EXCLUSIVE: Why YBN Cordae May Be The Hip Hop Dalai Lama Of His Generation
When it comes to talent, drive and impressive levels of woke-ness, YBN Cordae is proving that age really ain't nothing but a number.
After releasing his 2014 mixtape Anxiety, his 2016 efforts I'm So Anxious and the follow-up, I'm So Anonymous two years later, Cordae finally debuts his first solo album, The Lost Boy. The album boasts collaborations from the likes of Chance The Rapper, Pusha T, Anderson Paak and more.
Recently the 21-year-old rapper sat down with BET Digital to discuss his latest project and what's next in his career. Check out what YBN Cordae had to say about music, mental-health and finding himself through The Lost Boy.
BET: So since you're at BET, let's piggyback to your performance at the BET Awards with singer H.E.R. So many people were talking about it, especially since it was such a nice tribute to Sudan. Not enough people in the industry, be it hip hop or elsewhere, are talking about it.
How did that collaboration and performance come about, and also, how do you feel in regards to the response of that performance.
YBN Cordae: I actually got the call from Jeff Robinson - H.E.R.'s manager. So they hit me up like three days before the show and told me about it. It's funny because I was just watching 'When They See Us,' and I was also inspired by the current events that were going on from me watching the situation with the Sudanese protestors, and everything else.
So for the show I just wrote what was authentic to me at the time. They sent me the song and I just wrote what I was feeling. It's been pretty good reviews and receptions, so it's been dope. I prayed before I performed. I always do that before I perform, but I wanted to make the most of it this one, and to have people feel it in an authentic way.
BET: For those who know you, that's not even your first time being vocal on social issues. Your visibility has obviously heightened in the past few years, but you have always been forward facing when it comes to activism.
We saw a clip of you protesting for Black Lives Matter, so I'd appreciate if you could touch a little bit on that, because many people in this generation of hip hop are not necessarily discussing social issues enough. When did you get so self-aware and have this passion to talk about the community and our problems?
YBN: Really since I was young. I would always read a lot. I used to read a bunch of Harry Potter books, but then my parents would be like, 'Well if you can read this big ass Harry Potter book, you can read about your own history. You can read this W.E.B Dubois' The Souls of Black Folk. You can read up on Thurgood Marshall, about Marcus Garvey and A. Philip Randolph.' So I just became very aware off that.
And then when President Obama - that was the same year Obama went into office - that was like a big increase in inspiration for for me, and all that happened around the same year.
BET: You were like, what 10, during the election?
YBN: Yep, yep. So just all of that. That's what really got me into this headspace. It's touching, you know? Just coming from where we come from. My grandmother was a sharecropper. That wasn't even that long ago! My grandma was a sharecropper.
My grandma is four years younger than Martin Luther King [would've been]. So she was prime in that era. She born in North Carolina, she was just telling me that she dropped out of school when she was in 4th grade. That's crazy! She had to drop out school to work and help support her family. She was the eldest of like, 10 brothers and sisters. She was just talking about things she went through growing up.
BET: That most certainly was not because you're so young.
YBN: Nah, my grandma on my mom's side is mad old. She was born in 1933. So she was in that time. In the middle of it.
BET: I read about your father putting you on to old school hip hop, so clearly there were some influences in your home that were, well, influential to your character today. Now that I'm hearing you drop all of these activists' names, and talking about these authors who were, and still are, very impactful, tell us what was your upbringing was like.
YBN: It was mainly my step-pops, for real, that made me very self-aware of the world and of myself, and being young Black male in this world, and just keeping it a buck with how sh*t is.
BET: You being a Hip Hop artist, obviously these things impact you when you make your music. Tell me what inspired you to get into hip hop?
YBN: I just always loved rap music; I always loved hip hop. I fell in love with that when I was like, four [years-old]. Literally. I fell in love with music and I started writing when I was like, nine. I always loved music, and writing.
BET: You ever find it difficult to create, considering that in the earlier days of rap music, people kind of wrote with more purpose or intention? Like, they'd mix both pop-culture and social issues into their music. These days you kind of have to make music more so for the clubs or "turn up," in mind. Do you ever feel conflicted with what you write, or do you write what is natural to Cordae?
