YG Is Flexing on the World
The Artist on Being Authentic in the Age of Fakes
- Interview: Kevin Pires
- Photography: Daniel Regan
What has become of reality? In the age of digital reproduction, appropriating cultural histories and artifacts is part and parcel of a pop persona. YG, though, whose debut album My Krazy Life and subsequent Still Brazy chronicle his complex human narrative, understands that in a world where experience can be feigned but not forged, authenticity is his capital.
When you can get sponsored by luxury brands, borrow clothing for parties, and scour online communities for the markers of a life not yours, real becomes invaluable. From rapping, to writing, to acting, YG imbues the worlds he inhabits with his indelible ethos. There’s almost something classical about his process, about how he has built his career on recounting his tales—a troubadour for our technological times.
YG’s real starts with his nom de rhyme,”Young Gangsta.” Some will take that as a summation of the 27-year-old Pisces, but YG is a complicated identity. Borne of a Compton upbringing that alchemized into something else—international stardom and fatherhood, in addition to clout in music and in film. YG filters everything he does through this lense. In talking to him, you sense how effortless it is, how he has no choice but to create.
Kevin Pires spoke with YG about what it means to be authentic in the age of fakes
You recently Tweeted, "If it ain't top notch or ghetto, I don't like it,” what did you mean?
I know the importance of the authenticity of where I come from and what I represent. A lot of these influencers and people in fashion that impact a large percent of the world, take inspiration for what they do from the ghetto and the streets. I'm just telling it how it is because that's where I'm from. I know what's going on. I know the ghetto.
When you said you wanted to start the “Hood Grammy awards,” was it a reaction to that?
My Grammy's would have all the right people in there as far as Hip-hop culture goes—the right artists, the right music. We'd be rewarding the right people. We would have the culture and the people out here really moving things, no matter what your star credit or celebrity is. The Grammy's are supposed to be all for the music.
You wrote the screenplay to Blame It On the Streets and you have White Boy Rick coming out this year, does film occupy your attention the same way music does?
When I was coming up, me and the homies was always talking about movies, and shooting and directing and bringing to life some of the new, young L.A. shit. When my music started pumping, I could finally do what I was always talking about.
How is filming different than recording?
It’s a whole different vibe. When I work on an album, I move at my own pace. With movies, you have to be on set at 5:55 in the morning. It’s just different. When you shoot a music video, you do some of the same things over and over again, but during a movie shoot you'll spend damn near half a day shooting one thing.
You’ve made a point of calling yourself an artist rather than a musician or an actor, why is that distinction important?
Before everything, I'm a career person. I like to create shit, and that's just it. And that's for sure one of the things that keeps me going. I ask myself, “Can I really do this?” Not because you send me enough money—that's all a plus. I do this because this is what I love to do. There are certain things I’m trying to accomplish before I get to a certain age. That’s the shit that keeps me going. I wanna flex on the world.
One of your main goals is to represent the L.A. that you know. Which L.A. is that?
My L.A. is the real L.A. When I be talking to motherfuckers they be like, “Yeah, I like L.A. but then I don't like L.A.” I'm like, “Why you don't like L.A.?” They say that the people all act like they bougie and like they somebody and I'm like, “Look, y'all not in the real L.A., you talking about Hollywood and the Valley because that's not how we act where I’m from.” I represent the other side. I represent the real side. I represent the streets, the ghetto. I represent that gang bang culture. I represent all that shit. I eat, sleep, walk, talk, breathe, and shit that shit.
Your Viceland episode, “YG and The Therapist,” was applauded for how openly you talked about your struggles with mental health. Why was it important for you to explore that publicly?
Somebody told me I should because of where I was in my life. I had a lot going on and then my album got so crazy and I was on star shit and somebody said, “You should go to a therapist and record it and put it out.” So we set it up and I really did it. Everybody's gotta determine their own dreams. If my album, or if my life, wasn't how it was at the time, I would have never done it either. But it was my life, and it was real. I was in a dark place and that was all I was talking about on my album. I ain't do it on no motherfucking attention-type shit.
Before you even signed with Def Jam, you developed a robust online following. Nowadays, it’s essential that artists have digital hype at the onset. How did you build an early social following?
I was different. My life was a party. If you're from the West Coast and you're my age, you knew who YG was. Period. That had something to do with what we were doing on the streets, it had something to do with my music, it had something to do with how we looked, how we was moving. It's the same shit that's going on right now. We was doing all that back in the day on some young, turnt up, burnt out, drug-head shit. We just didn't have Snapchat and Instagram. We had MySpace. YouTube had just cracked off too. I’ve always been tapped into the youth. I'm young and I'm with all the young shit. I was really doing what motherfuckers at my age would be doing at that time. We was turnt up, burnt out, and poppin’ pills. We was at all the clubs, going crazy, doing all the wild shit. We was gang banging, fighting, and having shootouts. We was living like real, young, whack balls.
"I was different. My life was a party. If you're from the West Coast and you're my age, you knew who YG was."
What is your perspective on fashion? And how did that propel you starting your own line?
Me and my homies, we was always on the dress shit, we was always on some different shit. I'm one of the dudes who was always wearing anything back in 05, 06, 07, when they wasn't cool. Where I'm from skinny jeans wasn't cool for somebody like me but I was wearing them. And Vans and all that shit ‘cause we've been doing that shit before it was cool in the urban community. My momma, she ghetto fabulous. She was always on some fashion shit so it’s in my blood. Motherfuckers follow me and try to do what I'm doing. Instead of wearing all these motherfuckers’ clothes and making they shit pop and making they shit shimmy, instead of making those motherfuckers rich, I'm gonna make my own shit shimmy.
When you’re on a track, it becomes a YG production. How do you leave your mark on someone else's song? What are the politics of collaborating?
We’re all artists working together so you learn shit from each other. We catch vibes, drink some drinks, smoke some weed, call some females–motherfuckers just be having fun. We living the time of our lives right now. We trying to get it in, you feel me, because we're gonna be old one day. It’s real friendly but it's also competitive. I was in the studio with Ty Dolla $ign last night for example. We did four or five songs and then he did a hook and a verse and that shit was fire. I'm sitting outside like, “Dude this shit is fire,” I'm like “I'm about to go murder that bitch when I go up in there.” So I go up in there and that's what I do. I murdered it, G. It’s a friendly competition. Like, “Nah, you going in too hard, I gotta come harder.” That makes motherfuckers better at their craft.
What's the future for you?
My seeds are planted. Now it's time to watch the motherfuckers bloom. I've been spending the last year or two setting all my shit up because I came in the game and I was in a lot of fucked up situations but once success struck I realized I had to fix shit. When I know something ain't right, I gotta do what I gotta do to fix it. When I start doing what I'm gonna do, imma go on my run and never look back.
- Interview: Kevin Pires
- Photography: Daniel Regan
- Styling: Imogene Barron
- Production: Rebecca Hearn