Cordae ‘From A Birds Eye View’ Review: Boring Prestige-Rap
Cordae is a good rapper. Cordae has always been a good rapper, and “good rapper” has always been Cordae’s main selling point. When Cordae first emerged from internet obscurity three and a half years ago, he seemed like an exceptional type of good rapper. At the time, he was known as YBN Cordae, and his affiliation with the rest of the young and viral YBN Crew put him on an insurgent wave of SoundCloud rapping. In this context, Cordae’s meandering technical flows and editorial precision stood out. But now that he’s released his second major-label rap album, the whole context of Cordae has changed, and so has his presentation. These days, Cordae still raps well, but he’s channeled all that good rapping into earning a permanent spot on awards nomination lists. Cordae is now a prestige rapper.
Cordae’s first song to go viral was a strong backlash against the rap values of previous generations. When Cordae released “Old N***as” in May 2018, it was a response to the brief little mini-beef between J. Cole and Cordae’s contemporary Lil Pump. Cordae, who was not quite 21 at the time, took issue with J. Cole’s condescending tone and his contemporaries used to speak of the rappers of the Cordae generation. Cordae fired back, “Lately all my idols, they been letting me down/ Catching sexual assaults and crimes/ So you want me to listen to what you tell me?/ And you want to hate when we sing our little melodies ?”
The irony, I suppose, was that Cordae addressed these concerns in language that older rappers could understand, throwing in Black Star references and rapping with the crisp elocution that the J. Coles of the world had castigated the generation” mumble-rap”. to give up. (Another irony: On the song, Cordae called out Kanye West for being a Trump supporter. A few years later, a delighted Trump would bring “Little Pimp” to the stage at one of his rallies.)
On “Old N***as,” Cordae came across as a thoughtful young man who spoke truth to power. The three letters at the start of his name said as much about his place in the rap world as his lyrics on the song. Cordae’s friend, YBN Nahmir, had already come into the world spitting nonchalant talk over Bay-style beats, and he’d created space for the rest of the YBN crew to make some noise. Cordae’s “Old N***as” video debuted on YouTube network WorldStar, which was its own kind of generational signifier. After “Old N***as” circulated, Cordae showed he could do more than just spark conversation. “Kung Fu,” the track Cordae released a few years later, was a dizzying technical clinic, delivered with ridiculous levels of energy. “Old N***as” went viral and started gaining attention. “Kung Fu” indicated that Cordae could be a Star.
The YBN Crew were creatures of the internet – a geographically dispersed collective who had primarily met while playing online video games. Nahmir was originally from Alabama. Almighty Jay, who would find semi-tabloid fame as the guy who dated Blac Chyna after his breakup with Rob Kardashian, was from Galveston, Texas. Cordae was from Maryland, and he was the only band member who did not join via video games; instead, the rest of the YBN Crew discovered him via SoundCloud, where he released songs under the terrible name Hear. Perhaps the off-center nature of the YBN Crew prevented these three rappers from becoming a totally cohesive unit. They took out their YBN: the mixtape soon after, the three rappers began to break out. The tape went gold, and it showed real flashes of promise, but it didn’t quite hold up. When Cordae released their first album The lost Boy a year later, he still had “YBN” in his name, but the other YBN guys weren’t there.
The lost Boy is a pretty decent debut album, but it lacks the carefree energy that Cordae brought to earlier tracks like “Kung Fu” and “Scottie Pippen.” The album has some traces of what I’ve come to think of as Chance The Rapper Disease – the tendency, among some young rappers, to chase after cheers. (Chance himself appeared on one track.) There’s nothing exciting on The lost Boy. Instead, it’s thoughtful, measured, and polished. A year earlier, Cordae had emerged as a potential mold-breaking talent. At The lost Boy, he seemed a little too preoccupied with an older generation’s idea of what a great young rapper should be – playing the game by the rules of old rappers.
By pure coincidence, The lost Boy came out the same day as The big day, Chance The Rapper’s own spectacular face of a major label debut. At the time, that meant The lost Boy has been largely neglected; a louder, more publicized album in the same mode had been released at the same time. But months later, Cordae was the longtime recipient of two Grammy nominations — spots that probably would have gone to Chance if Chance hadn’t completely crossed out his big shot. Cordae received a nice little boost from these nominations. He got another boost when he started dating tennis star Naomi Osaka, coming off as a good guy when he cheered her on from the sidelines. They look very cute together.
