Photography: Timothy Smith
Styling: Santa Bevacqua
Creative Direction: Gavin Mizzle Mathieu
Grooming: Daniele Piersons
Production: Dominique Drakeford
Assistant: Boyz Bieber
Rap is all about posturing—the chains, the whips, the chicks. And don’t get me wrong, Compton, California rapper, YG, has all that, too. But he’s also really, well—real. Aside from perfect party bangers like May’s “Pop It Shake It” and 2014’s “Who Do You Love (feat. Drake),” the rapper, whose real name is Keenon Daequan Ray Jackson, isn’t afraid to get radical—last year’s “Fuck Donald Trump” is only a little proof. The rest? As his peers spend most of their days giving out Major Keys on Instagram, YG doesn’t even have one post. That’s because the 27-year-old is busy with his young daughter, streetwear label and writing new rhymes. Oh yeah, and because he DGAF.
BULLETT caught up with the rapper to talk fakers, 4HUNNID and fashion world rules. Read our interview, below.
Jacket, Vest & Trousers: OAMC, Socks: Falke, Shoes: Nike
Tell me about your most recent single, “Pop it Shake It.” Why’d you decide to team up with DJ Mustard again?
Me and DJ Mustard just really wanted to get back to our roots—make the type of songs that got us where we’re at today. I usually have a lot of songs for the females—ass shaking ratchet shit. So we decided to do that together.
You’ve been really outspoken about politics. Why is that?
I mean, I’m no politician—I can’t even talk and act like I am. But I’m into this shit because it’s a part of our lives. Look, we got leaders that don’t give a shit, trying to control who we are. It’s not like I’m on the regular reading about politics, going online looking up the latest shit. But when I see what’s happening in the world, I’m going to say it how I feel.
You obviously had something to say about Donald Trump.
I just feel like Donald Trump was getting too crazy—he was back-to-back just fucking up everything. So me and the homie Nipsey [Hussle] were talking about doing a project called Two of America’s Most Wanted and knew we had to have a song called “Fuck Donald Trump.” It was just about reacting to what was really going on at that time. That’s how we felt, so we made a record about it—we out here, we take risks. We ain’t playing.
Do you think rap is a good place to talk about real things, like the current political climate? I feel like there are a lot of posers in the industry who just say what they think everyone else wants to hear.
There’s just a lot of posers in the whole world. But at the same time, shit’s changing—the whole game, the whole industry is evolving and you can’t be mad at what your world gravitates to more. Rap music—and art, period—is just a place to express yourself. So whatever artist it is, whatever they’re putting out there—I think they shouldn’t worry so much about it, as long as it’s really what they want and how they feel. That’s what art is—however in your mind you’re feeling, you’ve got to let it out. That’s why we do paintings, make albums, drop clothing lines—it’s all about getting what you have to say out there, even if just for yourself.
So for you, your clothing line is just another outlet, like rap.
Exactly. The clothing line basically started on the idea of showing these motherfuckers we’re from the streets. That’s the whole thing—we’re a real streetwear brand. High fashion streetwear. And we put images on the street because that’s really where we’re from. A lot of these brands and fashion people take a lot of shit from street culture and rebrand it, but they ain’t involved in no street nothing. It’s like, ‘What streets are you talking ‘bout?’
Jacket & Trousers: FACETASM, Socks: Falke, Shoes: Nike
It is interesting, though, because fashion has really embraced hip-hop culture more than it ever has before.
Yeah, it’s really going up right now—really, really going up. And I fuck with all the new shit that’s happening—how all the clothes are becoming really involved with rap. Because that shit really helps the industry. It’s a good thing, for sure.
But why do you think it’s happening so much now?
Rap is what the majority of the world is listening to right now. So it makes sense on the business side of things. But as far as the art goes—rap has always been a part of the culture, the lifestyle—we always put everyone else onto what’s new and what’s cool.
I think as fashion continues to embrace the genre, the whole image of the ‘gangster rapper’ has started to change.
