Chart Beat

Five Burning Questions: YoungBoy Never Broke Again's 'Top' Debuts at No. 1 on the Billboard 200

NBA YoungBoy
Jimmy Fontaine

NBA YoungBoy

If your reaction to news of YoungBoy Never Broke Again topping the Billboard 200 albums chart this week is to go, "Wait a minute, didn't he just...?" -- don't worry, your memory doesn't deceive you.

In fact, Top debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 this week marks the third time he's hit the apex in the past 12 months -- first doing so with the AI YoungBoy 2 mixtape last October, then with his 38 Baby 2 tape in April. (In between those, he also managed a No. 2 bow for his Still Flexin, Still Steppin set in March.) But Top, deemed the rapper's second official studio album, tops the chart with his best first-week numbers yet, racking up 126,000 equivalent album units.

Why was this album YoungBoy's best-performing first week yet? And who else might be able to top the Billboard 200 three times in one year? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.

1. Top is not only YoungBoy's third No. 1 album (and fourth top two album) in the past 12 months, it also earns his best first-week numbers to date, with 126,000 equivalent album units moved. On a scale of 1-10, how surprised are you that YoungBoy has been able to maintain this level of fan excitement given his prolific output? 

Josh Glicksman: I’ll put it at a 6. I don’t think that too many people expected YoungBoy to put up back-to-back-to-back No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200, but we’ve seen plenty of chart-toppers since 2019 that appeared surprising -- Nav, NF, Nav again -- that maybe shouldn’t have been all that shocking. An increasing number of artists have managed to carve out a core fan base and flip it into massive streaming stats. Like it or not, content still seems to be king, so even with the mass output from YoungBoy in recent years, I’m skeptical of his fans tiring any time soon.

Carl Lamarre: Four. YoungBoy's rabid fanbase plays to his strengths as a raging superstar with unfiltered charm. To some, he's reckless, while others venerate him for his street heroics. With each release, I think YoungBoy gives listeners a reason to latch onto him even more. Whether he's diving into relationship woes or internal battles, his rawness is alluring, and a reason why people are intrigued by his music.

Jason Lipshutz: 5. YoungBoy may not have the primary badges of mainstream success in 2020 -- his voice isn’t anywhere near pop radio, and he’s not lighting up late-night television or awards shows -- but he’s a massive hip-hop star nonetheless, a new-school streaming giant with a particularly rabid YouTube following. Three No. 1 albums in a 12-month span is an impressive feat for any artist to pull off, including ones with more general-audience name recognition than YoungBoy, but the amount of fan excitement he’s been able to produce over the past year shouldn’t be a surprise for those following his rise in the industry.

Heran Mamo: About a 3, because YoungBoy’s been dropping projects like breadcrumbs every quarter of 2020 so far. He also gave fans the impression that he was taking a break from music after dropping the 38 Baby 2 mixtape in April. So when he announced Top in August, it got fans so hyped that it already reached the No. 1 spot on Apple Music’s charts based on pre-orders alone. And I know the album’s named Top after his childhood nickname Lil Top, but the success of this LP is really in the name.

Andrew Unterberger: I'll say 7. Four albums in less than a year is just... a lot of music, especially considering that the projects all have pretty long tracklists and not a ton of obvious differentiation of core identity between them. (Even in Future's legendary four-project run in 2015, he was able to avoid over-saturation by working with different producers/collaborators and in relatively distinct songwriting and performance modes on each set.) YoungBoy's commercial bonafides are certainly no industry secret by this point, but for him to still be gaining in metrics on project four of four in this run is seriously impressive.

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2. Is it mostly the official album designation that you think gave Top a performance leg up on his other recent sets, or is there something else about Top that you think contributes to its career-best opening week performance? 

Josh Glicksman: The official album designation certainly didn’t hurt him here, but tapping both Weezy and Snoop Dogg for features goes a long way. In his last few efforts, YoungBoy called on peers like DaBaby (38 Baby 2’s “Thug of Spades”) and Lil Baby (Realer’s “Cross Me”), but it’s always worth tuning in to see how exciting, young rap talents hold their own when standing beside the game’s established veterans. And with a combined eight No. 1 albums to their names, Lil Wayne and Snoop know how to make music that’s worthy of moving the needle on sales.

