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.