YG’s Opus – Still Brazy: 5 Years Later

For many, It’s hard to distinguish an artist’s opus when many one-up the previous work at times – see The Black Album by Jay-Z in comparison to The Blueprint. But at times you see greatness amongst those who keep it close to 100 on their roots, improving on the music you grew with and recorded prior to making it, and elevating to a new level. For west coast rapper YG, it was Still Brazy, which was released five years ago. Still Brazy oozes West Coast Gangster Rap and G-Funk directed within a niche demographic, but universal to the overall love within the hip-hop community. However a lot of his forays into pop and more rounded universal hip-hop sounds have been extremely hit or miss for YG, all the while growing on the charts. And though it hasn’t been the ten-year mark, at five years Still Brazy makes a case for being a bona fide classic.

YG has charted high a fair amount, especially on tracks that incorporate or feature A-list musicians like Drake, Big Sean, and Jeremih, but unless YG is headlining it doesn’t always come across as authentic. YG has made the radio-track his way with the Jeezy and Rich Homie Quan featured, “My N*gga,” and the monstrous “Big Bank,” with Big Sean, Lil Wayne, and Nicki Minaj. These are standouts due to YG orchestration, unlike “Ride Out” from the Fast and Furious series and “Gucci On My” orchestrated by Mike Will Made It and co-featuring Migos and 21 Savage. Ironically, the third single of My Krazy Life, “Who Do You Love?” featuring Drake, didn’t peak high, peaking at 54 on the Hot 100, opposed to “My N*gga” at 19. It shows that star power doesn’t always equate like you’d expect.

However, since the release of Still Brazy YG has been on a minimalist decline with these unique directions he has taken post this album, but he has never shown a decline in his technical and lyrical abilities. Sometimes it feels as if he is trying to commercialize himself to a level by trying to find ways to incorporate artists that don’t mesh with his style and incorporating himself on pop songs like “I Don’t” with Mariah Carey and tracks with G-Eazy and Macklemore. And If I’m being frank, he has shown a lot of misses on the tracks he is featured on, like his basic verse on “Slide,” with H.E.R. What separates this from Still Brazy is the authenticity behind creating music attune to the style reminiscent of a golden age in the 90s.

That is what makes Still Brazy a phenomenal album. It was like this once and a lifetime album where instead of trying to eclipse pop-chart numbers and more, he found a happy medium where he could keep the authentic g-funk sound as a resonating base and elevate his range more on some of his subsequent albums. However, Still Brazy’s inherent focus on the funkadelic and gritty extravagance has made it one of the more unique gangster rap albums of the 2010s. It isn’t completely confined by trying to overlay pop-like and universal glamorization and instead keep it nuanced to the culture of the west coast. And In simple terms, it stays niche to sounds that are isolated to the culture of that area, like Spice-1 from the bay and the Geto Boys chopped and screwed style from Texas. But it’s usually when an artist sticks to being authentic, without a worry of trying to break through the radio waves.

Eventually a single off Still Brazy went on to have a moment in the limelight, without really charting. This track is the politically charged “FDT,” which stands for Fuck Donald Trump. It didn’t commercialize well and went off being a stand alone hit/anthem for four years as the United States suffered through four years of slightly imbecilic command. The monstrous noise it made and the anthem that grew from it only went up as he delivered a remix with G-Eazy and Macklemore together at the initial height of their popularity. It never really steered people toward the album and it suffered in creating hype outside the huge hip-hop community. It stinks because it seems like the general public who knows the song, may only know the words opposed to the rappers who deliver them. Coincidentally it is a bona fide g-funk/political hip-hop anthem, and a good amount of the music is a derivative of g-funk and west coast hip-hop.

This isn’t the album’s only foray into politically and socially charged tracks with it closing strong with tracks “Police Get Away With Murder,” and “Blacks & Browns.” The latter features LA Hispanic rapper SadBoy Loko delivering verses detailing daily discrimination and other occurrences that happen to both the African-American and Hispanic community, going deep from the black on black violence, police bias, and more. It’s finely tuned g-funk production oozes within the crevices of the verses and boosts this track attention grabbing prominence – ten fold.

