American rap fans have their eyes trained on cities such as Atlanta, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. New stars in the genre rise through the ranks in those cities, often with the help of already established superstars. Rappers like Gucci Mane and Kanye West routinely help give emerging artists the final push needed to achieve mainstream success.
NBA YoungBoy is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. While the state has given birth to household names such as Lil Wayne, Baton Rouge doesn’t have the same type of support system its larger counterparts benefit from. YoungBoy, who is only 17 years old, is slowly proving — like many other rap stars of the 2010’s — that the only thing necessary for success is a dynamic internet presence and the support of a tight-knit group of friends.
On “38 Baby” — his fifth mixtape in the past two years — Youngboy opens by declaring that this one is for the fans. The first track “How I Live” is a fiercely autobiographical cut. YoungBoy unloads the realities of his daily life; seeing murders in broad daylight and — more recently — flying to California and shopping at the Supreme store. He hasn’t signed to a major label yet, but he has been making the most of what his growing online popularity has afforded him.
The song “38 Baby” shows YoungBoy fully embracing his Southern roots. The influence of Boosie Badazz shines through over the course of the mixtape in their shared drawl and occasionally sing-songy delivery. He also lays out the themes he sticks to throughout the release: self-reliance, determination and a deep appreciation for the second amendment. YoungBoy and his friends can be spotted in every one of their many music videos — several of which are hosted by the infamous WorldStarHipHop — waving handguns and assault rifles. Additionally, his NBA (Never Broke Again) crew logo is the Jordan logo cleverly edited to be holding a handgun instead of a basketball.
One of the mixtape’s singles “What I Was Taught” was released in late August. Featuring twinkling pianos, drums made to rattle your car and a simple-enough hook about what it takes to be a boss, the song could have been the Dirty South’s summer-defining hit if had dropped any earlier.
Following thirteen songs that chronicle YoungBoy’s trials and achievements — including appearances from Boosie Badazz and one of his contemporaries Kevin Gates — the tape is wrapped up with “They Ain’t With Me.” The song is a passionate oath of loyalty to his friends and supporters and doubles as a warning to those who still wish to see him fail.
YoungBoy may not be the most technically skilled new rapper of the year, but he would certainly be capable of holding his own if placed among many of today’s chart-topping rappers. YoungBoy’s true appeal stems from his youthful resilience, rugged authenticity and stylistic choices. These factors and others are what makes “38 Baby” a key release in YoungBoy’s progression and a major step towards lasting success in mainstream hip-hop. Louisiana’s capital just created a new star all by itself.