Red or Dead: On YG’s “Red Friday”

Published: December 05, 2016

red friday

Dean Van Nguyen is booler than you.

He may have boasted about being “the only one to make it out the west without Dre,” but YG’s loyalty remains firmly routed to Los Angeles. His latest album, Still Brazy, kept the lowriders fueled by embracing its geographical roots. Even “FDT”—a to-the-point attack on the now President Elect you could swerve to—drew its energy from sentiments pulsing throughout the city’s large Black and Hispanic communities. Before the release of his first album My Krazy Life, YG was struggling to stand out in LA’s crowded rap scene. Now he’s cruising down the SR-91 freeway in his own lane.

His new mixtape, Red Friday, puts a big punctuation mark on a hell of a year. It’s a minor release in the YG canon. A short sprint—no overarching theme or wasted motions. These are seven catchy-as-hell Los Angeles gangster rap songs. As a victory lap, it’s much more than we could have asked for or deserved.

Strangely though, there’s only a mild trace of the modernized, chromium-plated g-funk sound on Red Friday. Instead it leans closer to YG’s My Krazy Life era style, finally reuniting him with DJ Mustard—the two split after a high profile falling out over money. If the tape has a greater function, it’s to remind us that no one has ever sounded better on Mustard’s isolated keyboard riffs and symmetrical finger clicks than YG.

On “Get Out Yo Feelin’s”, the producer’s spooky, programmed strings fly underneath some snappy snares. It’s a horror movie score for B-walking. “Down Bitch” is a stock ride-or-die-chick anthem that sees YG give love to the only one he needs in this life of sin. The synth riffs are as smooth and infectious as ever. Neither songs are “Bicken Back Being Bool,” but it’s good to hear the chemistry intact.

Even the tracks not produced by Mustard lift heavily from the ratchet sounds he trailblazed, and they’re pretty good impressions. On “I Know,” producer MoneyMakinMitch secludes some piano keys, cranks up the bass and provides a grim, half-mumbled hook. YG expands on his declaration of independence: “I did it without Dre, I did it without Jay, I did it without Ye/What the fuck could y’all say?” A highpoint comes when 21 Savage lends his doomed flow to the equally eerie “I Be On.” YG curses all supposed fruits of his criminality—women, liquor, money. Rarely has a hustler anthem sounded so ill-omened.

Lyrically, Red Friday doesn’t run the entire spectrum of what we know YG is capable of. Most tracks are tops-off declarations of his own hardened hustler-dom: “Told mama I’m a thug nigga, drug dealer, gang banger, young nigga/Bandana and some low cuts,” he rattles off on “I’m A Thug Pt. 2,” a sequel to his 2012 track with Meek Mill. With the slight running tine, Red Friday is able to ride that style without the wheels coming off.

On “One Time Comin,’” though, YG demonstrates the sharpness of his pen. The beat wails like a police siren as the stark internal monologue captures the skittering thought process of a black motorist when cops fill the rearview. The emcee thinks of his young daughter, and becomes hyper-aware of the expensive watch on his wrist. The grim lyrics make Jay Z’s fanciful interaction with an officer on “99 Problems” sound garish by comparison: “Put your hands up, you know how the law get/Oh, one time comin’, gotta run from ‘em.” YG rarely shows up in best lyricist conversations, but “One Time Comin’’ is further evidence that few rappers right now are writing socially-engaged songs with the same blood-in-your-mouth authenticity.

Red Friday is just too lean to be stacked next to YG’s two full-lengths, and a little lacking in lateral thinking to even qualify as his untitled unmastered., Kendrick Lamar’s odds and ends tape from earlier this year. But it’s a record that briefly reaffirms why we need Keenon out here right now—to keep the fingers twisted, Chevys bouncing and authorities  checked. In LA, and wherever else.

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