Carl Lamarre: I think the official designation plays a bit of a role because the previous releases were nothing but foreplay, in hopes of reeling in everyone over to the main event. With YoungBoy, though, his mixtapes don't feel like mixtapes because he operates under the same motor and intensity as he would on an official release. Even length-wise, his last two projects had a minimum of 17 tracks, so, technically, he's never cheating you out of content, either.

Jason Lipshutz: Chalk it up to a combination of timing and artistry: Top arrived during one of the most quiet album release weeks in recent memory, particularly in the hip-hop world, which helped funnel more attention in YoungBoy’s direction. Yet Top is also a stronger listen than his recent mixtapes, with more-focused rapping, better beats and a general flow that prevents the album from feeling endless, despite carrying a whopping 21 tracks. Top is not flawless, but it’s also the most cohesive listen to date in YoungBoy’s stacked discography.

Heran Mamo: On top of the official album treatment, YoungBoy takes his melodic flow to new heights with dulcet guitar loops on songs like “Kacey Talk,” “My Window,” “Off Season,” “All In,” and “Reaper’s Child.” He really fine-tuned the sound of this project compared to the two previous mixtapes he dropped this year. Not to mention the two stellar guest rappers, Snoop Dogg and Lil Wayne, are big deals and not something you’d request just for a mixtape.

Andrew Unterberger: The set's a little more tuneful and fine-tuned, for sure, but to me this has to be mostly about it being the official album -- which, even at a time when the lines separating EPs, mixtapes and proper LPs are so blurry as to be practically imperceptible, still seems to make a real difference to fans and other consumers.

3. There's only two guests to be found on Top: Snoop Dogg (on "Callin") and Lil Wayne (on "My Window"). What do you see as the logic of those veteran greats being the set's only two guests -- and whose verse do you think works better? 

Josh Glicksman: The low number of features isn’t a departure from the norm -- the last time YoungBoy included more than two was 2018’s 4Respect 4Freedom 4Loyalty 4WhatImportant, and he has somehow released six full projects since then. If you’re going to limit yourself to just a few guests though, you might as well make the most of them, and YoungBoy sure does on Top. And though I love seeing Snoop working alongside younger rappers, his “no mask on” line loses me (wear a mask!) and Wayne’s signature flow fits better next to YoungBoy.

Carl Lamarre: I think Snoop and Wayne understand how polarizing Youngboy is for his age and are empathetic to his rocky road to stardom, because they each had their fair shares of battles with the media and legal system during their respective climbs. I think Wayne's voice meshes better with YoungBoy on "My Window," and their mutual ties to Louisiana makes the track extra special in my eyes.

Jason Lipshutz: The Lil Wayne verse on “My Window” makes more sense on paper and in practice: the two New Orleans natives showcase their similar flows side-by-side, each croaking out catchphrases before warbling through a melodic break in their verses. The choice to put Snoop Dogg on the final song of a 21-track project is a curious one -- but Snoop sounds pretty excellent on the superior “Callin’,” his clipped lines drenched in swagger as he provides a straightforward foil to YoungBoy’s sing-song rhymes.

Heran Mamo: Weezy’s verse works better in my opinion because his voice blended so well with YoungBoy’s that once he got louder, I could finally distinguish it was his verse. And his wonderful wordplay -- “Your Wonder Woman wonderin’ why your wonderland ain’t wonderworld” -- reigns chiefdom. From this feature on YoungBoy’s song to his verse on “Forever” with Lil Baby on My Turn, Wayne is adopting the uncle role for this legion of rappers the way Snoop has been for the likes of Wiz Khalifa and Ludacris over the last few years. So having both veteran MCs on this project signaled it’s not just about the quantity behind YoungBoy’s prolific output this year but also the quality.

Andrew Unterberger: To me, it's one of the more inspired artistic choices on the album for its two guests to both be at least one generation removed from YoungBoy -- it serves as a sort of blessing from the genre's elders, while also proving that the gap between them isn't as great as heads new and old might expect. Honestly, I didn't even notice Lil Wayne on on "My Window" the first two times I heard it, his fit alongside YoungBoy is so seamless. Snoop's presence is a little more conspicuous, but I like his verse even more -- especially coming at the end of the set, where it almost serves as a Top epilogue.

