The NBA YoungBoy Conundrum

The NBA YoungBoy Conundrum

Baton Rouge rapper YoungBoy NeverBrokeAgain — known as NBA YoungBoy to hip-hop fans in the know — doesn’t usually enjoy speaking to other human beings. As he told the writer Meaghan Garvey in Billboard, “I’m not big on people.” YoungBoy’s a quiet soul — deeply intense and deeply sensitive — with an unfiltered abundance of demons and an exacting gift for primitively sharing those demons in his music.

One way to avoid seeing people is to spend your days on house arrest on a mountainside. YoungBoy’s been living in Utah since 2021 after his attorneys convinced a judge that the man born Kentrell DeSean Gaulden would stay out of trouble if he was living in the state that has decriminalized polygamy. Now that he’s gone from the hole in East Baton Rouge jails to the snowy tranquility of Salt Lake City, he might be ready to calm down. YoungBoy is no longer taking demonic and upsetting photos with his cellmates in prison; thank God for that. The sometimes alarming rapper otherwise known as “Top” has settled into a routine, by design. He did the cover story for Billboard, was interviewed by the hip-hop podcast Rap Radar. It seems that YoungBoy is turning a leaf — however tiny and rusty that leaf might be.

Complexities and opposite traits exist in rappers like YoungBoy, who eat their self-destruction for lunch. He’s soft spoken away from the booth, but on the mic, he is absurdly off-kilter and explosive. YoungBoy has a brain that causes him to blurt out exclamations uncontrollably and bitterly, fitting words into places where rappers usually rest. There’s no negative space with YoungBoy, just an overpowering and neurotypical brashness: You don’t know whether he will yell at you or be so devastatingly raw that you need to gingerly rub his back. Sometimes both of those phenomena happen at the same time.

YoungBoy is fluent in being fluid: a freak with a gun and a brute with a complicated and unflinching soul. On an album like last October’s 3800 Degrees, that erratic syntax works well because of the production palette that the album belongs to. It’s a less sophisticated spin on the No Limit Records albums from the late ’90s. The album cover, which was inspired by Junvenile’s 400 Degreez, has a ’90s feel too.

YoungBoy often works best when the beats and song structure are concise and therefore the albums are as well. On a strategic and marketing level, he has used, sometimes cynically, his violent and thorny past to his advantage. (Some of his fans seem to sometimes think YoungBoy is a jailed political prisoner at times, even if the FBI did make a tactical decision to arrest him). Sometimes, he needs to practice restraint in his compulsive musicality. 3800 Degrees clocked in at about 34 minutes, a critic’s dream; it’s still genuinely his best record since 2019’s AI YoungBoy 2 — the moment where you realize that the rapping of YoungBoy can still outshine people’s glorification of his hectic and troublesome life. (I’m not above this either. As we learned from the grim and shocking “Notti Bop,” the tantalization between real-life violence and artistic slapstick humor is still prevalent, like the use of the Fruit of Islam as security).

On Friday, YoungBoy released Richest Opp, his third release this year alone. It’s his best work out of the three — YoungBoy tends to focus once every three tries, or something like that — another example of both his excellent artistry and how frustrating he can be to follow and support. As usual, the antics on song like “Fuck The Industry Pt. 2” (more on that momentarily) makes the slick songwriting and cotton-candy sweet Louisiana cadence on “Bitch Let’s Do It” feel inconsequential. Sometimes, like on 2021’s Sincerely, Kentrell, YoungBoy’s choice of production can still be formulaic. He’s not above getting too happy with the bassline like LaVine with his jumper. But at best, that low end provides him with a flow to soften the blow of his threatening volatility. And “I Heard,” track three, is a huge blow, of the Mike Tyson variety: “I held it down from top to bottom/ These hoes be laughin’ at my trauma/ I say, I got serious problems, I say, I wan’ kill somebody.”

If YoungBoy’s talent is in the erratically polemical topics of his vinegarish raps, then consider him a Sandler character for the way he can burn hot. “Just Flow” recalls the sing-along flow of Kevin Gates. “Father” throws a warning shot — plus says a prayer — at rappers who think that they can diss YoungBoy, who isn’t having it. But the song that has YoungBoy in the news again is “Fuck The Industry Pt. 2,” on which he disses a long list of rappers including Drake, J. Cole, Lil Yachty, and Lil Durk — a frequent target. On the song, YB claims that Drake won’t work with him because of the Toronto pop star’s friendship with Lil Durk, says J. Cole ghosted him after YB missed a studio session, and calls Lil Yachty an anti-gay slur. Because of songs like this, nobody is now discussing the relatively solid record. YoungBoy’s propensity for conflict is overriding his talent. He’s known first and foremost as an emotional and inconsiderate sprayer of external strife, not a prodigious vessel for Southern rap ballads.

