After a turbulent rise to fame, Youngboy Never Broke Again releases his debut album. But after all the drama, can he overcome the odds and convince listeners to stick with him?
In the greater South, many states have managed to stand out and make a name for themselves: Georgia, Texas, Florida, and especially Louisiana. While a greater majority of talents have emerged from the city of New Orleans, only recently has its capital Baton Rouge really started to apply pressure. Names like Boosie, Webbie, and Kevin Gates have become local legends, while new talents have blossomed, including Musik, Que Almighty and of course Youngboy Never Broke Again.
Youngboy initially rose to attention with anthems such as “38 Baby” and “So Long,” violent reality raps from a teenager who’d already been involved in multiple altercations with the law. Since then, he’s slowly risen to become a respected rapper, but not without attracting negative attention to his name; the added drama suggests that success hasn’t brought much clarity to the young rapper’s life. With his debut album Until Death Call My Name before us, are we able to better understand the mind of such a volatile figure?
Youngboy’s greatest strength is a potent ability to convey emotion. Gloomy atmosphere casts a dramatic and picturesque air over nearly every single track, evocative to the point of potential exhaustion. At a mere 13 tracks (rather light in the current day climate of stream-trolling albums), Until Death Call My Name radiates tension in each passing moment. The overwhelming urgency is burgeoned by the constant balancing act between melody, technique and lyricism. Youngboy often drifts through a song with a sense of grave desperation, as if seeking judgement in spite of self-assuredness. Compared to progenitors like Boosie, Gates, or even Kodak Black, Youngboy never relents from his vivid imagery or his heart-on-sleeve earnestness. His youth never feels like a detriment; even when elders like Future or Birdman appear, few manage to convey the same aura of gravitas as Youngboy.
Those who remain ignorant to most of his work might find it ridiculous to imply that such a young a rapper could ever deserve to be taken seriously. That sort of skepticism will most likely be dispelled upon hearing the impressive rapping abilities on display. Youngboy demonstrates exceptional technique, working overtime to convey dark themes of violence, paranoia and hostility, he can make friends, lovers, and kin seem like the thing that keeps him going as well as that which keeps him awake at night.
On the overtly Cash Money homaging “Diamond Teeth Samurai,” Youngboy manages to display the effortless skill of a Lil Wayne, the charisma of Juvenile, and the eeriness of B.G. On “Villian,” he works overtime to project a malicious intent that plenty of older rappers have emulated but rarely translated, even if their private lives indeed corroborate their musical persona. Given how Youngboy appears to invite nothing but strife in his personal realm, it has unfortunately become natural to picture that the distress and fury prevalent on Until Death Call My Name requires very little exaggeration. To hear someone still barely an adult begging for drugs in his casket “so I can be rolling in Heaven” on “Traumatized,” vowing to leave his newborn all his money on “Rags to Riches,” or wailing about cameras lurking everywhere on “Outside Today,” is equally frightening and beguiling.
It would be remiss to neglect mentioning the stellar production, with names like Drumma Boy, Wheezy & TM88, Bighead, Ben Billions and DJ Swift handling the boards. Unlike a majority of modern street rap, which has been increasingly reliant on emulating the exhausted “trap” sound, Until Death Call My Name manages to alternatively and simultaneously evoke the past and present of New Orleans. Instrumentals sometimes echo the old-school ethos of Beats By The Pound and Mannie Fresh with their wiry hyperactivity, while keeping one foot in the current climate. One can weave between the crystalline shimmers of “Public Figures,” as well as evocative melodies present on the depressive gospel drift of “Solar Eclipse;” you’d be hard pressed to find another album this year that’s as consistent as it is diverse.
Until Death Call My Name manages to be an astonishing debut for Youngboy Never Broke Again, despite - or even as a result of - his myriad personal grievances. The album feels resonant and vital in the current climate, and if life manages to straighten out for Youngboy, he could easily solidify himself as one of Louisiana’s best. Listeners would do well in attempting to engage with such an impressive record, and may hopefully come to understand, and even empathize, with the pain brought on by the trials and tribulations. And dare we hope that perhaps the pain affecting him may soon be reconciled without any more strife to undermine and thwart his incredible potential.