Harsh, matter-of-fact, and unflinching, YNP Maine serves up steely-eyed soundtracks for the trenches. Since witnessing the death of his older brother, the Baton Rouge rapper has provided terse street bars that pulsate with decisiveness and simmering menace, byproducts of life in a war zone. Those side effects surface on “Aw Yeah,” an Ndotspinalot-assisted rider’s anthem.

Combining a drill beat with a melodic flow, YNP paints a portrait of ill intent and aspiration: “Can’t believe he ain’t die when they slid by, I guess he got lucky / How you gon’ cry when them shots fire, I thought you was out here thuggin’ / I’m in New York City, I’m tryna make something from nothing.” Grim, yet juxtaposed with dreams of a rap come-up, the track evokes survival and a sense of wounded optimism. It’s the inflection point of a significant level-up for YNP Maine.

The new reality began to set in after a fan approached him in Times Square. “That changed everything,” he remembers of the moment he realized his listener base had grown. “Like, it made me say, ‘You bigger than what you think you is.’”

Years before he had fans or even goals of rap stardom, YNP was just trying to survive the travails of his home city. “It’s not a lot of opportunities out there,” he says. “Baton Rouge is hell.” Despite this, he remembers the good times, which usually involved playing basketball and listening to the sounds of Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, and the late Lil Snupe. While his brother was an aspiring rapper, YNP was more interested in basketball. That changed after his brother was murdered. “That ball went away,” he recalls. “That’s when the music came.”

After struggling for a year following his brother’s death, YNP began taking music more seriously. For a 16-year-old without many emotional outlets, recording sessions became their own kind of therapy. “I felt relief, ’cause I had things I needed to say that I ain’t never said before,” he says. “It was like, ‘This is how you gon’ express yourself and get the pain out.’” While rap offered a way to process his emotions, YNP’s new passion had more to do with his older brother than any personal ambitions. “Rapping was his dream,” he says. “So I felt that once he left it was up to me to live it for him.”

YNP made serious progress early on with the release of “Trippin.” Filled with trap logistics, personal affirmations, and his own commanding flow, the track quickly earned 20,000 streams in just a week. At school, other students would approach him rapping the lyrics, and it soon became a soundtrack for the locker room. “I just started going to the studio and got better and better,” he says of his early musical exploits. By 2023, his rap skills had earned him the attention of French Montana and he signed to Coke Boys Records / Priority Records.

While YNP can be ruthless in his songs, he prides himself on his versatility, making tracks for the block and the club. Regardless of the subject matter, his music is always threaded by a genuine sense of belief. “My raps come from the heart,” he says.