How YoungBoy never broke prison number 1 again
One of the country’s most popular rappers, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, is in some ways still obscure: at 21, he has almost no mainstream profile, his songs receive virtually no radio airing, and he doesn’t. never played on television.
In and out of prison since his teens, YoungBoy, or YB for his most devoted fans, is also currently incarcerated in his home state of Louisiana, awaiting trial for possession of a firearm as a criminal. . Federal prosecutors called it a “danger to the community”.
Yet YoungBoy’s new album, “Sincerely, Kentrell” – real name Kentrell D. Gaulden – just became the rapper’s fourth outing in less than two years to reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts. In between, he reached the Top 10 with two more mixtapes, an undeniable run that solidified him as a poster child for a new kind of celebrity in the streaming age, although there is still a outsider and an industry exception.
Overall, YoungBoy’s violently menacing music has been aired over six billion times since last September, including over one billion video streams, but only received 55,000 radio towers in the same year. period, according to MRC Data, Billboard’s tracking arm. On YouTube, where he has nearly 10 million subscribers and has uploaded nearly 100 clips since 2016, he frequently overtakes artists like Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift.
Just ahead of Week 4 sales of “Certified Lover Boy” by chart juggernaut Drake, “Sincerely, Kentrell” ended its first week with 137,000 units in total. That debut album also overtook the launch earlier this month of Lil Nas X’s highly publicized debut album, which was widely recognized for its marketing genius. And unlike its chart competitors, YoungBoy hasn’t included any guest features on their album at a time when buzzy collaborators are seen as cheat code to release potential blockbusters.
“I haven’t really seen anything like that in hip-hop,” said Lanre Gaba, executive vice president of black music at Atlantic Records, YoungBoy’s label, comparing his die-hard supporters to those of Group K. -pop BTS. “He was not always the artist that certain guards let into these other spaces. This makes his fan base even more enraged.
Using this passion and the artist’s unavailability as a rallying point, the YoungBoy team tapped into their deep reserves of audio and video material while communicating directly with their listeners to shape the new album and its release strategy.
Label executives maintained collaborative group chats with the rapper’s obsessive fan pages on social media to fuel and amplify their existing grassroots marketing efforts. And YoungBoy’s musical brain relied on those same followers to help them pick the tracklist.
In some cases, they’ve even used fan-generated tracks of what the rap world calls snippets – partial, unofficial versions of unreleased songs that may have been played casually on Instagram and then coveted for months. , even years, by listeners.
YoungBoy – widely known as NBA YoungBoy, his name before copyright issues became an issue – was also heavily involved in the planning, following his team on daily marathon calls from prison, each being systematically interrupted by the time limit of 15 minutes.
“YB makes music for YB,” said sound engineer Jason Goldberg, known as Cheese. “But when you factor in what the fans want and that correlates, it’s this huge explosion. Everyone was involved. Then we didn’t let them down.
Cheese said that “Sincerely, Kentrell” was formed from some 150 possible songs recorded in hotel rooms, on tour buses and in studios across the country before YoungBoy was shut down in March.
On one track, “Life Support,” said the engineer, “you can hear part of the road under some of these lines.” For others, he ran 50-foot cables through a second-story window so that YoungBoy could knock on the front seat of a parked Range Rover, as smoking was prohibited inside his Airbnb.
But even as his music took off online, leading to a $ 2 million deal with Atlantic in 2016, he was grappling with serious legal issues.
In 2017, facing two counts of attempted first degree murder for his role in a non-fatal drive-by shooting, YoungBoy pleaded guilty to a less serious charge of aggravated assault with a firearm and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, plus probation.
After further arrests, including one for domestic violence in 2018, and another shootout in which the rapper’s team acted in self-defense, YoungBoy was ordered to spend 90 days in jail and serve the remainder of his probation. under house arrest. (He later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for slamming and fighting with a girlfriend in the 2018 incident.)
“You have a choice to make,” a judge told him then. “You can be Kentrell or NBA.”
The rapper replied, “I feel the same. I can’t be both.
Most recently, in March, YoungBoy was arrested by federal agents in Los Angeles after a high-speed chase on charges stemming from an arrest in Baton Rouge last September, in which the rapper was among 16 people charged with possession. guns and drugs at a video shoot.
YoungBoy’s attorneys argued that he had been unfairly targeted – pointing to the name of authorities for the operation, Never Free Again, “an obvious take-off from Gaulden’s highly successful music and marketing brand” – and seek to suppress evidence they deem unconstitutionally obtained. They called the FBI’s Los Angeles pursuit of the rapper a “massive and utterly unnecessary militarist display of force and intimidation.”
YoungBoy’s actual profile immediately created commercial hurdles for his career and heightened his outlaw aura, making comparisons to Tupac Shakur, Gucci Mane and Lil Wayne.
“They break the rules, they do it their own way and people choose it,” said Alex Junnier, a YoungBoy manager. “No one can do anything to stop it.
Yet there has been mistrust of business partners like Spotify, Apple and even YouTube, where YoungBoy nonetheless dominates. “His image would prevent me from getting anything for him – it was blocking the ads, whatever we wanted to do,” said Veronica Lainey, the rapper’s product manager at Atlantic. “His # 1 streak, it really helped change the narrative.”
But the years of volatility have also forced the label to show agility with its management of an iconoclastic artist and his precarious career.
“We will never tell her categorically what, when and where something should happen,” said Shadeh Smith, YoungBoy’s video curator at Atlantic, recalling the time she woke up to a new video the rapper himself had. downloaded online. “Now I’m lucky most of the time to be told that something is going to happen, but that wasn’t always the case. “
With YoungBoy absent for the ‘Sincerely, Kentrell’ rollout, the label once again had to tap into its flexibility and creativity, seeking to “bring the online conversation to the streets,” Lainey said.
Atlantic put up billboards with the slogan “YB Better,” a line rapper fans use to spam comment sections on the Internet, and used the new NCAA rules for name, image and the resemblance to turn college athletes into influencers by paying them to post on YoungBoy’s. music. (The prevalence of YoungBoy memes on TikTok has grown organically, they said.)
When Drake’s top-ranking race for No.1 turned into a headache, the YoungBoy team and their loyalists shifted into high gear.
To spark additional interest and activity, the label added two bonus tracks to the album mid-week, including one, “Still Waiting,” which YoungBoy had recorded over the phone with Cheese from prison. And fans have done their part, urging each other to listen to “Sincerely, Kentrell” on repeat, with some attending group streaming nights to crank up the numbers.
“They chose him, so they’re not going to let him down,” said Junnier, the rapper’s manager. “Someone like him wasn’t supposed to be here.