazy Life is the rose that grew from the concrete.