Credit: Def Jam

Compton couldn’t have asked for a more ardent advocate than YG. In an internet age that’s eroded rap regionalism — with titans like A$AP Rocky and Kanye West abandoning the genre’s once-holy precept in order to craft hip-hop that’s effectively placeless in its global ambition — the 28-year-old MC knows his city needs him more than ever.

And on Stay Dangerous — following 2016’s Still Brazy and 2014 debut My Krazy Life — YG springs to its defense, spinning hard-edged street stories through a hypnotic haze of thick, hyphy G-funk, the kind favored by ‘90s forbearers like DJ Quik and King T. It’s in their era that the rapper seems most at home, enveloped in Death Row-adjacent soundscapes of bouncing funk-bass and steady hand-claps, narrating the daily drama of navigating his neighborhood with a storyteller’s wit.

The rapper’s last album was a pointedly dark progression, his cocksure charm ceding ground to a more combative (and immersive) paranoia. During its recording, YG was shot in the studio by a still-unidentified assailant; the psychological toll of such a near-death experience — and his subsequent inability to trust even those in his innermost circle — bled through, infusing tracks like “Twist My Fingaz” and “I Got A Question” with a steely, strapped-up edge.

Out of his caution, too, came clarity, and with it a more restless political conscience; Still Brazy‘s last four songs in particular looked beyond his usual purview of guns, girls, and glory to make big-picture observations from a street level, the kind of hyper-lucid, hidden-strings interrogations Pac would often instigate. Along the way, YG delivered this generation’s “Fight the Power,” a defiant protest song by the none-too-subtle name of “FDT.” The track blew up and widened YG’s appeal in the process, but it brought him further from his roots; the rapper’s most pressing anxieties, according to Stay Dangerous, concern the potential cost of not keeping his foot firmly on his rivals’ necks. The bigger he gets, the more he (understandably) feels like a target.

The solution: getting back to bool, balm, and bollective basics. Glimmers of Brazy-era sociopolitics remain — the album’s first verse finds him tersely flipping off the DA, the PO, the president, and the police in one machine-gun staccato burst — but YG’s objectives across Stay Dangerous are more narrow and (for him) natural. Reuniting with long-time producer DJ Mustard for around half the album, YG is largely content to low-ride in his lane, swaggering across Bloods-allegiant bangers (electrifying “Suu Whoop”) and incisive tell-alls from the hood (“Too Brazy” “Deeper Than Rap”).

Beneath his brash deliveries, Mustard’s minimalist synth-lines snake and snap, imbuing even more tongue-in-cheek brags (“‘YG, don’t you got a daughter?’/Yeah, I’m a gangbangin’-ass dad”) with a sense of slow-gathering menace. These two frequently bring out the best in one another; YG’s oddly pristine Right Said Fred interpolation “Too Cocky” gets the buoyant sonic undercurrent such an inspired choice deserves, while Ty Dolla $ign collab “Power” drips supple, sexed-up reverb.

The rapper grows solemn later, using an eerie voicemail from incarcerated artist PC — an original member of his provincial Pushaz Ink label — to lead into even more melancholic closer “Bomptown Finest,” where he reflects on what his rise might have meant for those in his orbit, especially for the ones who got left behind. “You stay coming through for a n—, man/I appreciate that man, you feel me?” PC offers on that voicemail, the weight of years spent lost and forgotten hanging heavy in his voice, even through the line. “Shit, the last five years wouldn’t be the same without you/A lot of n— turned they backs to me.”

It’s indicative of YG’s headspace that staying loyal — to the homies, the hometown, and the lifestyle demanded of him by both — is less obligation than destiny. Uneasy lies the head that wears a krown, YG can admit — though he has little intention of surrendering his.