Photos / Nikko LaMere
Styling / Mecca Cox @ The Only Agency
Story / Erica Hawkins
YoungBoy Never Broke Again, born Kentrell Gaulden, entered the world at actual breakneck speed and hasn’t slowed down since. As a toddler, growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he broke his neck. The injury required a halo head brace, leaving three scars that still ornament his face today. At just nine years old, he dropped out of school to pursue his dream of becoming a rapper. He spent his formative years learning the ins and outs of making music, equipped with a microphone he bought from Walmart and recording software he downloaded off the internet. Soon after, he took on the prophetic moniker he answers to today.
Now, at just 18, the father of four has released nine mixtapes in three short years. His latest, Fed Baby’s landed at No. 21 on the Billboard 200, setting him apart as someone who the New York Times deemed, “one of the most promising young Southern rappers.” This Spring, YoungBoy shares his full-length major label debut, Until Death Call My Name. When asked about leading a life that affirms his rap name’s denotation, he responds confidently, “I just believe in anything I put my mind to.”
However, the road to realizing that affirmation has been anything but easy. In November of 2016, Gaulden was taken into custody by U.S. Marshals before a performance in Austin, Texas, accused of jumping out of a vehicle and firing on a group of people in South Baton Rouge. After serving six months while awaiting trial, he pled guilty to a charge of aggravated assault. He was sentenced to a ten-year suspended sentence, and three years of probation, meaning if he violates the terms, he’d be sent to jail to serve the full sentence. This February, YoungBoy was arrested again, this time in Tallahassee, Florida on a fugitive warrant from Georgia on domestic violence-related assault charges. However, the judge did not revoke his probation, instead ordering him to complete a domestic abuse violence program, enroll in a GED program, and refrain from visiting bars and posting on social media.
PANTS, YAMAHA (VINTAGE).
In his most recent video for the song, “Genie,” a track YoungBoy describes as a “pain song,” he’s seen in his courtyard, cut with shots of recent articles about the rapper’s arrest as well as footage from news broadcasts about his run-ins with the law. In the song, YoungBoy raps, “I got my static when you ride with me/ We got pulled over no you ain’t going to do no time for me/ I put my hands up police drew down on me/ So many charges make me wanna go way overseas.” The sentiment is emphasized with a repetitive chorus where the lyricist raps about working on his problems.
We didn’t discuss the details of his arrest, but when asked about the obvious pivot in his music videos’ subject matter from guns to more nuanced storytelling, his answer alluded to more than just the videos. “I’m trying to be a better person. That was my past, so I want my videos to show how I am now, not then.” He added, “I just want to be a better person so I can change the predicament I’m in now and have a brighter future.”
Despite the recent turmoil in his life, YoungBoy seems optimistic and self-reflective. He’s aware of what he’s up against, but not deterred by it. When asked about being a young black man in the entertainment industry and whether he feels the odds are stacked against him, he responds, “I don’t think it’s got to be hard, I think it can be easy. Starting young you can only grow. I just think that things in my past get me caught up at times and because of that I’m an easy target.”
Many of the people surrounding YoungBoy believe he’d be less of a target if he’d leave his hometown behind. Last year, after being released from prison, fellow Baton Rouge rapper Boosie BadAzz cautioned YoungBoy from going back to where he came from, sharing in an Instagram post, “Welcome home. Leave BR asap.” Reiterating that warning in the video for YoungBoy’s, “Untouchable,” Meek Mill makes a cameo, telling the rap prodigy, “You gotta move or you gon’ die.”
YoungBoy may heed those warnings: “Soon. When the time is right.” In the meantime, he still appreciates Baton Rouge for what he and others have been able to glean from its unpredictable yet lyrically fertile ground. “People from Louisiana are different characters, especially Baton Rouge. Our mindset is on another level. We see different shit out here. Here’s a jungle. Growing up in Baton Rouge is a challenge. It’s the slums. It’s either jail or death. Either way, people from Baton Rouge make real music, so I just speak on my experiences.”
Those experiences haven’t all been fraught. When asked about the highlights of his career so far, he mentions his single “No Smoke” going gold. The song encompasses a picture of YoungBoy not shrouded by his arrest record and recent controversy. In it, he raps “I can’t go, won’t go, won’t leave my mama lonely/ No smoke, no smoke but we die ‘bout that money.” So much of what drives him, for better or worse, is wealth, not just for himself, but for his family. “I wanted to rap to tell my story. I love music. My family did what they could growing up but I want my kids to be comfortable. My four little boys keep me going every day. I want to be wealthy at a young age, so they can have a good life. Take the best care of my family, my kids, [and] make as much music.”
Though the project has been pushed back multiple times, his excitement to share his debut album hasn’t waned. YoungBoy’s inspiration for this album stems from the same experiences and forces that also drive him to lead a more positive life: “Until Death Call My Name is just that. I’ve been through a lot in life already. I just want to be the best man I can be while I’m alive.”
JACKET + SWEATSHIRT, ADIDAS. PANTS, ADIDAS BY ALEXANDER WANG.SHOES, AIRMAX BY NIKE.
Shirt + Pants, Acne Studios.
JACKET, SAINT LAURENT. T-SHIRT, JAMES. JEANS, G STAR. SHOES, JORDAN’S BY NIKE. BELT YOUNGBOY’S OWN.
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