Throughout hip-hop’s history, when the guard changes, a handful of modern, yet nostalgic emcees invade the game. YBN Cordae is such an artist. The 21-year-old rapper from Raleigh, North Carolina has, in a relatively short time frame, developed a résumé that would impress his blog era forefathers.
The recently inducted 2019 XXL Freshmen is a rapper’s rapper with contemporary appeal. He moves from song to song, radio freestyle to radio freestyle, leaving the mark of a lyricist who is growing in skill and proficiency. If this were 2005, Nah Right would be premiering his singles. If this were 2008, DJBooth would be hosting his mixtapes. Cordae is a young man who fits between the worlds of 2DopeBoyz and RapCaviar.
Although he’s a well-known member of the Young Boss Niggaz (YBN) collective, Cordae’s potential as a solo act has caught the industry’s attention. The excitement around his name is now centered around The Lost Boy, Cordae’s major label debut on Atlantic Records. Can he focus his talents for wordplay into a unique, captivating body of work? That is the question The Lost Boy must answer.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
Some gentle keys to begin. A nice jazz horn, too. Production is already taking me to a peaceful place. Cordae has a good voice. Not too light, not too heavy. He’s rapping with a serious tone. This isn’t a careless rapper. “This is lyrical exercise, told my idols to step aside.” Reminds me of Cole, Friday Night Light era. Man, North Carolina is a treasure chest for rap talent. A strong intro. I’ll be back. Voices. I didn’t catch what was said.
2. “Have Mercy”
Slow build-up. I like how the track is progressing. Nice little trap thump. The flow is clean enough to wipe off tables. What is that flute-esque sound? I like it. “The smell of money has a great odor.” Ha, that’s weird. I wonder if Cordae would wear money cologne if Uncle Sam produced a fragrance? Our fascination with a green piece of paper will never cease to amaze me. A bit bored by the second verse. I like the hook, though. I know he can rap, I’m expecting more. “Have Mercy” doesn’t showcase anything new or unpredictable. The production switch at the end is a nice touch. I love the keys and the kicks.
3. “Sweet Lawd”
Now this is more like it. These keys. He’s singing. Reminds me a lot of Acid Rap Chance. He’s reciting the hook from “Have Mercy.” Honestly, cut “Have Mercy” and just take me straight here. It’s spiritual. An early gospel moment. I like the passion.
4. “Bad Idea” ft. Chance the Rapper
Of course “Sweet Lawd” transitions into the Acid Rap-esque Cordae record. Even though I like the song, this sample should’ve been retired with Scarface’s “My Block.” Cordae is comfortable. He sounds right at home. This gospel atmosphere fits both of them. Chance’s verse is incredible. Even his voice has that Acid Rap pitch. I don’t want another Acid Rap, but I want this passion and creativity in all of Chance’s verses. His pen is too potent when dipped in that energy. Not quite a defining record, but I would love to see Cordae explore his lane of personal, gospel-inspired rap songs.
Interesting that the album starts with “Wintertime” and by track five we’re at “Thanksgiving.” These aren’t themes we usually hear on a July album release. Cordae wants you playing this album in November. I really like this sample flip. A nice, personal verse. “Thanksgiving” is taking me back to College Dropout when we cared about Kanye’s “Family Business.” “I always been an overthinker.” Not a bad second verse. I don’t love his voice on the hook, but the sentiment is a nice one. It’s a warm song. Makes you think about family and loved ones. A nice thought to have. I’m not skipping this one, but not quite good enough to be a favorite.
6. “RNP” ft. Anderson .Paak
Oh! A chipmunk soul sample. I wonder how inspired Cordae is by Kanye? Oh! We have something here! This beat! Anderson sounds amazing! I love how this beat is structured. Cordae is confident. Whoa. Anderson was tagged in and commenced water walking. Man, when he’s rapping over these kinds of beats... Nah, it’s not just the beat, he sounds so inspired. There’s so much passion in the way he’s pushing these notes out. Their back and forth is incredible. This is the kind of double team that will have you asking for a joint album. Please, no more joint albums. I have found my favorite. It’s the perfect kind of summertime stunt rap record. More of this, please.
7. “Broke as Fuck (Freestyle)”
Ah, this has personality. Yes, yes, yes. Cordae has found his groove and he is moonwalking all over this banger. This is Will Smith in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air confidence. Cordae is no Carlton. Nice storytelling. Random freestyles on albums never disappoint. Sorry about your grandma, Cordae. He’s talking a lot of real life. I hope he keeps this momentum. Well, the keys just slowed things down. Is this his harmony? Drums added a nice, dynamic texture. More honest raps. A lot of bars that will draw back return listens. Shout out the Candy Lady.
8. “Thousand Words”
I’m liking the middle of this project. Cordae’s singing reminds me of Vic Mensa a bit here. “Deep down inside nobody wants to be nameless.” Oh, yeah, this is that 2019 talk. I like a young rapper looking on their generation. Cordae has me thinking about all the people who died never having the chance to go viral. A lot of people died never going viral. “The lifestyle you advertised...” The second verse is reading social media for filth. A song called “Thousand Words” about Instagram is my kind of clever. The last three songs have been my favorite moments thus far. Let’s see if Cordae can keep it going.
