Rap has always blurred the lines between entertainment and reality – sometimes to its success, many times to its detriment – and no rapper embodies that conflicting and compelling narrative more than Youngboy Never Broke Again, the 23-year-old Baton Rouge native. Since 2014, he’s been arrested seven times, including a guilty plea for simple battery (he assaulted his then-girlfriend). In 2021, he was arrested by the FBI for a weapons charge stemming from his September 2020 arrest in Louisiana. (According to Youngboy’s lawyers, he was unaware of the outstanding warrant.)
Last Friday, Youngboy released Ma’ I Got a Family, with the legendary mixtape promoter DJ Drama. This is his second mixtape this month and fourth in 2022. He is a rapper who works hard but sometimes doesn’t work smart. His output has been uneven. October’s 3800 Degrees is excellent, but January’s Colors isn’t, with his more emotive songs faded into the background.
As a rapper, Youngboy is unique, a phenom, who, like Lil Wayne before him, catapulted on the strength of his work ethic and talent to become one of the best (and, according to streaming metrics, most popular) rappers alive. His voice reaches an aggressive octane, with wild swings within stanzas like Mystikal. Youngboy’s voice is more piercing though — and his blues sing-along rap mirrors the affliction of other Baton Rouge legends like Boosie or Kevin Gates.
This leads to results that can be excellent and radically sparse, like 3800 Degrees. At his best, Youngboy raps like a neuroatypical person who blurts out thoughts, like his brain is struggling to process what he wants to say in a smooth manner. There’s a pause, then a full-on alphabet attack, like he is projectile-vomiting sentences. The idea is Youngboy is unpredictable. Those kinds of syntax are conspicuously gone from this new mixtape, as to take all of its uncompromisingness away.
The results are inconsistent and unfocused. “Rain” feels like it should be one of those wildly abrasive Youngboy songs, but it isn’t. He’s taking something off his power curveball on this record. It is more in line with his teenage work, such as AI Youngboy 2. “Sedated,” on the other hand, is made of steel. The song’s hook refers to women as the biggest drug of them all, an idiom that makes sense when you find out that Youngboy has 10 children. The hook is simple, but the singing voice has real pain:
“Molly on my gums, call me Buddha Baby
Young n—- dressed in Saint Laurent
Like my big brother, we at odds, might kill each other, baby
Come get sedated, yeah, that my baby
I drove her fuckin’ crazy, yeah
That my ol’ lady, with her, I got two babies
Yeah, I’m a Buddha Baby
Molly, she gon’ boot up with me, yeah.”
“Right Now” is emotional but stiff, something that has become de rigueur for someone like Rod Wave. Youngboy is more dynamic than Wave, though, and it’s disappointing that he abandons his disjointed flows for something easier to navigate. He should be activating the left and right ears, but this album strips us of that. “I Admit,” featuring Nicki Minaj. Her verse is decent, but it’s too tidy for – at their best – two of the most idiosyncratic rappers in the game. There’s no tension or pain in the songwriting either, especially not from a person who has been through many legal issues, some of them his doing.
Youngboy is not keen, nor insightful on this. Just present. See “McQueen,” where he is on autopilot – with its name drops of Leonardo DiCaprio on his hook — and raps generically (“They ain’t give me no words / I got it, no worries.”). The Yeat-assisted “I Don’t Text Back” is the rare Youngboy song that feels inauthentic, as if Cole Bennett put it together. Youngboy is best when he’s able to tap into the id and telepathy of the young Black American mind. He’s an example of what systemic inequalities bring: a dog-eat-dog mentality of survival and pain that feels all too familiar, yet too embedded to ever be reversed. He’s subdued here, to the point of rendering him insignificant. Even Drama’s ad-libs are restrained. They barely register. They happen at the end of the songs, with no real tension or humor.
This isn’t Dedication 2, or even Call Me If You Get Lost. It’s laziness disguised as a casual victory lap — lesser than what Youngboy is capable of.