The chart-topping 22-year-old rapper YoungBoy Never Broke Again, born Kentrell D. Gaulden, was found not guilty on Friday of possessing a firearm and ammunition as a felon, concluding one of the two federal gun trials he had been facing.
A jury in Los Angeles reached its verdict after about two hours on its second day of deliberations. Mr. Gaulden, who is known to fans as NBA YoungBoy or YB, faced up to 10 years in prison in the case.
The gun possession charge in California stemmed from YoungBoy’s March 2021 arrest in the Los Angeles area on a separate federal gun possession warrant from an earlier incident in the rapper’s home state of Louisiana. In September 2020, YoungBoy was among 16 people accused of possessing guns and drugs at a video shoot in Baton Rouge. His lawyers have said none of the contraband was in his possession.
Prosecutors in the Central District of California said that upon attempting to execute the warrant in that case, YoungBoy initially seemed to cooperate, pulling over his Mercedes Maybach before taking off again and leading officers on a “high-speed chase.” After the rapper fled on foot, police found an FNX .45 caliber pistol and ammunition behind the front passenger’s seat, along with cash and jewelry.
Lawyers for YoungBoy argued that the rapper was unaware of his outstanding federal warrant at the time and panicked when armed officers approached his vehicle, leading him to take off. He did not know the weapon was in the car, they said, and no usable fingerprints or DNA tied YoungBoy to the gun.
Prosecutors had sought to link the rapper to the weapon using a photo and video from social media of YoungBoy handling “a gold and tan gun that appeared identical to the firearm recovered from his car,” according to court records. The photo was taken at the same Philadelphia shop that had sold YoungBoy the jewelry also found in the car, they argued. Lawyers for the rapper said the gun was identical to an airsoft replica and could not be confirmed to be the same weapon.
“We believe the evidence presented in this case supported the charges brought by the grand jury,” Ciaran McEvoy, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, said in a statement. “While we are disappointed with the verdict, we respect the jury’s decision.”
As the trial started on Tuesday, the judge in the case, R. Gary Klausner, ruled to exclude lyrics from three YoungBoy songs from being used in court. Prosecutors had said that the tracks — “Gunsmoke,” “Life Support” and “Lonely Child” — referred “to an individual connected to the purchaser of the gun, the gun model found in his car, and the jewelry maker of the jewelry found next to the gun.”
But lawyers for the rapper successfully argued that the “hardcore” and “highly inflammatory” rap lyrics would be prejudicial and were not directly relevant, noting that the song mentioning an FN pistol was released before the FN gun seized from the Maybach was purchased.
“It’s for entertainment,” they wrote in a court filing. “It is not an admission of other bad acts but it does paint the rappers in a bad light and the jury may infer from the song that Mr. Gaulden is a violent person and take those feelings with them into the deliberation room.”
The rapper’s lawyers added: “The real issues are: 1) whether he knew the gun was inside of the car and 2) whether he intended to possess it. It’s a relatively simple case.”
Known for his raw reality rap, prolific output and obsessive online fan base, YoungBoy is among the most-streamed artists in the United States so far this year, competing with the likes of Drake and Taylor Swift. Since signing a $2 million deal with Atlantic Records in 2016, he has frequently topped the Billboard album chart — hitting No. 1 with four releases in less than two years — but continues to exist largely outside the mainstream entertainment business, owing in part to his ongoing legal issues.
In 2017, YoungBoy pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a firearm and received a suspended 10-year prison sentence, plus probation, stemming from his role in a nonfatal drive-by shooting for which he was originally charged with attempted first-degree murder. In 2019, following subsequent arrests, including for a domestic violence incident in which he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery, the rapper was sentenced to 90 days in jail.
Since October, when he was granted a $500,000 bond in the federal gun cases, YoungBoy has lived under home confinement in Utah, where he has continued to record and release music.
YoungBoy’s additional federal gun case in Louisiana is ongoing. His lawyers have argued that he was unfairly targeted, highlighting law enforcement’s name for one of its operations: Never Free Again, “an obvious take off on Gaulden’s highly successful music and marketing brand.” The rapper’s legal team has successfully suppressed video evidence in the case that it said was unconstitutionally obtained.
The rapper’s arrest in Los Angeles last year, his lawyers said, was a “massive and wildly unnecessary militaristic display of force and intimidation.”