In March, NBA Youngboy was indicted for kidnapping and aggravated assault. His girlfriend, Jania, went on to deny any domestic abuse, despite the disturbing video footage released by TMZ. Youngboy’s debut album, released the following month, went on to peak at #7 on Billboard. Just this past week, Jania was seen with a black eye, one which she claims was a result of a mishap in the kitchen. While Youngboy remains on probation, only recently allowed back on social media, his relationship with Jania seems to be intact.

Over the past few years, Kevin Gates, a fellow product of Baton Rouge, has taken to NBA Youngboy with a feverish sense of mentorship, even going as far as to tattoo the teenager’s face onto his body. After originally connecting in 2016 on “Like Me,” a somber ballad from Youngboy’s breakout mixtape 38 Baby, both rappers’ controversial actions have kept them indebted to the law and constrained to their own circles. The 32 year old, having previously done time for assaulting a female concert-goer, may very well see shades of his own past in the 18 year old. Ostensibly, Gates seems to be embracing a spiritual transformation of sorts, and this maturation seems to be having a strong influence on the troubled child he’s taken under his wing.

On the DJ Chose produced intro, “2 Hands,” it is Gates’ voice we hear first. His weary delivery is disarming and the hook effectively clears way for Youngboy’s high-octane first verse. Youngboy is “Michael Corleone, bringin' that pressure to all of the opposition.” Gates, on the other hand, continues to maintain an low profile, using his first verse to get comfortable in his newfound position as a coach. However, once both rappers establish their idiosyncrasies, they merge on the final verse for a spectacular showcase of melodic rapping. When they’re trading bars in that final passage, the synergy is electric.

The following track, “Head On,” is novel simply because both artists sound uncharacteristically carefree. And surprisingly, Youngboy carries this unbothered demeanor into the EP’s standout collab, “I Am Who They Say I Am.” Despite its Eminem-referencing title, this one is bright and bubbly, built on a lively sample of Ashanti’s “Rain On Me” and supported by a captivating feature from Quando Rondo. Rondo, the only other feature on the EP, is an inspired pick; over the past year, the Savannah, GA native has been developing into a poignant rapper, one whose tonal range and introspective songwriting is highly reminiscent of Atlanta’s Rich Homie Quan. It is only when Quando hands off the baton to Gates that the beat switches up, rather brilliantly, to add a necessary bit of menace to this otherwise motivational anthem.

4 Respect EP has been dubbed an NBA Youngboy project, despite the presence of Kevin Gates on every track. In that sense, it may be an opening salvo - a promise of plenty more to come. “2 Hands” is defiant, a combative declaration of their intent as duo. “I Am Who They Say I Am” finds therapy in letting go of the narratives that are beyond your control. By the time the EP closes with “TTG,” where Gates takes a backseat to Youngboy, providing him with soulful ad-libs, it all feels very natural; it is no longer a question of this duo’s chemistry, but rather a question of their ability to harness this spark for a full-length effort.

Hopefully, both artists continue to elevate each other’s craft while remaining cognizant of their actions outside the music.