The second song on Colors, one mixtape in a wildly prolific and commercially successful run for YoungBoy Never Broke Again, is the slinking, initially understated cut “Bring It On.” Though the Baton Rouge rapper was only 22 at the time of its release, he was already the author of hundreds upon hundreds of songs, and sported a dizzying array of Gold and Platinum plaques despite working outside the mainstream. Contained within the extended hook of “Bring It On” is the central tension of his work, a tension so compelling that it helped him make the leap from regional hero to burgeoning superstar. At first he is literally whispering—not stage whispering, but truly letting his words get lost between the drums—before exploding into a wailed, pleading melodic run that includes both threats and simple reportage of violence; worries about raising his children; more threats; and scenes of him kneeling beside his bed to pray. This is the YoungBoy experience, a knot of impulses that are alternately righteous and chilling. All are rendered in a voice capable of bending toward the blues or toward the technically demanding Louisiana rap that defined the 1990s, but can often be heard twisting what peers like Young Thug and Kevin Gates are doing into increasingly odder shapes. While YoungBoy is, in many ways, defined by his prolificity—his crowded release schedule mirroring an evidently hyperactive mind—Colors is one of his most clearly diagrammed records. It moves from section to sonic section, allowing its songs to be heard, at least at first, as variations on a musical idea: his signature pain rap, then something closer to R&B, and into pastel romantic numbers. But on closer inspection, these tracks, no matter how neatly they might slot into such a category, are made unique through the sheer volume of detail and idiosyncrasy in their writing and delivery, artifact after artifact of an inimitable mind.

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