It’s a breezy day in late September, and YoungBoy Never Broke Again has just secured his second No. 1 album of the year. But you wouldn’t be able to tell that from the empty expression on his face as he emerges from a black SUV in Times Square. 

Manhattan is rarely as still as it is on this afternoon, a bittersweet result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. And on a quiet stretch of West 43rd Street, YoungBoy’s crew files out of the vehicle, looking for clues about where to go next. YoungBoy doesn’t budge, standing still for a few moments as he surveys his surroundings. 

The moment of reflection is broken when the 21-year-old superstar is spotted by a group of pedestrians, motivating him to duck into the lobby of Complex’s office building. Riding the elevator a few minutes later, it’s clear YoungBoy has walls up. Protected by the physical barrier of his clique standing around him, he also shields himself by staying quiet and avoiding conversations with anyone outside his inner circle. He keeps these guards up as he walks through the building and methodically makes his way to a dressing room. By the time he sets foot in the office, he still hasn’t uttered a single word.

A small camera crew is putting the finishing touches on the set for today’s photoshoot, but a 10-minute wait quickly grows to an hour because YoungBoy hasn’t settled in just yet. He’s waiting to get a shape-up, but that plan falls apart when his barber tries to sneak a selfie without YoungBoy’s permission. He usually requires outsiders to surrender their phones before being in his presence, but the message hadn’t been relayed to the barber this time. “You can’t be doing that, man,” a member of YoungBoy’s crew whispers outside the dressing room. 

YoungBoy refuses to work with the barber, so a substitute is called to take his place. While they wait, YoungBoy and his crew isolate themselves in the dressing room, only opening the door for bathroom runs and business calls. With his publicist’s blessing, he agrees to let me enter the room and sit beside him on the sofa for a quick conversation.

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