It’s been nearly a decade since Keenon Daequan Ray Jackson, best known to the general public as the rapper , stepped on the scene. Starting f as a member the ‘jerk’ movement, it seemed unlikely that he would become one the most important rappers his decade, defining the various sounds and trends coming out L.A. for the 2010s. Nevertheless after a consistent grind, with multiple respected albums and hit singles under his belt, he stands with only Kendrick Lamar and Tyler, the Creator as his competition in who can claim a greater influence on the West Coast’s place in current day rap. Sadly, that is also due to the passing his friend and collaborator, , an event that weighs heavily on his fourth album 4REAL 4REAL. The album works its hardest to not only pay tribute to the legacy his departed comrade but to continue to demonstrate his capabilities as a rap star. 

Going over the discography YG, every album prior to this one felt like it had a strong goal. My Krazy Life was fueled with the purpose crafting a modern classic, balancing great displays all YG’s strengths next to massive bangers to establish his starpower outside Los Angeles. Still Brazy followed up that with an attempt to diversify the range his content while Stay Dangerous was an album that managed to luxuriate in YG’s ability to speak his mind on any number subjects. The goals 4REAL 4REAL, however, remain fairly inscrutable. The second half the album features YG ten retiring to the background his own songs to let guests take the center stage, including one song that basically functions as a new single for another artist (the Day Sulan-assisted “Her Story”). Even the ficial final note, a recording his speech in tribute to Nipsey, ends up leaving the listener with stronger feelings about the recently slain rapper than the man paying homage to his friend. Why is it that 4REAL 4REAL is so meager an fering from a rapper who’s provided us with so much more engaging material?

One problem for certain is one that there is nothing necessarily new to this album for YG, and it showcases a bizarre weakness at crafting singles. Years ago, YG was so natural at pinpointing hits he was practically giving them away (specifically helping make ’s “R.I.P” and ’s “Rack City” become realities). Nowadays however, YG’s attempts at hits don’t register with the same sort effectiveness. The up-tempo Memphis-tinged “Stop Snitchin” just doesn’t feel like a comfortable fit, with a remix featuring rising star wavering away from being the jam it could be. Meanwhile, alongside his frequent collaborator DJ Mustard, the two have tried capitalizing on Tyga’s recent wave singles throwing back to YG’s old sound with the listless and cheesy “Go Loko.” Later on, with “I Was On The Block,” we find both the DJ and MC desperately trying (and failing) to emulate the formula guest rapper Valee, a confounding error judgement from a team with such a reliable signature sound and a general understanding the other’s strengths and weaknesses. Were it not for the Moroder-gone-ratchet synths “Bottle Service” or the gloomy throb “In The Dark,” you’d start to wonder that maybe the former dream team had lost their special spark. 

While the obvious fumbles are there, there’s still a decent amount more good material to enjoy. The album’s opener, the lean “Hard Bottoms & White Socks”, is a sullen but combative bit jazzy boom-bap that finds YG swagging effortlessly in a mode unfamiliar to him. The Swish produced “Keisha Had A Baby” however is very traditional YG goes G-Funk, with him going in a contemplative story-telling mode. From here a lot the album switches into a much more traditional West Coast Rap vibe, with HBK Gang affiliate 1-O.A.K. contributing the silky smooth R&B vibes the lovesick “Play Too Much” and the Lakeside-sampling “Do Yo Dance” (amusing considering the band sampled includes the father guest Ty Dolla $ign). Unfortunately, the good times and good vibes aren’t without their turbulence as “Do Not Disturb” is mostly skippable were it not for the G-Eazy verse, and likewise on the languid “Heart 2 Heart” it honestly feels best if you just fast-forward to hear Meek compared to the excessive guest singers and a fairly forgettable YG verse.

Although there are more than a few exemplary moments on 4REAL 4REAL, it is still among the weakest YG’s studio albums to date. Given the fact that he’s barely gone a year between albums, and the additional confusion his grieving (rightfully so), it feels understandable that YG is relatively less focused on this outing. However, now that the rapper is no longer ‘the new-school’ but instead one the top tier the West Coast, he’s most certainly at a crossroads where he can either adjust and remember how to excel or he may be consigned to depend on his legacy. Nevertheless, YG remains one the best to ever do it his generation and overall for the city Los Angeles. No doubt he’ll demonstrate the skills and the energy that he’s used to get this far time and time again.