Y'all murdered 17-year-old David Joseph, who died in Texas
He was unarmed
Y'all murdered 16-year-old Kimani Gray
In New York City, March 9, 2013, that was my birthday
He was unarmed
This shit fucked up, man
Y'all murdered Laquan McDonald in Chicago
They got that on tape
He was innocent
And the list goes on
And they wonder why I live life looking over my shoulder
—YG, “Police Get Away Wit Murder”
YG's second major-label album, Still Brazy, takes his listeners back to his home — the streets of Compton, where uncertainty of life is the cold norm. The same place provided the setting of 2014's My Krazy Life, an album in which YG breathed life into memories of his old neighborhood with moments of joy and humor, but didn’t turn away from scenes of robbery and violence. Still Brazy ups the stakes on that narrative, even addressing the rapper's real-life shooting last year outside a recording studio in a desolate, paranoid song called “Who Shot Me.” But as the album comes to an end, its scope expands beyond the personal. YG is still in Compton, but we hear him starting to see the ways that national political turmoil has seeped into the streets he walks every day.
Still Brazy's final tracks aren’t simply directed at black people — they form a rallying cry for blacks, Mexicans, Muslims, and all people caught in the vitriolic crosshairs of Donald Trump. “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)” drew headlines when it was reportedly censored under pressure from Trump's Secret Service detail, but it isn’t merely about dismissing or insulting the presumptive GOP candidate. It's about galvanizing unity among all who oppose his oppressive and un-American ideals. The song is a middle finger to those who deny the humanity of immigrants and a rejection of the idea that we, as black people, are going to stand aside and watch this happen.
The next song on the album, “Blacks & Browns,” makes that call for racial unity explicit with a guest verse from Chicano rapper Sad Boy, who cites the issues facing both black and brown people as a powerful reason for these communities to stand together. Police brutality feels the same wherever you are, and if Donald Trump is elected, everyone will feel the pain of his racist reign. The push for unity makes these songs of frustration feel far more loving than such dark subject matter might suggest. It can be hard to square this with the way YG harps on and brings down women on “She Wish She Was” earlier in the album — his regressive attitudes there echo uncomfortably in the moments when he's trying to bring black and brown men together. Even so, YG’s ability to see a figure like Trump not only through his own eyes, but through the eyes of the people most likely to be oppressed by Trump's presidency, shows commendable empathy. It's a warm, human way to confront a figure who personifies the racist hatred that’s festered throughout America's history.
Still Brazy closes with “Police Get Away Wit Murder,” in which YG struggles to make sense of a country that loves guns far more than it’s ever loved his people. That's hardly news, but YG seems determined to work his way through this contradiction — tussling with himself about whether it’s worthwhile for him to own a gun to protect himself if it can ultimately be used to kill him. The album ends on a note of fear. Even after surviving being shot under unclear circumstances, YG isn't anxious about the streets so much as he's afraid of the police, those officers sworn to protect and serve.
2016 isn’t an election year of hope and change. We know change moves slowly, and hope is something we use to make sure we wake up the next day. Maybe this summer, we can hope that YG doesn’t have to keep restating the tale that closes “Police Get Away Wit Murder”:
I've really got a story
This ain't a spoof, motherfucker
We'll put our hands up and they'll still shoot, motherfucker
And post on trial for one to two, motherfucker
They give us years for guns and we can buy ’em off the shelf
But you'll get life in the coffin if you don't protect yourself.