Outside these tracks mentioned prior, others relate to the life that comes from his gang affiliations and creating complex pictures of the social dynamic that is rooted within the social history of Los Angeles. This gang affiliation has led to things going awry at times, one time of which, he documents on “Who Shot Me?” This track details his thoughts and paranoia after he was shot on his way out of a session at the studio. It breaks down his psyche as he tries to ponder who and why, relating back to relationships with people. Still Brazy doesn’t glorify a lifestyle and instead makes statements by painting a picture, however he does glorify a culture within certain aspects of LA in some of the singles and others in the track list. 

Uniquely the commercialization of Still Brazy is niche and thus has never been able to see a wide range of appeal. As an east coast writer, a lot of the music on hip-hop stations range from the hot commodity in melodic-trap rap and rappers primarily on our side of the coast. When I went to Los Angeles, on their hip-hop stations, they played Kendrick Lamar, Nipsey Hussle, and Anderson. Paak a bit more frequently. So tracks like “Twist My Fingaz,” didn’t have that wide range, but it’s production and infectious agro-fun dance energy makes it sound naturalistic to that culture. 

Further down the line, YG brings a dominating force on both spectrums as a feature in Lil Wayne. And what makes this track interesting is that YG took the opposite approach to what you’d expect. The production and the content of the song – lyrically and tonally – don’t go down the rabbit hole of a banger and instead they deliver a smooth bounce-funk centric track. “Why You Always Hatin’” takes a similar approach, despite being more commercial. It features Drake and Californian rapper Kamaiyah on a track that boasts their prominence and successes, while calling out critics and people who disregard their style and want different and profound pieces of work. 

He redefines a lot of these notions on the standout non-single “Bool, Balm, & Bollective.” He comes across with a nonchalant and chill demeanor about his life and his progression forward as he shrugs off the bullet wounds. His fresh approach makes his internal feeling of too hard to kill more refined and unlike many flex raps we hear today. If only it closed the album it would have been a beautiful crescendo on repurposing a lot of what was expressed. But the cultural consistency of the tracks on Still Brazy elevate this to new levels of nuance that other rappers grasp and make their own, and not many have that sound YG delivers without skipping a beat in authenticity.

Natalia Lafourcade – Un Canto Por México Vol. 2: Review

Natalia Lafourcade’s expressive and eclectic talent has never been lost within the many reviews of her work. When she releases a project, she comes in with an established direction, differentiating projects between an effervescent array of beautiful pop ballads and keen traditional Mexican folk music. This has been ever-present since the release of 2017 Musas, which has been odes to the musical influences that has been with Natalia since the start of her love for music. This continuation on both volumes of Un Canto Por Mexico has been nothing short of amazing. With Vol. 1 she delivers livelier-traditional performances, while Vol. 2 brings a slightly melancholic direction sonically, allowing for the guitars to play bare as Natalia and her musical guests flourish from start to finish. 

The whole process behind the two volumes have been focused on establishing a light on and helping those working to rebuild the cultural buildings, and city of Puebla, after the September earthquakes of 2017. In an amazing way, it gave Natalia Lafourcade a chance to help her community by building a charitable bank to donate from the money received off these two albums. And as a double-edged sword, has given her new motivation and influence to deliver new updates of her music, affluent in the popular sound she grew up around.

Un Canto Por México Vol. 2 opens with a beautifully haunting and nuanced acoustic cover of “La Llorona,” Natalia Lafourcade sets the stage for the album to take shape. As she bends the corner, she delivers a nuanced collection of songs that will take some Mexican listeners down a trip of remembrance with the elegant production that is established on the album. She enlists a treasure trove of artists to accompany her and elevate these new updates to new heights.

Amongst the treasure trove of musical guests, nothing caught my ear quicker than her update of “Recuerdame” from the Pixar film Coco. On this broken down take, she takes away the accompanying vocals from Miguel and instead duets with Mexican Pop singer Carlos Rivera, as well as expanding the length by double and adding more beautiful harmonizations. Rivera’s vocal inflections bring memories of listening to classic Vincente Fernandes, when he wasn’t fully in his feelings and letting the world know how he felt. But the songs on Un Canto Por Mexico Vol. 2 are full of beautiful guest vocal performances from legends from her country, like Aidas Cuevas on “Luz De Luna,” and Pepe Aguilar on “Cien Años,” where they bring the vibrance behind the history of the Mexican music scene from Pop to Regional. 

