Lucid Again

“AI YoungBoy,” his latest mixtape, which he released this month, is his best so far. It comes just three months after he was released from prison having pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a firearm, dodging attempted murder charges.

YoungBoy Never Broke Again’s latest mixtape is “AI YoungBoy.”

As on his breakout mixtape, “38 Baby,” there is a ferocious rowdiness at the core of “AI YoungBoy.” YoungBoy Never Broke Again has a way of gliding and bouncing atop melancholic keyboard-rooted production. His matter-of-factness is striking — it sounds like the product of concision, not uncertainty. Often, he achieves a lot with just a few words: “In the Maybach alone, I don’t need nobody,” he insists on “Came From,” one of the standouts, not boasting so much as shrugging. “Left Hand Right Hand,” the brawniest song here, still sparkles with keen detail: “I’m washing the residue off of my nails.”

“In that cell realized I ain’t got no friends,” YoungBoy Never Broke Again raps on “Dark Into Light.” On two songs, “No Smoke” and “Untouchable,” he shows penitence for the trauma he’s put his mother through. Sometimes, as on “Twilight,” he oozes into an offhand kind of singing, amateurish and deeply felt.


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There are flickers of the Baton Rouge titans Lil Boosie and Kevin Gates in his melodic approach, but YoungBoy Never Broke Again — his name was originally NBA YoungBoy, but he changed it to one less likely to be legally contested — has more in common with an occasional moralist like Kodak Black, another young Southern rapper recently released from jail. He also has some of the bleakness that’s been central to the rise of 21 Savage, who raps with an almost gothic severity.

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“Untouchable” was the first song he put out after his release, and he used it to delineate the challenge he was facing: “Just a few days ago I was locked up in them chains/Now I’m in back of the Maybach with a lot of bands.” On “Graffiti,” he laments, “You know I got money but I’m in a hole/Scared I’ma die when I’m out on the road.”

YoungBoy Never Broke Again - "Untouchable" Video by YoungBoy Never Broke Again

On the road is where he wants to be, or maybe needs to be — anything but being back in Baton Rouge. At every turn, his supporters are urging him away from his hometown. When he was released from prison, Lil Boosie congratulated him on Instagram, but added a concerned warning: “Leave Br asap.”

At the beginning of the video for “Untouchable,” YoungBoy Never Broke Again shows a clip of a conversation he had with Meek Mill right after his release. “You gotta move or you gonna die,” Meek Mill warns him. It’s said with insistence and a filial tenderness. Not that many years ago, Meek Mill, also a lucid tough-talker, was in the same position, and despite having come far, his career has stalled; he’s not quite the star he might have been in an earlier time. For YoungBoy Never Broke Again, he is both a role model and a cautionary tale.

A version of this article appears in print on August 22, 2017, on Page C5 of the New York edition with the headline: YoungBoy Never Broke Again Brings Back Rap Realism. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe

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