Cordae hasn’t exactly made a hit, but because of everything in that last paragraph, it has a certain visibility that far exceeds what most of its peers can claim. Last year, Cordae officially dropped the “YBN” from its name. The YBN crew had fractured and he was in a completely different career place than Nahmir or Almighty Jay. The split didn’t seem entirely amicable, but it wasn’t entirely controversial either. On his new album From a bird’s eye view, Cordae raps that he dropped the “YBN” from his name because he doesn’t own it, so managerial shit probably played a role there. (He owns “Cordae”; that’s his real first name.) In any case, Cordae was the only member of Team YBN who showed up in a Super Bowl commercial with Martin Scorsese and Jonah Hill last year. .
On “Super,” the first single from her new album, Cordae takes a moment to bask in her own good fortune: “Last year I made seven million/ I ain’t had to do a damn show/ Shout out to my niggas at Coca-Cola for the check they cut me at the Super Bowl Maybe that’s when I fired up the album Racking up endorsements is one thing. Bragging about your mentions on your own record is another thing. On that same song, Cordae brags about being friends with a former Twitter CEO: “Last night I texted Jack Dorsey / That’s the perks you get from being super dope.” East it’s an advantage? Are tech-bro billionaires really that interesting? Does naming a tech-bro billionaire make you less interesting? Yes it is the benefits you get, so I’m probably ok with not being super dope.
Cordae is 24 years old and he came from Waldorf, Maryland to join a global jet set elite. It’s not an easy thing to do, and it makes sense that Cordae is proud of him. Jay-Z and Nas, Grammy favorite rappers who are twice Cordae’s age, are currently screwing up their own legacy by doing these same kinds of investment portfolio raps, working under the unfortunate delusion that this kind of talk is somehow motivating. Cordae definitely wants to be considered among the ranks of guys like that. Last year Cordae was on a Nas album and an Eminem album. Nas was supposed to be on From a bird’s eye view; for some reason, his Freddie Gibbs/Stevie Wonder collaboration feature “Champagne Glasses” didn’t make the final cut. Eminem is on the album, lending a typically long and delicate verse to “Parables (Remix)”. Cordae got into the game arguing with old rappers, and now he’s doing a lot of songs with old rappers. That says something.
The sound model of From a bird’s eye view is calm and restrained, full of whispering acoustic guitar and muted trap percussion. On Lil Wayne’s collab “Sinister,” Cordae lays out his goals: “I’m not going anywhere, 20 year career minimum / Call Hit-Boy for beats, ask for 10.” It is exactly the problem. “Sinister,” it turns out, is the only hit-boy beat on the album. But all the tracks fit the same elegantly boring cocktail-jazz-rap mode as the beats Hit-Boy recently created for Nas or Big Sean or Benny The Butcher. Hit-Boy was once an exciting and rambunctious rap producer, but he’s now fully in the prestige zone as well. This is clearly where Cordae wants to be.
Another of the guests on From a bird’s eye view is R&B singer-songwriter HERHER has undeniable talent, but I couldn’t sing you one of her songs if my life depended on it. Her career seems to mostly function as an endless procession of award show appearances. I would hate to see Cordae go down the same path, but judging by From a bird’s eye view, that’s what he wants. I guess I don’t blame him. There is clearly a stable future in this area. It’s just not exciting. It’s boring. You can be a good rapper and still be boring.
1. JID – “Surround Sound” (Feat. 21 Savage & Baby Tate)
JID and Cordae have similar styles, and they appeared similar, but they go in different directions. JID could take the prestige rap route, but so far he’s too restless and energetic to fall into that career path. “Surround Sound” is a dizzying and catchy showcase, and it has the riveting spectacle of 21 Savage attempting to replicate JID’s flow – mostly succeeding too.
2. Big Cheeko – “Spin Off” (Feat. Mach-Hommy)
In all of music history, very few people have ever looked cooler than Mach-Hommy with the flamethrower. I love how this relatively simple beat forces Mach to lock in tight, and I love how Atlanta’s Big Cheeko has enough gravity to avoid being overwhelmed.
3. Rod Wave – “Cold December”
This Lil Durk/Morgan Wallen song hit big numbers, and I get it. It’s more catchy than we care to admit. But when we have Rod Wave singing over a Hank Williams, Jr. sample, then we don’t really need that we ? This is the promise of RMR’s ”Rascal”, kept.
4. Kevin Gates – “President”
Kevin Gates has fire in his eyes. Everyone should be afraid.
5. DaBoii – “Bananas”
Oooh-oooh, that’s my shit, that’s my shit.