The early candidate for rap album of the year begins with a mother warning her son to stop following in the footsteps of his incarcerated father.
The colorfully delivered advice was given to Keenon Daequan Ray Jackson, the 24-year-old rapper better known as YG who performs Wednesday at Baltimore Soundstage. Although YG did not adhere to the counsel (he spent six months in jail for residential burglary before he signed to Def Jam in 2009), the Compton, Calif., MC proved he was on his own path with the release of “My Krazy Life,” an acclaimed first album that debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 in March.
After finishing sound check in Charlotte last week, YG said that while he felt underestimated as an artist before “My Krazy Life,” he understood he shaped the perception by releasing single-minded party records before it.
“I knew what I could really do, but at the same time, I had out mixtapes that just had that certain type of record on there that started my fanbase,” YG said on the phone. “That's why I had to sit back and put the album together to shut they ass up.”
It is hard to hear detractors over the album's booming beats, the majority of which were made by DJ Mustard, the 23-year-old executive producer of “My Krazy Life.” Born Dijon McFarlane, DJ Mustard has redefined the sound of West Coast hip-hop through sparse productions that emphasize open space, buoyancy and fluidity. Together, these two young friends — and current tourmates — from Los Angeles have been compared to another landscape-shifting duo, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.
Mustard, who credits Lil Jon as a main influence, hopes he and YG can duplicate the older pair's consistency.
“You see so many musicians come and go,” Mustard said on the phone from a Houston tour stop. “For me, it's really about the longevity in the music industry. It's not all about having a lot of hit records at one time.”
Like Snoop and Dr. Dre, the chemistry between Mustard and YG — who met through a mutual friend years ago — developed through hours spent in the studio. At the time, Mustard was strictly a DJ, but as YG needed more beats, Mustard began toiling with music-composition computer programs. Because he lacked experience, Mustard crafted beats to the specific cadences and flows YG delivered in the recording booth. Their chemistry developed earnestly, not quickly.
“He was making beats to how I rap, that's how he started making beats,” YG said before adding that success did not happen overnight. “He just knows because we sat in the studio for months, going over all the [stuff].”
The time in the studio allowed YG to refine his lyrical approach to “My Krazy Life.” A rap classicist, YG said he listened to hip-hop milestones for inspiration: 50 Cent's “Get Rich or Die Tryin‘,” the Notorious B.I.G.'s “Ready to Die,” and naturally, Dr. Dre's “2001” and Snoop Dogg's debut, “Doggystyle.”
Like fellow Californian Kendrick Lamar, who appears on “My Krazy Life,” YG was only interested in writing a “full studio album,” an approach he said many new rappers foolishly ignore.
“We're doing it how you're supposed to do it,” YG said. “How all the great rappers in the ‘90s were putting together thoughtful albums with concepts — that's what we both did.”
There are similarities between “My Krazy Life“ and Lamar's “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City.“ Both are deeply personal expressions of their inner-city upbringings, and both capture the beauty, humor, danger and tragedy that constantly swirled around the two. Although their attitudes and morals can differ from topic to topic, Lamar and YG are both products of unforgiving environments that found success in telling their own stories.
One particularly vivid story on "My Krazy Life" is called “Meet the Flockers.” In two minutes, YG concisely describes the setup, execution and rush of a home burglary. “If the police come, you gonna find out who your friends now,” he raps. The jarring song is simply stated and even celebratory, which underlines YG's commitment to telling his own story, warts and all.
“I had to hit them with that [stuff] they probably hadn't heard before,” YG said. “It's real situations that go on on the side of town we're from.”
Tour for YG and Mustard wraps at the end of May, and both say they will remain busy afterward. Offers to appear on other artists' songs continue to roll in, YG said. Mustard is “about 80 percent done” his own album, “10 Summers,” and on Instagram recently, Justin Bieber previewed a new song produced by him.
Regardless of new opportunities, YG and Mustard said they would continue to work together. Their chemistry is not common, and the two share a sense of pride that comes with hard times, being doubted and ultimately, perseverance.
“When I was doing the album, I wanted to do something to try and move the culture, to move the people,” YG said. “Now, we're the topic of discussion.”
FIVE ESSENTIAL DJ MUSTARD BEATS:
The reign of DJ Mustard began in late 2011, when Tyga released the strip-club anthem, “Rack City.” (The beat was first made for YG but he passed it along to the Young Money rapper.) Since then, Mustard's trademark sound of easy-to-follow piano melodies and stark minimalism has been a fixture on rap radio.