Lyrical warfare has been submerged in hip-hop’s history since its inception. From 1987’s ‘Have A Nice Day,’ fronted by Roxane Shante, to Tupac’s mid-90’s ‘Hit ‘Em Up’ assassination, rappers have nearly always reverted to the mic when they’ve had something to say.
YBN Cordae is no different. As a part of the current — or new to older millennials — generation, he has been extremely vocal when highlighting both his and his contemporaries attributes. Last year, the North Carolina raised artist responded to J. Cole’s ‘1985’ with ‘Old Niggas,’ which completely changed the trajectory of his career and subsequently grew his core fanbase. Addressing every aspect of Cole’s rhetoric, this track helped in paving the way for Cordae’s 2019 XXL Freshman cover and led to a mounted anticipation surrounding his debut album ‘The Lost Boy’.
Despite the feeling of confidence and rejecting the notion of proving himself to his older peers, the concept of legacy and longevity seem to both permeate across YBN Cordae’s LP. Throughout the albums earlier numbers such as ‘Have Mercy’. “Fuck old n*gga’s, their days over.” The ‘Young Boss Niggaz’ affiliate is ambitious in his statements on his debut and evidently is unshaken by the potential repreccusions. Across a distorted flute-adjacent backing, Cordae does however, ask the “Sweet Lord” to save him as he finds the right track. Here, echoes of the rapper being a ‘The Lost Boy’ begin to manifest.
Bringing audiences on a journey has proven a successful blueprint in hip-hop. A popular methodology employed by the likes Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, and Meek Mill, it has been useful in getting to understand the artist on paper — or streaming platforms in today's climate — and in building an affinity to them.
YBN Cordae refuses to shy away from his narrative also. ‘Bad Idea’ featuring Chance The Rapper for example, lays bare childhood vulnerabilities/realities that the rapper is still navigating through today. Throughout his references to lack of wealth, second-hand clothing and the ongoing mental erasure of this as a coping mechanism, it’s not only a sadness that ripples through the listeners mind and body, but also an acknowledgement of skill to be able to articulate such memories in a succinct and passionate manner. Ironically, ‘Bad Idea’ is produced by Jermaine Cole, perhaps hinting at a reconciliation from both parties.
Soon after, Cordae returns to his childhood, this time paired with a Take A Daytrip backing and edgier flow — more akin to the trap arena. Followed by bass and keyboard heavy soundscapes, the lyricst makes ‘Broke As F**k’ his own, acknowledging his PTSD over his brothers prison sentencing and his mental-stagnancy over fears of the future. At this point, it becomes apparent that (as stated on ‘Thanksgiving’) overthinking is a crucial crux in “The Lost Boy”.
Interestingly, after YBN Cordae acknowledges his truth and experiences that have shaped him to this day, he concludes that he is “thankful” for both the man he has become and for overcoming pain (on the slower-paced ‘Been Around’). The sharing of motivation, breaking cycles and perseverance become the closing arcs of the project.
Cordae leaps into a sense of high-self-esteem as ‘We Gon Make It’ begins and, with Meek Mill, channels a comeback spirit. As Mill recites his ambitions to change the legal precedents — interestingly enough he’s now complete his 11 year probationary sentence — the “Lost Boy” transitions into the “Leader of the renaissance,” and delivers premium verses filled with a combination of passion and skill that at this point, justify his self-titling. The classic, piano-led layering, adds the perfect ambiance for the pair to manifest their perseverance.
‘The Lost Boy’ speaks for itself. Both bold and filled with bravado, yet layered and emotional, YBN Cordae is able to convey his desires, hopes, and fears in an ambitious and well-thought out format. A strong debut from an artist who knows that he is capable of long-term success.
Words: Nicolas Tyrell
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