Over the past year, NBA Youngboy has been blatantly using his domestic abuse allegations to bolster his artistic output. The allegations have become the focal point of many loose tracks, with titles like “Can’t Be Saved” and “My Happiness Took Away For Life”, that paint the 18-year old Baton Rouge native as a conflicted, but ultimately innocent, product of his environment. Until Death Call My Name, his studio debut, offered no redemptive arc for his falling out with ex-girlfriend, Jania, the future mother of his fifth child. Rather, Youngboy used the majority of the runtime to unapologetically justify his violent nature. Having been raised in grim conditions where he’s repeatedly encountered death, his affronts feel preemptive, as if he’s playing out a self-fulfilling prophecy. Youngboy often meditates on his soul before dismissing any potential consequence and on Decided, his latest mixtape, he continues to gleefully displace any blame that may fall his way.
Since his breakout mixtape, 38 Baby, Youngboy has felt used and discarded by those around him, an inclination that has only worsened with his rapid rise in stock. His fame, and the riches that followed, have only fueled the rapper to become more of an isolationist. On the lead single, “No Mentions”, he’s cut off his entire family, except for his grandpa. On the closer, “Deceived Emotions”, he raps, “I ain’t got no momma/Say the devil holdin’ me.” When he raps, he’s lucid, aware of his flaws, but there’s an ongoing refusal to reconcile with his demons. Instead, on tracks like “Demon Seed”, Youngboy chooses to paint himself as an irredeemably cursed figure. At a fleeting 11 tracks, this mixtape is a whirlwind of confessions and justifications, a stream of confused thoughts from the guilt-ridden mind of someone claiming to take “20 pills a day.”
There is no denying Youngboy’s development on a technical front; his melodies have become more infectious, his flows tighter and more effective. Playboy On The Beat’s spacious piano-driven compositions provide ample room for Youngboy to experiment. “No Love” is crammed with soaring vocal inflections, “Black Cloud” is a gritty take on In lieu of genuine growth, much of Decided is filled with the kind of dangerous dialogue heard from abusers of all backgrounds. On the intro “Sky Cry”, he places blame solely on his ex, rapping: “I thought you was under this here but you not/Puttin’ up with your shit way too many times/Everybody you know say you never was mine.” On the following cut, “Demon Seed”, he continues to paint her as a disloyal siren, one only interested in his wealth. Although he offers a half-hearted apology for abusing his ex on “No Love” (“Try my hardest not to hit her/Know you think that I’ma killer”), the immediate next line guilts her into staying with him (“If you leave I ain’t got nobody”). The rest of that specific track is filled with myopic and hypocritical contradictions that continue to exonerate him of any wrongdoing (“For you, I risked everything/I feel like I paid the price”). Youngboy’s wildly fluctuating emotional states are indicative of a mind in constant turmoil and, in this sense, Decided feels much closer to a case study on bipolar disorder, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, than Kanye West’s Ye. But it’s dangerous to psychoanalyze influential figures, especially when it could lend credence to their abusive behavior.
In all fairness, Youngboy’s growing pains are not that of his peers; with three kids in his custody (with a fourth he refuses to claim, as per “No Mentions”, and a fifth child supposedly on the way), his responsibilities are far removed from those of other teenagers his age. One can only hope that he achieves some semblance of peace in the near future, so as not to perpetuate the cycle of violence he himself was born into. But Youngboy’s steadily growing, cult-like fanbase threatens to be a major issue should he become a habitual abuser. On “No Mentions”, he earnestly pleads: “I listen to critics/I see what they sayin’ and I know I’m not trippin’/How the fuck can you just put me in that position/They postin’ that shit, tryna send me to prison/How the fuck do I supposed to take care of my children.” It’s an unfair question, shifting the blame yet again, but it deserves an answer. Only Youngboy himself can take the necessary steps towards purposeful redemption, one that includes utilizing his increasingly proficient songwriting to spread a more virtuous message.