YG: Compton's Rose From Concrete
Keenon Jackson, the artist known as YG, is telling me about his wildest travel story. Touring the states between 2014 and 2015, it includes a tour bus, a gaggle of his boys, and strangely enough, his mother.
‘We on tour, my mom wanna hop on tour with us,’ he says. ‘I say “look mama. You don't want to come be on a bus with the homies, it get crazy.” And she like “nah... I want to come on the bus!" So she comes with us for some days’.
‘One night it get crazy. Her bunk is across from mine all the way in the back of the bus, by the back room. The back room is where we party at’.
It doesn’t take a genius to guess what happens next. ‘One of my homies is in the back room, and mama is trying to go to sleep. And all she hearing is…’. He makes three loud clapping sounds to illustrate what his friend had been getting up to, in between his raucous laughter now springing through our Zoom call. ‘She wake me up and she’s like “Keenon, what the fuck is going on?” I said “Mama, I told you, you don't want to get on the bus!” She was traumatised after that’.
YG is an artist who lives what he raps about, no matter where he is in the world. He’s known for waxing about coarse topics, and his songs aren’t shy in detailing a lust for the party lifestyle. He’s the West Coast figurehead that gave the world hits like Who Do You Love back in 2014, and then told a sitting president to go fuck himself a couple years later.
It’s a career that’s taken him worldwide. You get the sense that his wilder lyrics are a good snapshot of what it’s like for him on tour, but he stays tight-lipped on any intimate details.
‘I mean tours get crazy, it be a whole lot of crazy shit,’ he smiles. ‘I'm gonna tell you this though; they love us in Australia – oh, they love me to death! We have so much fun there, I'm just gonna say that’.
In his downtime, he still likes to get around. He spends his time hitting up casinos in Vegas and Palm Springs when he wants to chill with his guys, riding in his Maybach or bulletproof truck. A father of two, he tells me about flying his daughters out to South America, and even getting turned away at the US border on his first tour (‘none of the homies could get into Canada,’ he recalls).
But wherever he goes, he carries home with him. YG is Compton born and raised, and one of the city’s proudest ambassadors. It’s evident in his artistry; his thick, home-grown cadence is probably the best giveaway, the same effortlessly cool drawl he has when speaking. Then there are his songs; his tracks are constantly laced with heavy bass, G-funk synths and infectious hooks that are trademark of the LA rap sound, perfected by collaborators like DJ Mustard.
Compton has made him who he is today, something he repeats throughout our conversation. ‘The city got a lot to do with how I move and look at life,’ he says. ‘It gave me structure, morals and a code. It's a lot of shit that come with Compton on the other side of things we love; some motherfuckers make it out and a lot don't. But I love the city’.
YG doesn’t dismiss the mixed reality of his hometown. Compton is a place that gets a lot of stick; it’s undeniably a jewel of the West Coast, with a long-standing impact on music, fashion, sports, and contemporary culture. But it also has its thornier side. It’s an area struggling with problems of gang violence, a life he himself has been entwined in, and wider social-economic issues that have long marred its public image.
But he tells of a vivid life growing up in the area. Some of his earliest memories involve watching the Martin Luther King’s Day parades off El Segundo Boulevard from his aunt’s backyard, and listening to artists like The Game, another musical predecessor coming from L.A. But even his fond memories are interspersed with the threat of violence, and the artist still has his ‘head on swivel’ going back now due to ongoing tensions. But he's adamant that his experiences in the streets were formative, and gave him the moral codes he still lives by to date.
‘I've had to live my life a certain way because I was a part of a gang,’ he explains. ‘You turn into a man at a young age because you’re put in situations where you got to stick to the code of the streets. With that comes a lot of dumb shit. But you get taught things that apply later on in life, like being a man, a protector, a provider, standing on your word and respect’.
‘People talk about gang members like motherfuckers is stupid,’ he continues. ‘But really it's like a brotherhood, outside of all the criminal shit it's codes and morals that we live by. A lot of motherfuckers my age or older don't got a clue about certain things that I've been applying to my life for years. I just look at it like, see? I was a gang member. I got taught all that shit early, you still trying to figure it out’.
When he speaks of Compton, the main thing he holds in his mind is pride. Despite its mixed reputation, there’s an undeniable truth he says of the city: ‘Compton births superstars’. He reels off an endless list of peers; entertainers from Venus and Serena down to Eazy E and the late Nipsey Hussle. ‘Motherfuckers can think what they think – the ghetto, the slums, gangbanging and all that,’ he says.
‘It's true it is gang-infested. But roses grow from concrete. It's also a beautiful city, and a lot of good people in it’.Check Out YG's Guide to LA.