As the game is more divided now than it arguably ever has been, the younger generation of listeners is far more interested in melody than lyrics. For artists that can combine a conscious approach with a particularly vibey atmosphere, they're offering the best of both worlds. Not very many rappers can say that they're hitting on both categories, YBN Cordae is one of the few that has the ability to (adeptly) delve into both. His ties to YBN Nahmir, YBN Almighty Jay, and the remainder of his YBN crew enable him to focus on melody and creating hype music. However, his drive to become the best to have ever picked up a microphone pushes him further into a lyrical sphere.
With only a few releases under his belt in "Kung Fu," "Fighting Temptations," "Old N---as," and a freestyle over Eminem's "My Name Is," the 20-year-old Maryland native is just now familiarizing himself with the spotlight. With his head screwed on tight, Cordae feels little pressure as he sets goals for himself that are higher than anybody else's expectations.
Truly wanting to be the best in the world, the YBN member is gearing up to release the best project of the year. Not going into too much detail about it, his passion makes me believe that he truly means it when he says it's going to be some "more dope shit." We spoke with YBN Cordae to gauge where he's headed and how he's gotten this far in only a few months. Our interview is below.
HotNewHipHop: Hey Cordae - what's up?
YBN Cordae: What’s good bro, how are you?
I’m very good, it’s nice to speak to you. I wanna ask a bit about the YBN crew because y’all are super tight and have very different approaches to music. You’re definitely the most lyrical of the bunch. What did you grow up listening to in order to get you to that stage lyrically?
I was listening to was a lot of like, Nas, Big L, Rakim, Jay-Z and like Kanye, Kendrick, J. Cole. Guys of that nature. From there, I would do my own research based on YouTube. If you find one thing, you can get lost in the "recommended" section. I pretty much did my research through that. But you know, obviously the Travis Scott's, Kendrick Lamar’s and J. Cole's had a big influence. T.I. had a big influence on me as well. Plus the cats I’m working with now like 21 Savage and everybody. Just a combination of all of that.
For a 20-year-old to be making the kind of music you do, you can tell you’ve been listening to a lot of different sources.
Yeah, for sure.
In terms of the YBN crew, I consider you guys to be somewhat of a genius crew because every rap fan is bound to like one of your sounds. There’s Nahmir who’s catering to the street sound, there’s Jay who’s like the viral internet celebrity, and then there’s you who’s doing the lyrical stuff, catering to another group. Was that a conscious decision that you guys made or was it more organic?
Nah, it just happened that way, dog. We didn’t think about it like, “yo, you do this style, I do this style”, but together, we all perfect. It’s just literally what our individual style is and combined, we like to call ourselves the [Golden State] Warriors 'cause all of us cater to like a completely different audience. We’re all so dope and so different, it makes us the perfect balance.
The comparison to the Warriors makes sense because you guys are kind of like a super team. The three of you are on the come-up at the same time and y’all are doing big things. Is there any sort of competition between you, Nahmir, Jay, and others in the YBN crew to outperform one another?
Oh yeah, for sure. It’s friendly competition. So like Nahmir will go in the stu and make a hit and it’s gonna wanna make me go to the studio that same day and get to cooking, making my best work. If Nahmir goes super hard it’s gonna wanna make me go hard too. We created a culture of work ethic because of our friendly competition. And it’s not necessarily like, we won’t be competing with each other on that level but it’s just a creative quality level. One of us could go in there and freestyle a song in like 5 minutes and I’ll be like "you know what, I like this song, I’m 'bout to freestyle too."
Your response to J. Cole’s “1985” was a lot of people’s introduction to you earlier this year. Many had possibly heard about you but hadn’t been exposed to a song before that. What pushed you to record "Old [N*****]" cause it sounds like it’s straight from the heart?
I was just inspired by what J. Cole had said. It sparked a creative mindset and it sparked a conversation and I always have conversations that cater to that so it was effortless. I wrote that in literally 10 minutes. It was dope.
What are you most excited about being on tour with Juice WRLD, Lil Mosey and guys like that?
Just performing in front of fans and seeing them every day. It's one thing on the internet and it's another thing for like face-to-face interaction with fans. And they’re all dope artists too so it’s dope.
A lot of people are saying that out of all the rappers coming up right now, you’re gonna be the one to bridge the generational gap. Does that come with any pressure?
Honestly, it’s no pressure. I always knew I was gonna do that. I set my own goals higher than what anybody else has set for me.
I also think your head is screwed on correctly. How do you stay grounded like that?
I got a good team around me. I got OG’s, I got a dope management team, I got dope people around me. You know what I’m saying? All that keeps me grounded and keeps my head on straight. I just got my own balance and I’ve been through a lot of shit in my life and I lost a lot of shit so I don’t wanna lose that again. I just want it so bad. I wanna be the best so bad. I got tunnel vision. I’m not about to let no stupid shit get in the way.
On the topic of stupid shit, I wanted to ask about whatever is going on with IDK because, in the past, he’s shouted you out but...
Oh nah, that’s my homie. He’s just often trolling and shit. That’s my homie. Not even off no trolling shit, it’s just funny. That’s my guy.
I had a feeling because I saw that comment about the YBN Cordae diss track coming out and I was like "what the hell, I’ve seen these two dudes shout each other out before."
Yeah, he’s from Maryland. We both from Maryland so that’s my guy. He commented that and told me about it and I was laughing. Ain’t nobody worried about that. He was just being funny. We be downing on each other all the time.
I have to ask… What was your reaction when you found out about Jay and Blac Chyna?
I was like "Man, what the fuck!?" Like "bruh, get the fuck outta here!" I was like "shut up" and then to like see it everyday and shit. It’s just funny, dog. It’s just mad funny.
Nahmir was on the XXL Freshman List this year and your name keeps coming up next to Juice WRLD for the 2019 list. Obviously, that’s in a year but what would it mean for you to make that XXL Freshman list?
It would be dope, it would be dope. It’s a goal for sure, it’s a goal for sure.
I feel like you would kill the freestyle and cypher material.
Yeah, I’ma have the best one! I’ma have the best one, by far.
This year, you’ve only dropped a few songs overall. What’s the first Cordae project going to sound like and do you have any plans on when it’s going to come out?
I don’t know when it’s gonna come out but I’m working on it now and it’s beautiful.
When you get in the studio, what’s your process like? Do you have any weird rituals or habits or anything?
Nah, I just go in there and record. I listen to the beat and I start freestyling and get a hang of my flow and after that, I just hit record.
If you could listen to one album for the rest of your life, which would it be?
Either Kanye West’s Graduation or... actually probably Kanye West’s Graduation.
Last week you dropped "Kung Fu." What can we expect moving forward from you?
More dope music, bro. More dope singles and the best project of the year. Dope shit.
I’ll let you chill with your family but thanks for taking a few minutesto talk to me, bro. You’ve got a big future ahead of you. God bless.
I appreciate you, bro. God bless you.