YoungBoy Never Broke Again / Birdman

Only one of the three music videos for Birdman and YoungBoy Never Broke Again’s joint mixtape From the Bayou features Birdman. And in that video, Birdman and YoungBoy never occupy the same room, a detail that captures the spirit of their collaboration. Over 13 tracks, they appear together five times, their ideas rarely intersecting, their performances disparate. For most of its runtime, the tape centers YoungBoy, who croons, yelps, and wails with his usual intensity and anguish, sharing glimpses of his life under house arrest after another jail bid. But YoungBoy’s caterwauling only barely conceals the emptiness of the project. Although Birdman postures as a mentor and fellow artist inspired by his young partner’s talent and drive, he is foremost an investor, and YoungBoy stock is hot.

YoungBoy and Birdman first teased From the Bayou in March 2018, when YoungBoy’s career was taking off on the strength of mixtapes and notoriety. Artistically, the collaboration made little sense. Birdman has one mode—stuntin’—and YoungBoy is a restless shapeshifter. But YoungBoy was buzzing at the time, and both artists had ties to Antoine “Fee” Banks, who manages YoungBoy and previously worked with Young Money. There was, at least, a veneer of brand synergy and shared history to the team-up. In the three-plus years since announcing the collab, however, YoungBoy has become a cultural and commercial juggernaut, his legal troubles, prolific output, and intimate writing swelling into a self-sustaining ecosystem. Though he has also released joint tapes with Rich the Kid and Moneybagg Yo, his music and his enterprise are decisively solitary.

This context makes Birdman’s presence conspicuously disruptive, an intrusion that the tape’s structure seems to acknowledge. After the fourth song, he vanishes, appearing again only on the final track. Previous pairings “We Poppin’” and “Ride” showed Birdman and YoungBoy don’t have much in common besides a shared love of toasting to success, so it’s a relief when Birdman bows out early. But his absence highlights the laziness of the project as a whole. Besides the uninspired reference to their home state in the title, YoungBoy and Birdman don’t even try to bridge their worlds. Plenty of modern collaborations come together through emails, file-sharing, and DMs, but From the Bayou feels computed. This wacky, unused artwork is their most interesting shared moment.

Taken as a YoungBoy solo project, From the Bayou works fine. YoungBoy continues to use music as a confession booth where he unspools his doubts and fears, and channels his rage and defiance. His writing is often lucid and particular, his verses filled with the names of streets and people he holds dear. On introspective songs like “The Bigger End” and “Achievements,” he clings to these memories like a raft, the familiarity of his past briefly nullifying the uncertainty of his future. “Alligator Walk” is all threats, his voice swinging from whines to growls as he glides over a bouncy NoLimitShawn beat. His emotions gush out on “Heart & Soul,” a song filled with teary self-assessments and urgent goal-setting. “I been wanna do right since I touched down/I been watchin’ the way I influence now/I ain’t post not a picture, I moved on/I’m responsible to all these children now,” he raps, claiming his mantle as king of YouTube and the platform’s teen hordes.

YoungBoy’s versatility ultimately keeps From the Bayou afloat, but even his best performances feel meager compared to his past releases. Putting aside this strange Birdman detour, YoungBoy’s music grows more standardized with every release. He continues to opt for functional beats that lean hard on weepy pianos and bluesy guitar loops. He rarely broaches new sounds, flows, or song structures. His free-associative dispatches about healing and pain speak his thoughts but do not probe them. His music steers clear of surprises and risks. He’s consistent, as his fans like to say. So is Birdman.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *