Since arriving in earnest with 2017's AI Youngboy, Kentrell DeSean Gaulden, better known as NBA Youngboy, has captivated hip-hop’s collective imagination. To some fans, his raw, soulful flow and unabridged account of life on the streets of Baton Rouge has made the Atlantic Records/Never Broke Again signee into a beacon for realism in hip-hop. To others, his litany of legal troubles and seemingly endless disputes with former lovers tells a familiar tale of a talented artist that’s allowed himself to be waylaid by the entrapments of fame and fortune.

Whatever side of the fence you’re on, NBA Youngboy’s innate star power is undeniable. Despite the fact that he never seems to be actively pursuing commerciality, the Louisianan found himself among the most streamed artists of 2020. Logging over 4.6 million streams across a spate of mixtapes and major label releases, NBA Youngboy came in third behind Drake and the late Juice WRLD. To put thisin context, this achievement means that, on paper, he is a bigger draw than Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Post Malone and The Weeknd

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Courtesy of this worldwide infatuation, his sophomore studio album, Top, soared to the top of the charts even as the embers of his high-profile feud with his record label simmered in the background. Riding high off the resounding reassurance of the marketplace, even if critical response was mixed, his storied work ethic meant that he’d drop another tape (Until I Return) and a collaborative showcase for his label before the year was out. When he had a spare moment, he delivered a succession of loosies that gave us a window into where he was headed-- a third official album reserved for May 7th. 

Dubbed Sincerely, Kentrell, the record originally appeared to be one of the centrepieces of hip-hop’s release schedule for spring. Yet as of March 22nd, any promotional plans that YB and his team could’ve hatched have been abruptly halted by his arrest on gun possession charges that, if convicted, could carry a sentence of up to 10 years. Although he’s pleaded not guilty on all fronts and his team insists that the firearms in question weren’t his, Youngboy will be held without bond until his trial date in June. And while it’s likely the least of his concerns at the moment, these legal proceedings mean that he would not be out in time for his third record’s proposed release date.

With a palpable degree of uncertainty surrounding not only this project, but NBA Youngboy’s future at large, it seemed a fitting time to retrace his recent steps in order to examine what we do know about the next instalment in his musical journey, and to speculate on the hotly-anticipated project’s features, lyricism and artistic direction.


Sincerely, Kentrell

First mentioned by his label, Never Broke Again LLC, on December 16th of last year, news of Sincerely Kentrell’s forthcoming release came just a little over a month on from the ominously titled Until I Return mixtape. Even though it wasn’t quite as turbulent as today, the entire year leading up to this announcement has been blighted by ups and downs for Kentrell.

Amid the runaway success of Top and 38 Baby 2 from April of 2020, Youngboy would reach an impressive milestone by obtaining 50 gold and platinum plaques by the age of 21. At the same time, his personal life was becoming a matter of public intrigue as his relationship with pregnant girlfriend Yaya Mayweather seemed to get more convoluted by the day. But as his family continued to grow, Youngboy would take umbrage with the deal that he’d signed as an impressionable 17-year old.

Taking to Instagram to air his grievances in July of last year, NBA Youngboy was pursuing the ownership that he’d once relinquished to major label giants Atlantic and declared that, "I said they can have the next 4 albums free all I want is my masters in still got told no. Dirty game." 

Acquired by Atlantic for just $2 million back in 2016, NBA Youngboy is now worth a lot more than that and sadly, Sincerely, Kentrell is likely to only account for the third record in a proposed five-album deal.


Features 

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From the release of his acclaimed debut album Until Death Call My Name onwards, NBA Youngboy has been selective when it comes to guest stars, in a way that almost makes him an anomaly in the genre. Adopting an approach that’s more in-line with the hermetic creative process of J. Cole than the collaborative free-for-all of some of his contemporaries, Youngboy is more inclined to let his own rhymes take centerstage than pad out tracklists with features. In the case of Top, he was even more frugal with the record’s real estate than usual, allotting room to legends and legends alone, in the shape of Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg.

However, 2020 saw Youngboy link up with a few artists whom he may deem worthy of inclusion on his new project. Chiefly, the female icon that he named one of his most memorable ballads after.

Having teamed up with Nicki Minaj for the first time on Mike Will Made It’s “What That Speed Bout?," the Queen Barbz was quick to disclose the positive impression that Youngboy had left on her, stating during a Twitter Q&A,

"YoungBoy was rlly dope. Chill. Laid back. Sweet. rlly fuk wit his vibe. Didn’t do the most on set, more mature than I thought he’d be. He was on gangsta time."

Considering that they left things on good terms, it seems entirely plausible that they might convene on something special for Sincerely, Kentrell. 

