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YoungBoy Never Broke Again - Until Death Call My Name Music Album Reviews

YoungBoy Never Broke Again - Until Death Call My Name Music Album Reviews
The 18-year-old Baton Rouge rapper’s debut album is packed with allegories on power that illuminate but don’t apologize for his well-publicized history of violence.

Until Death Call My Name, the debut album from 18-year-old Baton Rouge rogue YoungBoy Never Broke Again, is a meditation on violence, the pangs of conscience, and the ways anticipating an early grave can tint perspective. “I ain’t no bad person, no,” he says in the opening seconds of the record, on “Overdose.” “I ain’t no gangster, ain’t no killer/I ain’t no gangbanger, I’m me/Like everybody make mistakes, that’s life… I just know, shit, until I’m dead I’ma be me.”

This is, at least in part, an attempt to reconcile the concept of being “bad” with a childhood plagued by cruelty and self-destruction, which has led YoungBoy to multiple run-ins with the law—including a harrowing alleged assault on a girlfriend that was caught on camera. If his introduction to the album isn’t exactly contrite, it at least offers a moment of clarity. The tracks that follow are packed with allegories on power that lack the emotional depth of his previous work.

YoungBoy is a teenager who uses the violence he has suffered as a justification for perpetuating violence. He presents paranoia and angst as causes for his (sometimes retaliatory, sometimes preemptive) attacks, and those emotions also fuel his songs. Some rappers can cite artistic license as an excuse for the brutality in their lyrics, but YoungBoy merits no such concession; the darkest aspects of his music are a direct and intense reflection of his real life. Throughout Until Death Call My Name, he shoots first and asks questions after.

His sing-song verses, performed in a nasally, aggressive, adolescent whine, bring a raw quality to his depictions of the brutal cycle of poverty and violence plaguing his hometown—a cycle YoungBoy has failed to fully escape. Last year, he was charged with attempted first-degree murder for opening fire on a crowd. In February, he was arrested on assault and kidnapping charges in Florida. On more than one occasion on the album, YoungBoy characterizes himself as a demon or a devil or a reaper, as if to acknowledge the all-consuming darkness that lives within him. In sound and deed, he is a younger Kevin Gates: an unquestionably talented artist who lets ferocity and fury dictate who he is, stewing in his own toxicity to avoid reckoning with it.

Until Death sometimes reads like a last will and testament. Because YoungBoy sees the prospect of death around every corner, he sets out objectives for his remaining time on Earth: to stunt on his haters, to outlive his enemies, and to leave behind a nest egg for his kids. He is as fixated on being untroubled as he is on never being broke again.

Previous YoungBoy tapes covered similar ground, exploring themes of adolescent rage and internal conflict, but there is less variety in his delivery and melodies on Until Death. The raps here aren’t as punishing or as personal as the ones on AI YoungBoy, a 2017 mixtape that pushed the limits of his trap-country blues. But he remains capable of creating seismic jams, as on “We Poppin” and “Right or Wrong,” even if they don’t feel as visceral as his earlier work. There are moments of probing acuity on the album: When he isn’t invoking Gates at full throat, on “Astronaut Kid,” he’s making sense of his past in the new context of his celebrity with songs like “Public Figure” and “Rags to Riches.”

A conscience-stricken but unapologetic batterer, YoungBoy hasn’t yet become the same lightning rod for discourse as alleged or convicted abusers XXXTentacion, Kodak Black, and 6ix9ine, perhaps because he has a smaller profile and has spent less time in the public eye. Like Kodak, he’s a preternaturally gifted rapper, which may lead some to ignore or apologize for his transgressions. Spending time with his songs—in a world of his making, where every tale is told from his perspective—creates what critic Wesley Morris calls a “luxury conundrum”: The listener ends up carefully considering YoungBoy’s work without granting equal weight to the suffering of his victims.

Rap made by abusers often illuminates the ugly histories behind their most notorious actions, drawing out their most disturbing behavioral patterns, uncovering their personality flaws, and exposing the misery they’ve dealt, all while granting the perpetrator additional power over his victims and their narratives. There shouldn’t be any easy or guilt-free way to engage with YoungBoy’s music, and it’s entirely fair to avoid him on the basis of his alleged crimes.

At the very least, though, Until Death provides plenty of insight into the perilous environments that condition young thugs. “Villain,” in which he embraces his inner demons and violent nature, is immediately followed by “Traumatized,” which chalks up his actions to PTSD. “I swear I’m traumatized, caught in that fire/Lot of bullets flying, whole lot of people dying,” he raps. “I swear I’m traumatized, I’m hypnotized/Like I’m a reaper, I see blood when I open my eyes.” At moments like this, it’s hard to tell whether he’s haunted by the people he’s lost or the people he’s hurt.

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