In another life, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, the rapper also known as NBA YoungBoy, might have been a pastor — the fire-breathing, tunic-wearing guy. He often raps with a certain gospel theatricality, particularly on his latest album, The Last Slime, even if he often sounds quite ambivalent about religion in his songs. But I imagine he would make a great preacher for the same reasons he makes a great rapper. He’d be stomping across a red pulpit, sweating through four layers of polyester, and rousing his congregation to a righteous din at will before the pastor had even recalled his organist to the bench.
In this life, NBA YoungBoy, born Kentrell DeSean Gaulden, is the street rapper to beat on web streaming platforms, mainly YouTube. He’s a 22-year-old Baton Rouge native with a lengthy rap sheet and slightly longer discography who has been churning out mixtapes and music videos since he was 15 years old. His music is sad, wild and defiant; he’s in the tradition of the tormented rappers – Scarface, DMX, Boosie, the Jacka, Chief Keef, Kevin Gates – who are so often reduced to reworked, oversimplified comparisons with blues music. YoungBoy spent every other cycle of release in court, in jail, or under house arrest on a variety of charges, including robbery, domestic violence, kidnapping, and attempted murder. In a 2017 prison interview, he recounted XXL“If you have a name [the police] If you know who you are, you do something, they will come for you, and whoever you are with and whatever they do, you are responsible for it just because you have the biggest name. Just weeks before the release of his latest album, which came out last Friday, he was acquitted of one of his federal gun possession charges. At this point in his career, it’s hard to imagine that any judge or jury on earth could stop him. Last year he passed Drake out of prison. Now his sermon continues.
The Black Church has played a well-documented role in the formation of R&B stars from Aretha Franklin to Chris Brown. But the Black Church also leaves its mark on hip-hop. A few years ago I interviewed trap producer London on da Track about the formative influences in his dark, piano-driven beats. London told me about his grandmother who dragged him, his siblings and his cousins to church. She sent them to work, with a young London on the piano, another child on the organ, and another on the drums, supervised in the pulpit by her grandfather, a preacher. London has not touched a single track The Last Slimebut these songs share a sensibility with his best work. The Last Slime is gospel, not in the literal sense of Kanye West imitating a choir director, for example on Jesus is king or donda, but in a broader sense. YoungBoy recreates the black gospel experience — the pounding, the riffing, the righteous ecstasy — in songs like “Fuck Da Industry,” “Kamikaze,” and “Free Dem 5’s.” The Last Slime presents a ruthless, invincible child who is nonetheless imbued with the fear of God. “You’re afraid to take your ass to church,” YoungBoy raps on “Kamikaze,” “and no pastor can stop a headshot!”
The Last Slime is a sermon off track. YoungBoy’s voice rarely stays in one mode for more than 20 seconds before transforming and leveling up again. Like so many street rappers, NBA YoungBoy is angry and restless, but he is unparalleled in his persistence, both from project to project and beyond The Last Slimefrom bar to bar. The Last Slime is 80 minutes long and broken up into 30 tracks, a split that turns a feature length into a frenzy. Only seven of these songs go over three minutes; The Last Slime mainly features YoungBoy working in anaerobic bursts of unstructured venting. That’s the emotional trade-off here: YoungBoy brings back so many memories—some proud, some painful, sometimes both—but he doesn’t stick with processing them. That’s up to you, the listener. “I haven’t been to church since grandma died, she’s a gospel woman, the past hurts,” he raps on “Hold Your Own,” as if tearing a band-aid off a stab wound. Even the softer, lighter, slower songs (“I Know”, “Wagwan”, “Mr. Grim Reaper”) slide into the whirlwind fairly seamlessly. There is only slight and fleeting relief on this album full of fury and bounce.
YoungBoy is the kind of rapper who thrives on adversity and anti-heroism, and despite his acquittal and despite his popularity, The Last Slime marks the peak of his isolation. The album concludes with the previously released “I Hate YoungBoy,” a diss track aimed at Lil Durk, who opposed YoungBoy in a proxy war a few years ago over the murder of Durk’s friend and labelmate King Von. It’s a grim feud with no easy allegiances for most listeners; this isn’t Pusha T teasing Drake about ghost writing. In the song, YoungBoy lets his animosities with Durk splinter into resentments against several tangent characters – Lil Baby, Gucci Mane, Apple Music and more – who have all allegedly betrayed him at some point. Bad will doesn’t end with “I Hate YoungBoy”.
The Last Slime is his fourth and final album on Atlantic Records, and YoungBoy has spent the last few months dissing the label (along with disgruntled labelmates Meek Mill and PnB Rock) and warning other rappers about contract offers. He’ll soon be a free agent with little desire to sign to another major label and no love for the higher-ups who are said to be suppressing his songs on YouTube. There is no label or platform that could easily contain YoungBoy Never Broke Again. So now it’s up to him to write a new will all by himself.