9. “Way Back Home” ft. Ty Dolla $ign
Ty Dolla features are the Chick-fil-A employees of the music industry; they are certain to leave you feeling a bit better about your day. Cordae rapping with a soulful melody. The warmth and soulfulness in this production are pleasant on the ears; reminds me a lot of Chance. Not a bad thing. Just interesting how similarities appear in style. Ty has appeared. It’s like there's a bottle of Hennessy attached to his vocal cords. Hennessy drinkers understand how the famous liquor has a certain smoothness that’s apparent when Dolla $ign sings. Is JAY-Z watching? I can change that Hennessy to D’Usse. Good song.
10. “Grandma’s House”
This album is interesting. There’s a narrative unfolding. Or, at the least, a loose theme. Home and family are a big piece of the puzzle. I like this song. Soulful. Gospel. Is that his grandma singing? “Jesus, he will fix it.” A short interlude with no rapping, but a keeper nonetheless.
11. “Been Around”
I love the production thus far. Every beat has been a winner. Cordae is talking to someone from Chicago. He asked about being a lost boy. I imagine a lot of people will hear this album and hear a lot of Acid Rap. Not in style, but in feeling. There’s that live instrumentation warmth, that Chicago soulfulness, and of course, the rapping. Cordae is sharp. He keeps you hanging onto every word. He’s giving the people a story to attach themselves to. That’s what will keep a rapper around—a story people can follow and believe in.
12. “Nightmares Are Real” ft. Pusha-T
Oh, now these aren’t pleasant keys. Cordae is telling us exactly how he started rapping: his mom kicked him out. Wow! The flow is strong and his lyrics are so sharp. The kid doesn’t fumble. Nice little harmonies on the hook. Pusha! The feature killer. Man, he started selling drugs in ninth grade? Man, this man is so good. “Collect calls on them landlines.” Pusha raps like he wants to be in the GOAT conversation. Every time he touches a mic, he’s reminding us to never overlook him. The best energy an emcee can have.
13. “Family Matters” ft. Arin Ray
Another song about his family. Arin Ray was a nice pick for a feature. I love the ooh-hoo loop. This is incredible. Oh damn. Oh! That sample! Man, this kid is a blog rapper if I ever heard one. Explaining all these family members is next level. It’s very personal and stylistically genius. Ever since I found out Kanye’s “Family Business” is made up, I’m skeptical of rappers and families, but this feels too honest to be make-believe. If this is fiction, Cordae should write a novel. Man, I wonder how many great rappers would’ve been great novelists in another life. Nas could’ve been Hemingway if Illmatic was released through Scribner and not Columbia. Great song.
14. “We Gon Make It” ft. Meek Mill
I’m excited to hear this album again. Oh yeah, this is a keeper. The dream chasers have a new anthem. Loving this loop. “If we never had a shot, how can we take it?” If that’s not true. Almost forgot this was a Cordae song. Starting with Meek was fun. Might be a new favorite. Meek came to speak the good gospel. “Every move I made chess, it’s important.” I have been playing chess lately and that hit me deeply. Meek might have the feature of the album. He smoked it. “I reminisce the cold days in the wintertime” might be the album’s thesis. Taking those winter thoughts and building a project around them. Cordae loves the Meek hook. It’s such a good hook! Man, kids are about to be so inspired. End the album here. I don’t need another one.
15. “Lost & Found”
Okay, I’ll take another one. Victory lap close. Big, soulful beat. Cordae is spirited. He went Trinidad James flow and took off. Wow. Did he call X the new Pac? I see the headlines. I see hellfire. My ears didn’t catch anything after that Pac bar. This is a victory lap, but I’m taking points off for that stumble. Even if he meant it, lines like that can overshadow how strong an album is in the darkness of controversy.
Final (first listen) thoughts on YBN Cordae’s The Lost Boy:
YBN Cordae made a debut. Not the kind that’s heralded as an instant classic by critics and fans alike, but the kind that feels like an introduction. Back in the blog era, The Lost Boy would’ve been a mixtape, and every site would've sung its praises. Cordae made an album he could play for anyone who dared to question his seat at hip-hop’s table.
Unlike the countless mixtapes that turned passionate rappers into blog darlings, The Lost Boy has the gloss and sheen of a major label offering without their heavy-handed commercial touch. Sonically, the songs are without a speck of dirt. All the verses sound crystal clear; all the beats glow with exuberance. Cordae is transparent about his personal life, but he and his engineer wanted more than the neighborhood to hear this album. A hit didn’t jump out on first listen, but there’s plenty to return to.
Ironically, The Lost Boy never sounds uncertain. Every line, every sample, every song title is intentional and specific to the album’s world. Cordae leaves you musing on what you heard and interested in hearing more. The best introductions usually do.
By Yoh, aka YBN Yoh, aka @Yoh31