Before I meet him at Lucky Strike Lanes on this balmy Wednesday afternoon, I only know YG by his music. And his music doesn’t just fill the quota of beats and rhymes and bitches, but it’s not crystal-clear, overly produced party music either. It does something more, reaches a different place. And it’s fair to say the rapper from Compton [born two years after Straight Outta Compton and two years before the Rodney King riots] has more on his mind than his predecessors. Fairer, still, to call YG the third pillar—alongside ScHoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar—in a modern West Coast hip-hop renaissance.
“So where do you live?” I ask him. “The Valley?”
“Nah…I’m all around Los Angeles. Keep moving around.”
“But you have a house somewhere, right?”
About a dozen or so of YG’s posse gather around. There’s a publicist somewhere.
“You can’t be saying all this about where I live,” he tells me. “Or asking me that. I don’t live anywhere. You can’t tell people. They try and look for me.”
“Oh God. That’s so…stressful. ”
“No, it’s not. It’s just regular”
I’m a middle-aged white woman. Getting frazzled in traffic, switching from soy yogurt to blended silken tofu, taking the stairs—that’s regular. I don’t have the chance to meet all of YG’s posse, but as far as I can tell they help YG manage his business, sort through boxes of Puma shoes to see which ones he’ll like, and, of course, protect him (back in 2012, shots were fired during the video shoot for “I’m a Thug,” and the cops had to shut down the set). One of them, a stern-looking older guy with a goatee, stops me and asks which of YG’s songs I like best. “‘Me & My Bitch,’” I tell him.
He nods to the group, half smiling, and says, “I gotta go smoke this joint.”
I hadn’t planned on drinking—again, it’s Wednesday afternoon. But soon the Hennessy hits the table, YG orders a Long Island Iced Tea (“I don’t smoke weed like my homies do,” he says. “It makes me odd.”), and I order my first Stella Artois. It feels rude not to drink, and the last thing I want to do is be rude.
Finally, after a few rounds of bowling (YG’s score gets better the more he drinks; mine gets worse), I ask his publicist if I can take him into the bar area where it’s quieter. She tells me that he’s more comfortable staying out here, with his friends. I consider this, eventually deciding it’s a safety measure and I’m okay with that, and we stay in the bowling alley surrounded by his homies. A move—or lack thereof—that turns out to be beneficial for all parties involved. The group begins to serve as a bridge, a reverse urban-translate for my blonde-middle-aged-white-lady-trying-to-prove-she’s-down-with-a-gangsta-rapper moments. Like using the word “homies.”
YG’s debut album My Krazy Life dropped in March of this year. Sure, it’s not without its “bitches being bitches,” but it also feels personal. The songs have a sort of narrative chronology that play out like a mini movie. The result of this honesty, along with contributions from longtime collaborator DJ Mustard, create an album that makes you want to speed down the 405 blasting “I Just Wanna Party.” If it were possible to speed down the 405.
“You’re into what I’m doing,” YG tells me. “I can tell.”
“Oh, I am. Last night after a few glasses of wine I was driving home in my Prius blasting ‘I Just Wanna Party’ with, you know, the baby seat in the back, and I was thinking how if the police stopped me I’d—”
“How many glasses of wine you have?”
“A few,” I say. “Maybe four.”
“That’s drunk driving.”
“I had a lot of water, too! And the glasses of wine were spaced over the course of an entire—”
“Nah,” he says. “That’s straight-up drunk driving.”
“So I know you dig Snoop and Dr. Dre,” I say, deflecting, “but who else do you listen to? Biggie Smalls?”
“Yeah, I fuck with Biggie Smalls.”
“You do? Oh my God, how? He’s dead.”
“He listens to his music,” one of YG’s homies interjects. “That’s what he’s saying.”
I scribble “fucking with” in my notepad and ask him about what his life has been like this year.
“If you want a movement you got to stick to what you do,” he says. “You can’t come in the game and get on from that, and then you start changing up doing different shit. You can’t do it. I mean, you can do it but that shit don’t mean nothing [any]more. It’s like… ‘Oh he did what everybody else did.’ You get on it and keep doing the same thing that got you there. That’s when it means something to the world. That’s when you inspire.” By the end of the interview, after more Long Islands and beer, we’re kicking back on the couch debating whether Tupac is alive or dead (YG: “He’s for sure alive.”), and talking about his family.
“So, how’s your mom?” I ask. “Does she keep you straight or is she like, ‘Yay, I get to go to Cabo!’”
“No, she’s straight. She runs my non-profit foundation. We [are] about to do a back-to-school event August 9th for all the kids who [are] underprivileged…[we’re] going to give [them] school supplies.”
I depart, forgetting to pay my beer tab and as I’m creeping along the 405 to the sweet sounds of “Bicken Back Being Bool,” I think that, despite our clear differences, despite our age gap, I get this kid, I get that he just wants to bick back, and be bool.
Or something like that.
Photographer: Guy Lowndes at Guylowndes.com. Stylist: Keyana Franklin. Groomer: Debbie Gallagher for OpusBeauty.com.