Steven Louis was an NBA young boy when Vince Carter did the honey dip.
Last year alone, Kentrell Gaulden released five full-length projects, had five singles reach the Billboard Hot 100, got arrested for kidnapping & assaulting his girlfriend Jania, had a fourth kid, and turned 19 years old. YoungBoy lives, moves and confesses with brute speed. Following along feels thrilling, voyeuristic, addictive and straight-up wrong. Like many great American songwriters, he both calls for sympathy (Realer, December’s mixtape, finds him detailing probation stories and abandonment issues over muddied guitar and aching key riffs) and is also unrepentant in being whoever the fuck he wants to be. It’s a tradition of simultaneous intimacy and indemnification that has persisted since the pre-war blues.
NBA YoungBoy isn’t about compromises, and if he was, we almost certainly wouldn’t be listening to his music with the same vigor. Expecting a formal apology from NBA YoungBoy feels like a rinse-repeat exercise in self-aggrandizement, because that apology wouldn’t be addressed to us as listeners or owed to us as human beings. It wouldn’t concern anyone we know, at least not personally, and it wouldn’t bring closure, because we don’t deserve it to begin with.
As the logic dictates, public contrition would maybe make it easier to listen to YoungBoy’s music guilt-free. Your problematic fave would never tattoo his victim on his face, wrist and chest, or something. Wanting restorative justice between the couple, or between YoungBoy and anyone else he may have hurt in his meteoric rise to fame, is of course possible. But it’s not coming from his music. Even if it did, it would be laundered through a deeply capitalist record company and promoted by platforms that routinely botch this kind of thing. We got a whole apology record from Future, and it totally banged, and he has since allegedly threatened to kill the woman pregnant with his sixth child.
So, here’s “Kick Yo Door,” the first YoungBoy release of what’s sure to be a busy 2019 for the Baton Rouge rapper. It’s not particularly melodic, or bluesy, or deeply confessional. Nah, nothing like that at all. It’s a damn stick-up. YoungBoy and his friends, donning green threads to rep their 4KTrey set, running up in houses and running out with the stash. A hook rhyming “kick yo door” with “hit the floor” is nothing if not efficient. This latest single doesn’t earworm like “Outside Today,” or drip with complicated vulnerability like “Valuable Pain.” Instead, “Kick Yo Door” barrels forward, barely two minutes in length, and it is less about making you think than about making you look. YoungBoy is still here, and he’s still menacing.
Acts that caused pain don’t vanish with reflection, and a Lovecraft-style monster of distrust and loneliness and hatred doesn’t stop raging inside once your heart is poured out on record for a good Pitchfork score. “I be going to anger management class, and all that shit,” he told Angela Yee last year. “They be asking me, what make me mad? I don’t know. I got a certificate from that class, though.” A laminated sheet of paper, proclaiming your matriculation through the webs of aggression and conflict resolution, seems like a fitting credential right now. For most of his audience, it was never about watching a journey of betterment. It was about fetishizing conditions born out of poverty, and out of the banality of man, and exploring how those contradictions made the melodies soar and transform. The point is, NBA YoungBoy is doubling down on being NBA YoungBoy.
It’s not a clean narrative arc yet, but Kentrell Gaulden isn’t a narrative arc, He’s a person, a *young* person with a traumatic past and a history of callous violence. As hard as we’re rooting for this all to make some sense, there’s a chance that Kentrell Gaulden doesn’t make sense, not to you and not even to him yet. “My mind stuck in this place,” he told Yee in that same Baton Rouge interview. Right now, he’s storming through and doubling down, preparing for a year that could define his stardom or continue to build up his contradictions. There’s not much time to ponder ethical consumption when a semi-automatic, draped in a lime-green bandana, is tapping at your door.