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YGPhotography Fumi Nagasaka, Styling Alison Marie Isbell

YG on his style, big loves and politically-popping rap

Bompton’s king sees 2017 as a year of continued rebellion, building his creative visions even higher and teaching the world its true worth

An ambitious young generation of artists have been breathing new life into the West Coast rap hemisphere over the last few years – the unbridled honesty of Vince Staples, a reflective Schoolboy Q, the sharp lyrical landscape of Kendrick Lamar’s L.A – but it’s Compton’s YG that elevated Cali’s seminal gangster rap to dizzying new heights at a time when the world needed it most.

With what could be a heavy cross to bear, YG uses his artform and identity to create a unifying resistance against the state’s apathy towards its people. In an effervescent narrative informed by a lifetime of gangbanging and an ignored local community, he traces LA’s tense relationship with the authorities in “Police Get Away Wit Murder”, grapples with the enveloping paranoia he experienced when he was shot, and dissects the economics of the rap game: “Why everybody want a piece of the pie?” he asks in his opening lyrical assault.

As a continuation of the compelling personal exploration of life with the Bloods in 2014’s My Krazy Life, last year’s Still Brazy saw the rapper cement his political stance, a proclamation of a vibrant identity undeterred by troubling times – the major “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)” is a revolt that’s unifying and joyful, bring Bloods, Crips, everybody together to fight for our futures and freedom. And it’s still bumping: low-riding, screwface beats meet bright G-Funk and rich hiphy sounds.

Nearing a year since the stratospheric album release, YG pushes on with his creative ventures. He applauds the continuous resistance against Trump, most notably, the people who hijacked radio stations in the U.S to play “FDT” on a loop. He recently appeared alongside The Weeknd in his video for party track “Reminder”, collabed with Mariah Carey and Mike Will Made-It, and has tour dates dotted across the world, as well as plans to keep expanded his 4Hunnid brand. Speaking about their musical partnership in the anthemic heartbreak tale “I Don’t”, Carey described him as an “incredible spirit” and “a true artist”.

Celebrating the spirit and uninhibited rebellion exuding from YG, Pharrell Williams chose the artist to be a part of his collaboration with G-Star RAW alongside a roster of other trendsetters pushing the envelope in their industry. And like Syd and The Skate Kitchen, YG has modelled his selected print from the G-Star RAW Elwood X25 Prints collection that best represents himself. Pharrell only has one brief – but powerful – word to describe him: “BRAZY”. We caught up with YG in-between shoots for a visual project in Trinidad to talk about staying true to his sense of style, how politics is popping in rap and continuing his vision.

What print did you choose for the G-Star shoot, and how does it represent you?

YG: I chose both the red and white, and black and white stripe pants. I chose them because I designed a pair very similar to them the year before, around my Still Brazy album. It was big when I seen Pharrell had designed some similar with a major brand and collaboration.

How would you describe your personal style?

YG: I describe myself as: me doing me. I’m really about this fashion shit. I’m about the entire creative process for the 4hunnid clothing and lifestyle brand. I stay true to myself by not being anyone but me.

How was it shooting a new video in Trinidad?

YG: That’s top secret! But it's a big video – big for the 4hunnid brand, and for myself moving forward.

How important are these kind of visuals to you, and keeping your creative control and vision?

YG: When you at a place in yo’ career and you notice it's time to level up, visuals and everything else is very important.

Do you feel a responsibility to stay true to the West Coast and where you're from? How does this play out in the music you're doing at present?

YG: I do feel a responsibility to the West Coast, at all times. It plays a major role in my music. From the sounds, the baseline melodies, the story telling, my visuals, the way I dress – when I walk in a room, it say ‘WESTSIDE’ all over me.

What's your biggest inspiration for your music right now?

YG: My biggest inspiration for my music right now is life! Knowing my worth and living my true potential is my focus.

The themes of Still Brazy seem to be, at its core, about staying true to an identity and yourself even if there's tension and threat from elsewhere, whether in politics or socially. Do you hope to continue exploring this in your music?

YG: I feel like whenever I can use my voice to speak up on something, I will.

How do you see the rap game's relationship with politics evolving?

YG: I think most of these rappers say things in they songs, about politics and racial things we still going through, but they don't hold no substance, they say things put it in the air and seem like the wind blows it right away. They rarely back up what they say in a real way.

What do you think about the hacking of radio stations to play “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)”?

YG: I love it. More things like that should happen, the people simply expressing how they feel.

You've worked with both established and iconic artists like Mariah with her new record, as well as up and coming musicians like Oakland’s Kamaiyah. How have your collaborations been going?

YG: Collaborating with artist is always bool, when done right. Mariah is iconic and legendary, and Kamaiyah, is young, fresh, and talented with a bright future, and she’s home team. But I got so much love for Mariah, with her being so successful with the legend status she got, it feels like she still herself. A real person, with a real personality.

What are your biggest hopes for achieving things in 2017?

YG: Influence my peoples and the world on knowing your worth.