YoungBoy was born in North Baton Rouge in October 1999, the middle child of three. “I come from a rare place,” he says. “It’s a different culture, different atmosphere, police crooked. Different emojis, and when I say emojis I mean personalities.” He started writing songs at the age of 7, inspired by his mom, who herself briefly rapped. When he was 8, his father was arrested and sentenced to 55 years in prison for a robbery gone wrong and his mother moved out of the neighborhood, leaving YoungBoy with his maternal grandmother.
“I got my way with my grandma,” he says. “I used to get whoopings with my mom, but my grandma spoiled me.” When his grandma passed away from heart failure in 2010, 3Three’s family took him in. Three’s mother Monique, who YoungBoy calls “Mom,” remembers the two boys getting into all sorts of trouble in pursuit of their rap dreams. At one point, she says, they stole car batteries out of 18-wheelers and sold them in the hopes of paying for time in the studio.
After 8th grade, YoungBoy stopped showing up to school. “I wanted to be a rapper and I couldn’t focus and do that,” he says, pausing. “I didn’t even have the clothes for that shit. I really felt like I wasn’t smart enough, so what the fuck I’m there for?” He bought a microphone from Walmart and downloaded recording software to start making songs on his own, adopting the NBA acronym as a motivation to make “Never Broke Again” a reality. It was Monique who paid for his first real studio session shortly after. One of the songs he recorded, “Range Rover,” ended up on his first mixtape, Life Before Fame, released in 2015. On the song a 14-year-old YoungBoy sounds preternaturally dejected and world-weary, his voice nasal and noticeably higher pitched as he sings, “I’ma keep it in the streets until the game over/ Searching for better days till the pain over.”
Just over a year ago, YoungBoy was sleeping on an air mattress at Montana’s house. At the time, Montana served as YoungBoy’s manager, booking agent, and financier, and the two would drive all over the South, sometimes spending up to 12 hours in the car, to perform for between $500 and $1,500. His fan base grew steadily in the region, but his numbers exploded with the release of the video for “38 Baby,” a song named for the street where YoungBoy grew up. The video shows him riding around Houston, clutching a .38 pistol. Guns were a prolific fixture in all of his early videos but, since his release, YoungBoy and his go-to videographer David G have focused more on narrative. A recent video for “Wat Chu Gone Do” is set on the block where he grew up and casts his little brother, Ken, as a younger version of himself, picking up the writing pad for the first time. These days, every video they put out quickly hits a million views.
YoungBoy has now released seven projects in total, each full of intensely personal songs about betrayal, pain, revenge, and, in spite of it all, overcoming. AI YoungBoy, released in August, shows significant developments in his songwriting ability and an ever-improving mastery of melody. YoungBoy says he plans to release one more mixtape before focusing on his debut album. In an industry landscape of pushed-back release dates and shelved records, signing to a major label can be treacherous, but YoungBoy sounds optimistic. “That was like a dream come true,” he says. “That ain’t like me signing to no rapper. And they gave me that fuckin’ bag when I was 16.” For YoungBoy, the Atlantic deal meant the immediate opportunity to take care of his family and a way out of a life being lived half in the streets and half in the studio. It meant pursuing a career.