4. For those who still fail to grasp the sustained success of YoungBoy Never Broke Again, which track on Top would you refer them to for a better understanding?  

Josh Glicksman: Give “All In” a spin! YoungBoy thrives with choruses that stretch his Auto-Tuned vocals just enough to make your voice strain a bit as you’re singing along to it. After that, step aside and let him get into a steady rhythm rapping on top of beats with dialed up instrumentation and brash, clapping hi-hats. It’s often easy to melt into his songs’ woozy productions, too, but don’t get too comfortable -- he’ll pull you back in a moment’s notice with a vocally-scaling bridge or set of rapid fire bars.

Carl Lamarre: I would say it's a tie between "Cross Roads" and "To My Lowest." YoungBoy thrives on pain and wears his heart on his sleeve no matter the situation. Despite his tough exterior, you see a wounded soul looking to patch himself back up.

Jason Lipshutz: “All In” underlines what YoungBoy is capable of as a storyteller, as he colors his tale of coming from nothing with the struggles he still faces -- how he wants to overcome his trust issues, provide for his family and find a semblance of normalcy. There’s an undercurrent of violence throughout “All In,” but YoungBoy wants to be honest about his demons; it’s not hard to understand why so many hip-hop listeners are entranced by them in turn.

Heran Mamo“Kacey Talk,” because it has that streamlined guitar-driven beat while lyrically flashing the generational wealth he’s been accumulating for his kids, who play an integral role in his song. YoungBoy has been coming into his role as a father within his music more and more, from featuring them in his Father’s Day release of the “Death Enclaimed” music video to naming “Kacey Talk” after his one-year-old son, who blabbers the cutest ad-libs in the track. It also reached No. 50 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 19 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.

Andrew Unterberger: "Kacey Talk" and "Reaper's Child" both contenders for me, but I'd probably take it right from the top with album opener "Drug Addiction." YoungBoy is at his most captivating when he's singing the blues, and the guitar picking and heart-bleeding of "Drug Addiction" is a fantastic tone-setter in that respect.

5. What other artist in 2020 do you think is both prolific and popular enough that you could see them potentially scoring three No. 1 albums in a year's time themselves in the not-too-distant future? 

Josh Glicksman: How about Gunna? Over the past few years, he’s slowly scaled his way up the Billboard 200, finally reaching the chart’s pinnacle for the first time earlier this year with Wunna. In addition to his own streaming prowess, he has no shortage of star power on any of his projects -- with Travis Scott, Young Thug, Roddy Ricch and Lil Baby on his most recent effort alone -- so I don’t imagine consistency will be too much of an issue, either. And his output has never been in question: with six full releases since 2017, he’s got plenty in the tank.

Carl Lamarre: DaBaby. He already notched two No. 1s with 2019's Kirk and this year's Blame It on Baby. I wouldn't be surprised if he nets the trifecta since he loves feeding the fans new music whenever he gets the chance to do so.

Jason Lipshutz: Justin Bieber is already teasing a new project seven months after scoring a No. 1 album with Changes. A few months after that full-length dropped, he scored a Hot 100 chart-topper with the Ariana Grande duet “Stuck With U,” and now is back with “Holy,” featuring Chance the Rapper. Three albums in a year’s time might be unrealistic, but when the Biebs is on this ultra-prolific streak, anything is possible!

Heran Mamo: Lil Uzi Vert, because he was one of the first artists in 2020 to embody the success of the deluxe album model with the second coming of Eternal Atake one week after its initial release. He had a separate title (Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World 2) and a whopping 14 extra songs, just four songs shy of doubling the original tracklist. That kind of effort shows me Uzi is sitting on a motherlode of tracks that doesn't require fans to wait another year and a half for new material. And just like YoungBoy, new music that follows a rapper’s hiatus announcement will have fans flocking to streaming services like bees to nectar, because they need it to survive.

Andrew Unterberger: Ariana Grande could probably have done this last year if she'd kept all the songs she released following the 1-2 of Sweetener and Thank U, Next for a third solo project instead of portioning them out as non-album singles, live tracks and Charlie's Angels soundtrack contributions. And that was while she was on tour! Now that she's stuck at home like the rest of us, who even knows what kind of treasure trove of newly written and/or recorded material she might be sitting on?