Luke Benjamin is an older, but still young, boy at 22.
“41” seems an odd muse for a seventeen year old rapper who goes by YoungBoy. The number, however, isn’t temporal, instead referring to the diameter of a watch—a glinting Rolex a more fruitful subject than the inevitable crawl of time. In our dystopian present, time, and timekeeping, is money—healthcare is no right.
Regardless, Youngboy proliferates streaming numbers and YouTube plays like our government does nuclear warheads. His a Bayou coronation has only been delayed only by jail time and the pan-opticon policing of a small racially-divided city.
As Boosie and Kevin Gates before him, Youngboy is an uncommon talent from an unforgiving locale, plagued by anxieties of place and trust that far outstrip the ennui of mostly his peers. Prodigy said it best: “I’m only 19, but my mind is old” — as succinct a summation of the effects of acute poverty and violence on the lives of young people as anyone has ever given.
Youngboy’s voice is singular, flexible despite a thick drawl, equally suited to slight melodies as it is trenchant stick talk. The blending of these modes reveals YoungBoy at his most potent, a tempest of naturalism and bravado in half-sung speech.
Part of his appeal, undeniably, is the hyperreality of his content, a baby-faced teenager waving uzis and plainly rapping about murder. The exaggerated imagery gestures towards damning realities, like an alleged attempted murder and the weight of an adult sentence before eighteen. Charged, released, and now free for the moment, YoungBoy is a star at a crossroads, a world of opportunity available to him if he can circumvent the pitfalls of his position and placehood. A “38 Baby” who is consistently plagued by paranoia. Equally present as apparitions from his past is his belief in his ability – exceptionalism fueled by the desire to see his family and friends safe and well-fed.
His initial post-prison release is very much in this vein, a part-triumphal, endearingly hopeful single. For a record titled “Untouchable” it’s deceptively human; opening with a reference to his ongoing probation and offering brief allusion to more tangible truths: “Get out BR, move to LA, where I ain’t gotta keep a tool.”
The image of a smiling YoungBoy stepping out of a cell in a Burberry shirt and into a sports car is indelible, but obscures some of the truth, principally that he’s still awaiting sentencing for aggravated assault with a firearm. Thus, his bliss may be only temporary, rooftop pools and stacks of hundreds the size of his head perhaps only a brief distraction.
Though he’s fully aware of this, his most recent effort attempts at distance from this certainty through designer labels and unchecked flexing. “41” is an ode to escapism, YoungBoy relocated to Los Angeles with an expanded budget for Valentino and car leases. It’s the bright future his legal issues threaten to snuff out, a manifestation of what it means to be a regional superstar who has to escape his region to make it. The production is glittery, as are the cameos: Young Thug, 21 Savage, and Amber Rose all make appearances, meanwhile heavy bass thumps away and YoungBoy revels in his new domain. It’s a departure from his more grounded work, but one that is earned; no longer “Smoking dope with the demon” and raiding houses like his uncle.
With court looming in August, YoungBoy is left to hope that those same demons don’t return.