All of this is not to say YoungBoy is not still enthralling. As shown on “Slimes Go Where I Go,” he is undeniably so. Richest Opp contains some spectacular moments; to listen is to blur the line between shock value and ordinarily stupefied pain. If YB is turning his life around, and if his acidity and depth continue to be celebrated, then his mistakes and lashes must be accounted for. Can he show us that without making enemies, and doing things he can’t come back from? That’s the million dollar question coming from Utah, the place where he is chilling out, hoping he can finally defeat his demons.


DD Osama - "O Lets Do It" (Feat. Dee Play4Keeps)

There’s some trepidation on my part when discussing 16-year old DD Osama. The kid is objectively a star, but I sometimes worry that his brother’s murder — the scale involved in that, the tragedy of it all, and the slapstick violence of it all — will always be the reason why people are into this kid. My hope is that someday it won’t feel quite as visceral. Millions of kids listen to Osama, and his concerts feature people screaming and crying so much that he has earned the nickname “The Justin Bieber of Drill.” This is a fun remix to Waka Flocka’s “O Lets Do It.”

KP Skywalka - "Lotta Racks"

The DMV and I have not always historically gotten along. Wale blocked me on Twitter for many years. Of course it’s that way. New Yorkers — especially Black men from Harlem — are loud, Carribean, speak in accented flows, and think the world of themselves. DMV negroes are different; dramatically so, and that’s fine. They’re more soft spoken, sometimes Nigerian or Ghanaian, and speak in flatter effects. But if KP Skywalka’s acidic raps can be a vessel for DMV negroes and New York negroes coming together, then that’ll make the world a better and blacker place.

billy woods & Kenny Segal - "Soundcheck" (Feat. Quelle Chris)

To see billy woods is to see radical rapping. Him and Quelle Chris sound excellent together here on a cut from woods’ mystical Maps. The underground will never die, and in fact, woods is making sure it has never been more alive.

Drake - "Search & Rescue"

Maybe it is because sticking up for behemoths in 2023 will have your local leftist chick looking at you sideways, but people are overlooking this Drake song a tad bit. It has some great structure to it – it functions as a hook-less song on which every line is a hook — and “I know I’m a pitbull but dale mami” goes immediately into the pantheon of funny Drake lines. My relationship with Drake is improving over time. A few years ago, the vapidness of Scorpion or even More Life pissed me off. But I’m re-listening to him and recontextualizing his career more as he is now in his eleventh year on top. He’s a legend — no debate. I think, after seeing Jack Harlow try so hard to be him and fail so viciously, it put Drizzy in perspective for me. Nobody can do what he can do. He is messier than you think; more precise than sticky; better than the other pop rap stars; more pop than the other stars from his generation. He’s bent the line between tacky and great music to the point where the line sometimes doesn’t exist. Clap for him.

Destroy Lonely - "came in wit"

Lonely isn’t there yet. Too many songs on his new album, If Looks Could Kill, stick together. But this is the one here. Enjoyed the guitars on this record.

Lilqua 50 & Tae Rackzz - "Replay"

Milawaukee remains the best region out right now — alongside their colder counterparts in Detroit. This takes some of the claps that Certified Trapper is known for and completely changes the cadence.

NoCap – "Cuban Links And Drug Habits"

Oh, NoCap. “I can never trust a nigga screaming gang then hit the stand.”

BabyTron - "Reaper" (Feat. Peezy & Babyface Ray)

The Fast Ten movie is not getting good reviews — to me the series stopped being a thing after Paul Walker said “cuh” to Tyrese. That was the peak. But it is good to see this generation of Detroit rappers rapping on film soundtracks. It shows how far they have come.

Summer Walker - "To Summer, From Cole" (Feat. J. Cole)

There’s something about the art of the feature that J. Cole innately understands more than his own songs. He’s a rapper of fluidity and compassion — sometimes overwhelmingly so. His contribution to Summer Walker’s new EP feels lived-in to the point where if you didn’t salute Cole’s empathy and sentiments than you must have real coldness in your heart. He’s in rare form here: “I find it amazing the way that you juggle your kids, the biz, the fame/ The bitches that’s hatin’, they sit around waitin’ for you to fall off, like the album I’m makin.'” When the songs get somber, and he isn’t being a lecturer, Cole is an impactful rapper. Hopefully this is some of what The Fall Off will sound like.

RMC Mike - "I'm Back"

Mike’s voice is like E-40 but for Michigan. Really like this song. Next time he drops, hopefully, Rio Da Yung OG can be around with him. Free Rio.


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