Un Canto Por México Vol. 2 is like the first, where it contains updated versions on past songs, along with covers and some unreleased material. It ranges from the traditional covers like the aforementioned “La Llorona.” Though this time, there is less unreleased material and more beautiful new updates on songs, primarily from the phenomenal Musas Vol 1. & 2. It astounds me with the kind of consistency Natalia Lafourcade has at creating these unique varieties of music since her rocker days in the 2000s. But as she continued into the 2010s, a lot of her music has been an arrangement of carefully crafted pop ballads and traditional folk influenced tracks, and it continues into 2020 she has taken that beautiful turn into delivering more traditional-regional music akin to the past. It bleeds into the music she updates.

The way the production/instrumental arrangement isolates the folk-pop aspects and flips it with to subtly underlie the traditional and regional-pop twists. It elevates the music to newer levels that you start to become distraught on which version is better. However this isn’t much of a surprise considering Kiko Campos has been a solid and consistent producer of her work, dating back to Musas. The regional take on “Luz De Luna,” on this album is a lot more elevated in emotion opposed to the somber-pop take from her 2017 album Musas. This is similarly the case on “Tu Si Sabes Quererme,” which adds a bit of a salsa undercoating from the dueting performance she has with Cuban artist Ruben Blades. It takes a beautiful twist when Mexican poet and hip-hop artist Mare Adventecia, comes in the third act with a stunning verse that flows in beautiful tandent with the visceral horns in the backdrop.

There are very few moments that Natalia Lafourcade comes on to deliver solo performances and when she does, it’s like seeing future Mets legend Pete Alonso hitting a dinger out the park. With the elegant and haunting acoustic rendition of the traditional “La Llorona” she brings forth nuance and lets herself feel bare and free behind the microphone. Though this isn’t a commonality for her, especially since she has been able to elevate that soprano range to new heights. On the lovely mix of “Alma Mía/Tú Me Acostumbraste/Soledad y El Mar” her new approach by breaking the production into a lovely breed of acoustic guitar, that eventually elevates with overlaying melodic strings and horns that evoke that regional Musica Mexicana Tradicional. She has this unsung beauty about in her voice that just makes the mouth drop with consistent awe as she gives us this, on top of the many duets and more on Un Canto Por México Vol. 2

Un Canto Por México Vol. 2 is an astounding album and one of the best things released this year. However it may not be for everyone considering the niche nature of the music and beyond. But Natalia Lafourcade is continuing to prove that she isn’t going away we should embrace the talent and the music she constantly gives us.

Rating: 10 out of 10.

Favorite Albums – Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys

Superlatives are as meaningful as they are to you and that is why on occasion I love to talk about an album when it hits a low mark like five years. And frankly this album is older than my age, but Pet Sounds has always been a part of my life and has been one of the defining pieces of musical influence I had growing up. What started with a love for “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” grew into learning and understanding the complex sounds and layering Brian Wilson incorporated as the Beach Boys started to transcend past the fun surf rock of yester and into some more awe inspiring music, which had partial motivation from The Beatles dominance internationally. And as we all know, a lot of their later work incorporated a lot of psychedelic sounds into their brand of pop rock. Similarly, Pet Sounds implemented these melodic overtones onto their brand of surf rock, as well shifting the compositions and delivering some impactful music.

Pet Sounds turned 55 years old on May 16, 2021. The tardiness in any piece about it comes from a lack of words to describe how much a single person can love an album from an era where there is no experience and just history. Growing up in the 90s and 00s, surf rock was never part of my overall musical rotation until later in life when I decided to delve deep into the past. You have to understand surf rock was a trend that lasted half a decade (at best) on the charts before being replaced by psychedelia and folk, and eventually disco. My generation was mostly into hip-hop, pop, emo/punk rock, and spring break where you can get loose, stupid and forget your woes for one week, especially if you were in college. It wasn’t in my purview, and having a family that listened to predominantly Spanish language music and genres, didn’t give me something to grow into. Eventually I started to consume a lot and learn how to dissect songs from a non-theorist perspective. 

