Four years ago, YG got shot three times in the hip in Los Angeles at 1:45 AM. A year later, in 2016, he released Still Brazy, a reflective album obsessed with vengeance, authenticity, and burning down any semblance of tranquility. Still Brazy was dangerous but necessary. The following chapter, not so much. 2017's Stay Dangerous was a bit of a misfire. There was no urgency to it; no reason for it to exist other than for its glitz and glammed-out gun talk. So 4REAL 4REAL arrives again after tragedy, this time, the death of rapper and close friend Nipsey Hussle. On this new trek, YG finds meaning that comes from both sorrow and triumphant progress. 4REAL 4REAL flattens the raised bumps in the rapper’s flow and aesthetic, making whispering flows and other YG conventions seldom-seen previously fit perfectly. It parties at times, it cries at times, it bleeds at times. But through it, YG has never sounded more committed to his lane and the resulting journey that comes with it.
For the most part, 4REAL 4REAL finds YG more bool, balm, and bollective than ever. “Stop Snitchin,” the angry diss song to 6ix9ine that dropped after the rapper went to jail – lashes out with its bouncy venom. “I Was On The Block” rips and rumbles like a Californian earthquake while YG goes down memory lane. The LP is about authenticity in its most current form - what exists now and not what has existed in the past. He raps about bottle service, the struggles that come with being successful, and relations, lots of relations. And through it, he goes overw everything with a chilly touch, removed from emotion. It’s refreshing to hear.
The tone is set with the introductory track “Hard Bottoms White Socks” which finds YG at his mellowest. He’s the face of hip-hop; he was made for it. Hearing him embrace the culture like this feels like new ground, and his reserved tone makes the message that more chilling. His steely persona on the track draws to mind comparisons to Nipsey, whose presence shines throughout the project. If you think that it’d be a more emotional album because of this, you’d be wrong. YG still parties; parties hard.
Mustard produces four of the LP’s Gatsby-like party-starters. “Bottle Service” jumps on the couch with its shoes on and invites you to crack glasses over exposed skulls. “In The Dark” sounds like an ominous affair, but Mustard provides a snappy Rubix cube of different basses that YG vocally thumps on until you dance. When it’s not Mustard behind the beat, others step in to take YG to another party room. “Do Not Disturb” with Kamaiyah and G-Eazy manages to walk the line between sinister and shrill, with a gritty rhythm that’ll push you to groove. “Do Ya Dance” is a frosty shelf of ‘90s ambience, firmly rooted with its nostalgic rhythm. Fun’s the name of the game here and YG plays it well.
When he delves into more heart-tugging affairs, YG’s tone gets its armor stripped away to expose the rapper’s bare chest. On “Heart 2 Heart” with Meek Mill, YG’s voice barely escapes a whisper as he confesses the hurt he feels when hanging with a friend without the same amount of money as him. Pain drops like tears, and even though the production isn’t slow enough to calm you down, YG’s delivery brings it to a crawl. Less successful is “Keyshia Had A Baby,” which is cringe-inducing, as its lyrics berate a woman for being sexually free. YG tells this flawed story softly and you can tell it’s something he’s probably seen before. This collection of songs showcase the extent of his growth. Instead of responding to adversity with flamed-over eyes and loud raps, YG now prefers to keep things simple and clean, telling a story in a more collected manner.
To connect the album’s pieces, YG includes his tribute speech to Nipsey that he gave at the rapper’s funeral in April. It comes right at the end (save for a bonus remix of “Stop Snitchin” with DaBaby’s sneering and jiving jaunts) and lets us know that this smoother, calmer YG is a direct product of Nipsey’s influence. It’s a touching way to send the album off and honor the late rapper.
4REAL 4REAL isn’t perfect, but it’s getting there. YG’s growth may be one of the most authentic that’s been observable in the rap space in recent years. With each new piece of the puzzle acquired, YG flattens out, grows calmer, and crafts music that both acknowledges his gangster past and confidently explains his present and future. No longer angrily searching for answers or loading up guns, now he’s partying harder than ever, learning to love, and telling stories that don’t all end in bloodshed. He’s finally transformed that street authenticity to something else - real-life validity.