In terms of other viable guest appearances, it’s hard to look past the rest of the Never Broke Again crew. After working together for the common goal of crafting October’s Aint Too Long 2, it's likely that he's cooked up gems with Quando Rondo, NoCap, P Yungin or any other roster member. 

As for other recent crossovers, 2020 saw NBA Youngboy release a joint tape with Rich The Kid, as well as appearing on Migos’ 50 Cent sampling single “Need It.” Although unconfirmed by NBA Youngboy’s camp, fellow Baton Rouge MC Boosie Badazz has been insistent that the duo have an album coming our way and as a result, we may hear a preview of what’s to come on his upcoming project.

On the other end of the spectrum, one of trap’s biggest names will be conspicuous by their absence as, if DJ Akademiks is to be believedYoungboy apparently rebuked Lil Baby’s offer to head to the studio. Likewise, any involvement from J. Cole may be scrapped after rumors swirled that he left the Dreamville architect hanging in the studio for upwards of 8 hours. To many fans, this has been a source of massive disappointment as they believed that Cole’s production could be the perfect accompaniment for Youngboy’s candid, soul-baring style.


Content 

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In the wake of what’s been a trying 12 months for the Lousiania native, it’s reasonable to assume that this record will be unfiltered and near-excruciatingly candid. Considering the personal slant of the title and its invocation of a letter format, Sincerely, Kentrell could be the most frank and autobiographical release in his catalogue to date. And if his recent dispatches to the public are anything to go by, it might be his most melancholic too. 

After disclosing that he was in a “dark place” on his Instagram in November of 2020, Youngboy would cause further alarm among his fanbase this March when he conceded that he was “lost” and may need help to get back on track.

When cross-referenced with the emotive chorus of March single "I Ain’t Scared," it seems that this unscrupulous honesty about his problems is here to stay and in all likelihood, will do little to deter those Tupac comparisons that’ve been levelled at him in recent years. 

"I’m alright, don't worry, don't cry

It ain't nothing that no one could do to save my life

Ma, just know I’m your flying angel if I leave through the night"

On the flip side, the unheralded release of “The Story Of OJ (Top Version)” hinted that Youngboy’s upcoming record may seem him rebelling against the inequitable deal that he’s saddled with. Amid declaring that he now owns a percentage of Steve Stoute’s United Masters music platform, Youngboy treads into the realm of conscious hip-hop on his remix of the 4:44 classic as he spits, “I seen labels the new-age slavery, so I partnered up.” 

Granted, exploring this direction at length would be a drastic shift for Youngboy, but it could pave the way for a more mature and attuned approach from him in the years to come. 


Tracklisting 

nba youngboy new album

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From considering his own mortality and chronicling the turmoil of his personal life to voicing his ongoing frustrations with the industry, there’s many compelling avenues that Youngboy could head down in terms of bars. As for what tracks will be appearing on Sincerely, Kentrell, Youngboy’s tireless work ethic means that he’s got plenty to pick from. 

Launched by what many believe to be its first single with the chaotic “Toxic Punk”, this track and “I Ain’t Scared” both suggest that his delivery remains as potent and affecting as ever, with the latter allowing him to push his vocal range into its upper register. As is the case with many of today’s leading artists, the announcement of his upcoming album has fans clamouring to hear tracks that were either aired as snippets on IG Live or have made the rounds as leaks and are yet to be officially released. 

Widely circulated online in unmastered format or as looped, 20-second clips, offerings such as “Home Of The Land," "Ship It," "Bad Mornings'' and "4KT Relations" account for just a smattering of the tracks from the vault that fans are pining for on Sincerely, Kentrell.


Possible delay

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As alluded to earlier, NBA Youngboy’s incarceration may present some serious logistical hurdles when it comes to getting the project greenlit for its proposed May 7th release. Granted, many rappers have released music from behind bars in the past. But, if this is supposed to be a landmark project in his discography, then it’s likely that he’ll want to finetune the record before it is unveiled. 

In the wake of Youngboy’s run in with the law, it appears that Never Broke Again have a contingency plan in mind. Initially slated to drop on May 7th, the label is now advertising that Quando Rondo’s Still Taking Risks is scheduled to emerge on that date. So, while it hasn’t been formally announced that this project has been drafted in to make up for the NBA Youngboy-shaped hole in their rollout, it’s unlikely that they’d willingly push two albums in one day.

Whether or not it emerges on May 7th, one thing’s for sure Sincerely, Kentrell is destined to be one of the most talked-about projects of the year and hopefully, NBA Youngboy will be able to experience its rollout as a free man.

What are you expecting from NBA Youngboy’s upcoming album? Sound off in the comments below.