At this moment in time, Kentrell Gaulen, better known as the ferocious NBA Youngboy, stands at a crossroads. Currently held without bond at St Martin’s Parish Correctional Centre after those working on behalf of ‘Operation Never Free Again’ swooped in, the prolific artist has remained in the public eye, against all odds.
Since he was apprehended in March of 2021, the cult of personality that surrounds him has continued unabated. Everywhere you look on social media, rallying cries of “YB better” can be found— below posts that have virtually nothing to do with him. Elsewhere, an appearance on Tyler, The Creator’s lauded “WUSYANAME” challenged a whole section of hip-hop consumers to face their preconceptions of him, as he delivered one of the standout guest spots of the entire project.
Along the way, the buzz around the considerably delayed Sincerely Kentrell only intensified.
As the record finally descended, YB was stonewalled by the same platforms that once embraced him. Despite the Louisianan standing tall as the video service’s number one artist for three years in a row, Youngboy’s manager has claimed that YouTube has refused to promote the project on account of his negative “image.”
But if history has taught us anything, the only thing that suppression ever does is enhance an artist’s allure. From NWA to Eminem, telling an audience that a public figure is somehow corrosive essentially ensures that they’ve got the listenership’s full attention.
Currently, on course to follow Tupac and fellow Louisianan Lil Wayne’s footsteps by going number one from behind bars, it’s safe to say that Youngboy didn’t even need a bout of censorship to become an icon. As for a new generation of hip-hop devotees, all that Sincerely Kentrell does is solidify the status that he’d already earned as a tortured voice of a generation.
Comprised of nothing but him for its entire 57 minute duration, Youngboy’s third studio album has been billed under the tagline of “no features necessary.” And while he’s always approached guest appearances with caution, Sincerely Kentrell gives NBA the opportunity to let his plight take centerstage.
Although he’s physically absent from the promotional cycle, the “Deep In Me” poem that was shared online just prior to its release is in keeping with what Youngboy is searching for across the album’s expansive, 22-track strong runtime. Within the piece, Youngboy speaks of a quest for “love, trust, and loyalty” which has proved to inform many of the record’s most stirring offerings.
Opening with the guitar-inflected sound of “Bad Morning,” Youngboy’s charged delivery practically leaps through the speakers even as its lyrics tell of ongoing suffering.
Left to contend with the trauma that he and his peers have faced, NBA’s melodic flair never falters as he spits,
On three different drugs tryna take away my pain, but it’s still gon’ flow
Try my hardest to put a smile on top my mans, but he still can’t cope
In both sonic and songwriting terms, this ability to forcefully deliver tales of drug-smothered sorrow over trap beats essentially sets the tone for the project.
Given that his current incarceration can’t help but linger over the record, it’s almost jarring to see him sound as energized as ever on tracks such as “Forgiano” and the incessantly catchy album closer “Panoramic,” while the thoughtful but accessible “Nevada” has the best chance of being a smash on the singles chart.
While these tracks rattle with Youngboy’s fascinatingly volatile spirit and trademark trap-soul flow, where the record really separates itself from the pack is when his insecurities are brought to the surface.
After all, a track such as the unyielding “Break Me Or Make Me” isn’t startlingly different in musicality than the work of some of the biggest hip-hop/pop crossover artists, but it’s the window into a conflicted mind that gives it a greater shot at long-lasting and meaningful connection.
While YB has always had a knack for expressing every facet of street life, his inner-battle between bravado and vulnerability has seldom been as evident as it is on Sincerely Kentrell. On the wistful “Hold Me Down” Youngboy puts his heart on the line as he discloses that “she the one I wan’ be with ’til the ending, but I see she don’t want me like in the beginning.”
Later, he broaches his notoriously fiery temperament on “Sincerely,” declaring that “Anger ran ’em all off, feelings made ‘Ðµm just go.”
Torn between an earnest desire to be loved and protecting himself from the ways of the world, even what is ostensibly a love song such as the mellow, MikeWillMadeIt-helmed “Baddest Thing” features allusions to how “hitmen, they be after me, 12 tryna capture me.”
In terms of highlights of the project, the reflective “Life Support” is up there. Over a contemplative beat that gives ample room for his vocals to soar high, YB divulges some of the deepest, darkest excerpts from his life:
Sit and I’ll tell you like, things you don’t know ’bout me
I’m like, ‘Bae, my grandma died, I was at a sleepover’
I’m like, ‘Bae, I could have died that night, my whip had flipped over’
Young man take pride, remember ridin’ and takin’ my grams to chemo
As has been the case for much of his career, what feels like a very real ambition to alter the course of his life is tempered by the sense that the turmoil of his youth is all he knows.
Just minutes removed from some of the record’s most sobering moments, all notion of remorse is out the window on tracks such as the relentless “50 Shots” or the chaotic rush of “Kickstand” in which both the lives of crime and decadence are celebrated without reservation.
With hisflow proving to be crisp as ever, Youngboy channels this idea of a point of no return to perfection on the dynamic “I Can’t Take It Back.” Rather than pine for the life that could’ve been, NBA’s autotune-drenched performance cuts through as he flits from discussing the “7 kills” that he’s earned to his aim of earning “3 million” for each kid within the year.
By this point, it’s clear that NBA Youngboy has learned the universal truth that honesty is hip-hop’s most compelling storytelling device. As such, tracks such as “Level I Want To Reach” lay out his aims in the frankest of terms. But for all its successes, Sincerely Kentrell is not without a few muddied moments, namely, when YB labors similar points or else, the familiarity of his production choices affect impact of his words.
Unsurprisingly, longtime collaborator Jason Goldberg is the most consistent presence behind the boards, with other mainstays of his catalog such as TNTXD and Mike Lowry turning in numerous production credits. And while everyone did an admirable job, an unintended byproduct of YB popping up on Tyler, The Creator’s lavish single is a quiet longing to hear him diversify beyond the type of beats that, although they’ve served him well, are leading him down the same, well-trodden paths in terms of delivery.
Unloaded with a bombastic energy and insistence that few could rival, Sincerely Kentrell is an unabridged confessional that has plenty to offer to both hardcore fans and longtime skeptics. Granted, it’s likely not the instant classic that some of his most fanatical supporters will surely claim it to be, but it succeeds in keeping us as riveted as ever by his singular style. And above all, rooting for him to find the inner peace that he so desperately craves.