by Phil Copeland
With the release of his second full length album in June and the notorious popularity of his single “FDT” (Fuck Donald Trump), Compton rapper YG has never been in the spotlight more than in 2016. Known for his distinctively West Coast gangsta rap laid mostly over DJ Mustard’s catchy, if formulaic, beats, YG’s popularity has risen steadily over the past few years. He’s an artist who manages to get radio playtime without giving any concessions against his stylistically aggressive rapping. Staying true to his roots has caused little shift in his sound over the years – 2012 YG is essentially 2016 YG. But if his new mixtape “Red Friday” is another to judge by, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The release of “Red Friday” was a bit of a mess. Originally scheduled to drop on November 25, the tape was leaked a day early. YG was forced to put it up on major streaming platforms in response to the leak. He has been vocal in blaming his label, Def Jam, for the leak, at one point going on a Twitter tirade and repeatedly tweeting “Fuck Def Jam” to thousands of likes each time. The physical release of the mixtape is even odder, with a limited quantity of 1,400 CDs being sold for $100 each (digital downloads are still normally priced). YG isn’t the first to do this – FDT collaborator and fellow West Coat artist Nipsey Hussle also sold copies of his album for the same price back in 2013 – but it still represents an interesting stand in the debate over buying music.
Of course, the main question from anyone who has yet to listen to “Red Friday” stands: Is it any good? The short answer is yes. If you have appreciated any of YG’s work in the past, this is a must listen. There aren’t a lot of new ideas presented, rather, YG continues to refine his craft and present an extremely polished and listenable work. This is a mixtape more in the sense that it is a short, loose collection of singles, the production is album-level. I’ll break apart different aspects of the tape, but know that this is one of YG’s best outings yet.
It’s not a YG song without DJ Mustard beats, and the producer is back with another collection of noticeably melodic backings. Don’t expect much new here: as in earlier tracks, and in most of the work he has produced for other artists, Mustard utilizes low, syncopated bass lines with high synth or xylophone riffs, all in the minor key. Having listened to most of his work before, I found that I was able to predict where the drums would come in, or where the beat would drop out. However, this is the same quality of production that we saw on the album “Still Brazy”, so I was not disappointed.
A good test of a rapper’s flow is whether you can appreciate their sound without even trying to focus on the lyrics, and all of the tracks on “Red Friday” accomplish this. YG has become an expert at laying his lines perfectly into Mustard’s syncopation. While it all sounds natural, the stylistic bass can sound at odds to an artist who doesn’t know how to utilize it (see: any early 2 Chainz). So YG gets a lot of credit here. The combination of production and flow alone make pretty much all of these tracks bangers, but we’d expect nothing else from a YG release.
Of the seven full-length tracks on this tape, six of them are classic YG gangsta rap material. There’s a lot of variations of “Oh shit, I got a couple million in the bank” and “Pull up like Pac, middle finger out the sunroof” (both of these are actual lines from “I Know”). However, it doesn’t really matter that he says the word “bitch” no less than 54 times in “Down Bitch” (yes, I counted). You’re probably not here for YG’s lyrical prose.
The one exception is the powerfully political final track, “One Time Comin”. It is a diatribe against police brutality, telling the story of getting pulled over as a black man for driving too nice of a car. This is the best song on the mixtape, and still one that you can listen to at a party. The flow, message, and beat come together to create an impressive work.
While each of the songs on “Red Friday” work on their own, there is little additional to be gained by listening to the tape as a whole. YG had a loose collection of bangers, and he released a loose collection of bangers. Features from RJ, Mitch, and 21 Savage fit well but are nothing to write home about. The mixtape does to exactly what it’s trying to do, and no one really asked for more. Overall, it exceeded my expectations, but didn’t blow them away. YG’s doing what he wants to do, and I’m alright with that.