My full admiration and love for Pet Sounds came when I was in college. I played my hand with some psychedelics and it made certain things clear, but most importantly it made a lot of the performances of Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and Brian and Carl Wilson more weight as you break apart the emotional grip. I first heard Pet Sounds in full when I was 11, but I was privy to what I knew and that was elevated jangle-pop-like fun and so “Sloop John B” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” I was never privy to understanding that “God Only Knows,” was used in misappropriate ways in the media, as it romanticized the idea of suicide due to a break up; or how “I Know There’s An Answer” had to be re-edited as it correlated too much to drug use, which it was and at the time drugs were also a touchy subject as it became a cornerstone of the counterculture of 1960s. 

“I Know There Is An Answer” had to have the title and verbiage in the chorus changed in order to take away from direct LSD reference when Brian Wilson’s haunting vocals sing “Hang On To Your Ego.” It was influenced by LSD and the effect it has on people like Brian where, once, he proclaimed he saw god after a full dose. Because of this, he engaged in more and has expressed a lot of Pet Sounds production and writing from them as it would bring out his insecurities, which correlates with the unusual timbres and harmonies that embolden the music’s broken down tones, like “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulders).”

But as you listen to it more, you start to understand that Pet Sounds can fill you with a modest roller coaster ride of emotions, slowly filling your mind with songs evoking hope. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” gives us a song that expresses this fantasy we have of never growing old. As Brian and Carl sing in the in the bridge, “Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray, it might come true / Oh, baby, then there wouldn’t be a single thing we couldn’t do / Oh, we could be married (Oh, we could be married) / And then we’d be happy (And then we’d be happy) / Oh, wouldn’t it be nice?” It brought the melancholy to the slightly depressive “God Only Knows,” which was the B Side to the single record released prior. 

These songs were always present in my youth, whether in film or in the media I consumed. “God Only Knows” was a prominent component of the popular holiday film, Love Actually, and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” was prominent in 50 First Dates, amongst other tracks. At the time Adam Sandler was a major component of my youth and it distinguishes me from my other film friends. Adam Sandler is my favorite comedic actor and going to see 50 First Dates was a beautiful memory. It was my first major I’m not old for this film with my father in theaters and a lot about it has always resonated with me, especially “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” which opened the floodgates for discovering more. And from there my love for Pet Sounds grew more and more.

The height these songs reached would amass a lot of hype and it delivers, despite the experimental nature within some of the production. It elevates the themes that come from the lyrics like how “That’s Not Me” is about maturity through the eyes of a man who tries to prove his worth to people from his past, keeping it simple and having more depth than a Twenty One Pilots record. 

The themes and stories from Pet Sounds are direct and broad in the way you can find ways to correlate it into your own life, like “Caroline, No,” which is a ballad about losing trust in someone, particularly the significant other in your love affair due to an unexpected change where both POVs differ. Or the conflicting “Here Today,” where Mike Love leads the cynical song about love through the eyes of an older man as he talks to the younger man about love. He brings notes about how he’s been with her prior, meaning someone similar, and to be careful about falling head over heels in swift motion because she could leave you at any moment. 

One can go about and speak about the visceral brilliance of Pet Sounds. Like the way it shifts from surf pop to an elevated form of chamber pop, and the depth of the themes from beautifully simple lyricism is on another level. But that would be another retread of what others have talked about in previous writings, which you can find anywhere. Especially something extremely intricate about how the title song was supposedly for a James Bond flick and if so that song would have had some weird animal sounds. There is a nuance to it because it doesn’t make it a focal point. It is added in the distance to implement this idea that the song is being recorded and played to an audience of animals at a farm. 

However, despite some of the intricacies I mentioned, I’m writing this because I love Pet Sounds more than anything I’ve ever heard in my life. Not because I want you to think on a deep level about the meaning of these songs or so forth, even though it’s brought up. This is just me talking about my favorite album and key parts that make it so. And hopefully influencing you to seek it out on all major streaming platforms. 

I then ask myself what does Pet Sounds mean to me? It means a lot. They were introduced to me by my favorite comedic actor in Adam Sandler and it was one of the first albums I heard front to back. That feeling was like eating a beignet for the first time at a New Orleans joint and first bite of soft dough with that sugary kick from powder sugar exploding and melting in your mouth with immense flavors or like when the concert you attend brings out a plethora of special guests. Either way, if you haven’t listened to it do yourself, and I, a favor and go enjoy its greatness and brilliance.