YBN: I just write what is natural to me. Just being authentic, and just writing whatever comes to mind. You can't be like, 'The overly woke ni**a.' Nobody wants to hear that, and it comes off disingenuous.
I'm politically incorrect. I don't get into politics like that. I speak about what I know and what effects me personally, and effects my folks. Whatever I can inspire to speak on. Because when you get too political as an artist, it seems less than genuine, like you're getting paid by [someone]. You know what I'm saying? It's crazy. But yeah, I just speak whatever is relative to my life, things I've gone through, things I've experienced, and hings I've witnessed.
BET: We know who some of your influences, that you still listen to now, as an artist.
YBN: Jay-Z, Nas the top 2. For sure.
BET: So now let's talk about The Lost Boy. I want to know the inspiration behind the name, and what went into it. Walk me through the process of coming about this project.
YBN: So The Lost Boy, the way I came up with that name, is funny. There was an old intro that I had, and I was like (starts singing) 'I'm just another lost boy tryna find my way,' and I'm not even using that intro on the album, which is funny. So that's really what made me inspired to come up with the name.
Then I just found myself saying that a lot in the music I was writing at the time. It was like a reoccurring theme, and name I was calling myself. It kind of made me take a step back and look at myself from like a therapeutic way, like, 'Why do I keep saying this?' Because I realized, I wasn't completely calling myself "lost," but in a sense, everybody is lost. In some way.
I was just struggling to find my path in life, and where was I headed. What do I want out of life? What do I want out of music, and why do I do this? So that's what the represents- just finding your path.
BET: One thing I've realized when 20-somethings show signs of intelligence, they feel they have life all figured out, and that there is nothing left to it outside of what they are feeling in that moment. And they get overwhelmed easily.
YBN: Na, hell nah. I don't have kids. I still have so much more to experiences to enjoy and get out of life.
BET: I just want to make sure, because usually when I come across a lot of intellectual, young artists - and it's very rare- I find that they overwhelm themselves to the point of self-sabotage. I don't want you to be on that!
YBN: Nah, never that (laughs)
BET: So even though you said, 'Therapeutic' in passing just now, another trend that I'm noticing, that I personally enjoy, is that a lot of people are now being more open about self-care and mental health.
YBN: Yeah, for sure, our generation, we're really vulnerable. This generation of artists and people -we're extremely vulnerable. We're not afraid to admit when we're not where we want to be, or afraid to admit our own deepest insecurities, or things we're going through. It's a lot more open. Actually, to the point where it's very casual. Ni**as talk about their depression casually as f***.
I remember when I was in college, somebody was like, 'Yea, you know I went through this whole depression thing.' I sat beside this one chick, literally - this one woman in class - and I just asked about the homework. It was the first day introduction, and she was telling me 'I was just depressed, and you know, suicidal. But that was just a phase. I'm passed that now.' She said that like it was nothing!
But it's dope, because that's how expressive we are, versus holding it in. Our parents weren't very accepting or open to talking about mental health or mental health issues. It's like, 'What you sad for? You got a house and a roof over your head, and a meal to eat.' They take it as an offense. They take offense to it.
I remember I told my mom one time when I was in high school, that I was depressed and sad, and she said, 'What you depressed for? What I do ain't good enough?' She took it personally. She was like, ''What I do isn't good enough for you, that you're sad?"
I read this book called Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, and The Strange Career of Jim Crow. It was just talking about how the oppressed tends to take on traits of the oppressor. Like, why do we like driving in Crown Vics so much? Because that's a cop car. It was just a bunch of things like that.
BET: What do you feel your overall purpose in life is.
I feel like I'm supposed to be on some Dali Lama shit. Like, for real. That's what I want to aspire to be. To change and enlighten people in anyway I can. Just have conversations with people, on the train one day.
It's funny. Having a dope mindset and good energy is rare, and you just putting a little bit of your light into someone else can change their whole perspective on lif just doing that. Word of mouth is still the number one access to information.
BET: So you're like a hip hop Dalai Lama?
YBN: That's a bar! That's mine. I came up with that (laughs!) I should call myself the hip hop Dalai Lama!
Be sure to check out the tracklist for YBN's latest project here. The Lost Boy is out now!