That’s facts. But I think it’s also got something to do with social media, because everyone’s seeing everything that’s going on across the world. You’re more exposed to shit now and that’s inspiring people to just be different because you can see that differences are cool.
But you don’t post on social media as much as most artists. Your Instagram is basically empty.
Nah, I’m on some other shit lately. I’ve been getting my shit right, finding a plan for a strong comeback—I’ve just been focused on that. I’ve been spending a lot of time in the studio, and on my imagery, taking everything to the next level. I’ve always only focused on my music and my clothing brand. Now I’m trying to bring that energy and focus to everything I do—from videos to photos, all that shit is so important.
Full Look: Linder, Glasses & Ring: YG’s Own
In a lot of ways, rap is better now that has been in a long time. But in other ways, it’s a lot less powerful. What do you think about the current state of hip-hop?
It’s hard because it ain’t really about the shit you’re talking about in your songs. Real shit, real concepts, real life shit—it’s not really about that for most artists anymore. Of course there’s a couple artists that still get real—you got Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole, and a whole bunch of other artists who don’t get any attention. Then you have someone like me, who does both—Long Beach, real shit and I’m also going to give you the party shit. But rap is just winning right now. The party shit is great, but artists still have to find a way to make the real shit break through. You know what I mean?
Not everything needs to be political—party songs can be the best. But I think what you mean is who cares what you’re saying, as long as it’s authentic, right?
I feel like this: When you’re being yourself, and being yourself is working for you, that’s what’s up. I’m never going to hate on you because you ain’t talking about no real life shit. That’s all jealousy. But what I don’t like is all the weird copping out—when motherfuckers trying to be someone they’re not, just for attention. That’s wack, and that’s watering the rap game down—shit is corny as fuck. But if you’re being yourself and it’s organic and it’s the truth and it’s real—I salute you. You’ve figured it out.
You mentioned how the industry is changing, and how with social media, everyone is over-exposed. How do you keep up?
I mean, you just have to stay in tune with the culture. You have to be out here in the world, and know what’s going on. But if you stay consistent with your shit, it’ll stay in tune because it’s real. You just can’t get old—all the young shit is what’s always going to win. Forever young.
How do you think you’ve grown as an artist since your first mixtape or My Krazy Life?
When I first started rapping, I just used to rap—I didn’t think about the song or a real concept. My approach was just whatever happened to the song if it blew up or it flopped, that’s what happened. My thought process now is totally different—I’m approaching the new record in a completely different way, thinking about the concepts and the verses, how everything comes together. It’s not just rapping now.
Jacket, Vest & Trousers: OAMC, Socks: Falke, Shoes: Nike
Do you approach fashion in a similar way?
My fashion approach is really just about being different. I like that high fashion shit, but I’m always on some gangsta shit, too.
It seems like, with your music and your fashion, the main thing you want people to take away from it is being real.
That’s all I’m about. My whole thing is uplifting people and putting them on and showing them the game—showing them how to turn a motherfucking negative to a positive. That’s basically what the whole 4Hunnid crew is about.
But that’s the opposite of a lot of rap culture where it’s more about jealousy, and diss tracks.
It’s the opposite. I’m trying to uplift my people and empower my people. You see with Jay-Z—he got all his motherfuckers with him, and the majority of the people are the same motherfuckers that was with him back in the day. That’s loyalty. I’m trying to be like that and help my people out.
Do you think having a daughter has changed your music?
Nah. She ain’t changed my music, but I’m for sure more confident about a whole lot. And it’s cool because I was wild, wild, wild, wild. So having a daughter was needed, because it chilled me out. But nothing’s ever gonna slow me down when it comes to my music, and what I do, because that’s who I am—I’ve got to stay true to myself.
Cover Photo: Jacket & Sweats: Andrea Pompilio, Suspenders: 4HUNNID, Socks: Stance, Boots: 3.1 Phillip Lim