YBN Cordae’s ‘The Lost Boy’ & Remembering My Grandmother

YBN Cordae’s debut album reminds us that energy cannot be destroyed.
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As of this week, my grandmother has officially forgotten me. She called my mother, in a tormented tone, asking why she doesn’t have any grandchildren. When my mother told me my grandmother had forgotten me, that she no longer recognized my photos, or knew my name, I was reduced to tears.

The end of life is so cruel; an indiscriminate robber that steals all goodness from families without so much as a warning. We spend all of our lives making memories, making something of ourselves, only for those moments to be swallowed up by the ether of old age. Few things are less fair. 

I suppose I shouldn’t take it personally. Hell, my grandmother has officially forgotten damn near everything. She is nothing more than loose skin over creaking bones, wasting away in a South Brooklyn apartment. She’s gone in all senses, except for the physical sense—not that her physical presence does much good. The woman who immigrated to the States in her 50s, risking everything and giving up everything, who raised me, who taught me kindness and resolve, and who gave my mother a life in America and catalyzed my own, has all but evaporated. She exists in my thoughts, but my thoughts are sadly not enough.

“Grandma passed, had a heart attack, only 62” —YBN Cordae, “Broke As Fuck

The truth is, my grandmother is going to die soon. She cannot walk, she cannot control her bowels, she’s heavily sedated at all times; always asleep, I worry each time that this slumber will be her last. Each phone call from my mother sparks anxiety in me: Will this be the call? All of this weighed heavily on my mind as I listened to YBN Cordae’s debut album, which I pressed play on to take my mind away from the news of my grandmother’s imminent passing.

Sweet mentions of his grandmother’s cooking on “Thanksgiving” took me to times where my grandmother would bake. The “Sweet Lawd (Skit)” felt like an ode to his grandmother’s gospel roots and reminded me of my grandmother’s dedication to the Jewish faith. The album was smooth sailing, a fond moment of remembrance. That is, until “Broke As Fuck,” where Cordae drops the horrific news of his grandmother’s passing in a single bar. The song is not a dedication to his grandmother’s life nor embroiled in sentiment. The mention is brisk—for better or worse. That subtlety broke me.

It happened so fast—the mention and the loss of my grandmother. And I haven’t even lost her yet. The understated nature of Cordae’s bar captures the paradox of losing someone in the cerebral and spiritual sense, but not losing them in the physical realm. My grandmother is present, but she is gone. To reconcile that reality seems impossible. I suddenly feel a weight to keep my grandmother alive though she is alive. It’s the way Cordae quietly memorializes his grandmother on The Lost Boy that gives me a light.

Her influence is all over the album, just as my grandmother’s influence envelops my character. The pair recite a duet on “Grandma’s House (Skit),” entrenched in divine energy. Suddenly, all of Cordae’s praising God across the album takes on a deeper meaning. He is doing more than celebrating the Lord; he is celebrating his grandmother’s life and teachings. Again, it is the small ways her memory permeates the album that gives these mentions so much power. The Lost Boy is not an album about Cordae’s grandmother, but rather, an album about the ways her character shaped his.

There’s something so touching about the tender passivity of her presence on The Lost Boy. There is an intimacy to the music that unveils itself from listen to listen as you catch more and more of his grandmother’s touch.

The Lost Boy blooms as memory does, in pieces and then all at once. The record brings back memories of my grandmother that I had otherwise forgotten. It prompts me to remember her life as it was before dementia. The Lost Boy is a lesson in remembering life even in death, and in cherishing life even when death comes knocking.

Take “Family Matters,” and Cordae’s admittance that his grandmother sent him money when he was on hard times. It’s that no-questions-asked type of love. It’s that I’ll-always-ride-for-you type of love. It’s the same love my grandmother expressed to me when she would fight with my father on my behalf, or threaten the neighborhood kids when they bullied me, or hold me to her chest and soothe me as I cried. She was the only family member I’ve known to love me without asking what was wrong, to love me without qualifiers. I did not need a good reason to have my heart aching for my grandmother to shower me with love.

The truth is, I’m ready for my grandmother to die. I’m ready for her pain and suffering to come to a peaceful end. I’m willing to remember her. I’m not ready to grieve, but I’m prepared to celebrate her life quietly through my own—just as Cordae celebrated his grandmother’s life across The Lost Boy. I’m ready to remember her as a brilliant woman who sacrificed her life, so my mother and I could each live our American dreams. I’m ready to remember her as the reason I have a passion for the arts, a sense of humor, and a bleeding heart. I am ready to work her ethos into my own.

I am ready to breathe in the air of a world without her physical presence because her soul cannot die. Cordae’s album shows us that energy cannot be destroyed; that character and heart lives through character and heart.

Cordae is not lost on The Lost Boy, because his grandmother guides him; because he opens himself up to her. I am open, now. I am ready, now.

End of life is torturous, but memory and faith cannot be underestimated. I love my grandmother; I remember her; I am her. 

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