YBN Cordae’s The Lost Boy’ rais­es the bar for con­tem­po­rary rap debuts

Review: In a landscape of Xanax-inspired, mumbled flows, Cordae champions lyrical dexterity without frowning upon his peers.

Rat­ing: 45

In Sound­Cloud terms, YBN Nahmir’s 2017 viral hit Rub­bin’ Off The Paint already feels ancient. Record­ed on a cheap mic in the Alaba­ma teenager’s bed­room, the catchy song rapid­ly became so pop­u­lar that Nah­mir had to stop attend­ing school and take online class­es instead. But this kind of inter­net buzz doesn’t guar­an­tee career longevi­ty. Like so many like-mind­ed sin­gles in this unpre­ten­tious new wave, Nahmir’s chart suc­cess­es in the US seemed to speak more to the fast and furi­ous nature of online music con­sump­tion than to Nahmir’s com­mer­cial prospects as a new rap star. 

Much to the sur­prise of those who’d rea­son­ably ruled him out, Nahmir’s YBN col­lec­tive – which counts around 20 mem­bers across the US – offered more sub­stance than the usu­al crew of weed car­ri­ers and hang­ers-on rap­pers often try to ele­vate. And YBN Cor­dae has out­shone Nah­mir. Unde­ni­ably gift­ed, the LA-via-North Car­oli­na artist impressed a reflex­ive­ly scep­ti­cal set of lis­ten­ers with his agile freestyles. At a time when so many were dis­grun­tled by a per­ceived dearth of lyri­cism in rap’s next-gen­er­a­tion, here came some­one who could spit intri­cate bars, lurk­ing in the shad­ows of a peer who, by most accounts, could not. 

As debut albums go, the 21-year-old Cordae’s eclipses the com­pe­ti­tion in con­tem­po­rary rap. The Lost Boy is the kind of album that lyri­cal­ly-focused rap­pers stuck in the new tal­ent tar pits at labels like Dreamville and Top Dawg aspire – and fail – to make. 

Open­er Win­ter­time is a self-described lyri­cal exer­cise that ref­er­ences Mar­tin Luther King Jr.’s mar­i­tal infi­deli­ties and cites Maya Angelou and Find­ing Dory with­in breaths of one anoth­er. He switch­es up flows to accom­mo­date the beat, a skill he repris­es on the hard-hit­ting album high­light Broke As Fuck, dur­ing which he address­es his dark­est woes: present Grand­ma passed, had a heart attack, only 62 / My cousin shot, got me para­noid, who to trust or not / Gave my broth­er 25 years, that real­ly sucked a lot / Post-trau­mat­ic stress is build­ing up”.

But like so many lyri­cal­ly dex­ter­ous new rap­pers with the old heads’ approval, Cor­dae doesn’t frown upon his peers with mum­bled flows and lyrics about lean and Xan­nies. He made his posi­tion crys­tal clear on Old Nig­gas, a thought­ful response to J. Cole’s 1985 which was per­ceived to be a diss to the Sound­cloud generation. 

Still, Cordae’s crew­mates like YBN Nah­mir and Almighty Jay are notably absent from The Lost Boy, and instead, he fea­tures estab­lished major names like Chance The Rap­per, Pusha T, and Ty Dol­la $ign. Next to Meek Mill on the soul­ful and heart­felt We Gon Make It, the dis­tinct glim­mer of a Kendrick cir­ca Section.80 comes through in Cordae’s per­for­mance. If The Lost Boy is any indi­ca­tion, we might have a new major play­er in the con­tem­po­rary rap scene. 

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