Last night, Maryland’s finest, YBN Cordae descended on London for his first ever show in the capital. Sadly, it was only a quick stop on what is an impressively extensive European tour, but as our conversation in the green room of Islington’s O2 Academy revealed, his work in the 48 hours he was here will continue to bear fruits as the months go on (more on that later). The show itself was an intimate one, but that worked to Cordae’s favour in many ways.
There were no casual fans there that night. Every last person in the room was a true ride-or-die fan that new every last word of even the deepest cuts. Despite being, in his own words, “sick as a bitch”, Cordae—bouncing around in his PUMA RS 9.8 Spaces—dominated the stage from start to finish, whipping up huge mosh-pits and building the energy to almost unbearable levels.
For anyone wanting to hear some new cuts from the album, that would have to wait. There were one or two snippets, but this was more about giving the fans what they wanted. His gratitude for the fans that supported him from day one (which, admittedly, wasn’t even that long ago for the rapidly ascending rapper) was palpable, from the immediate chemistry he had with the crowd to the countless fan photos he stayed for at the end.
As Cordae made clear to us below (and reiterated during the show itself), this was the beginning of something huge. This was about building a strong and long-lasting relationship with the day one fans that mean so much to him.
The PUMA RS 9.8 is available from 20th July in stores and online.
“This run is just for me to build my core audience that’s going to be with me forever.”
COMPLEX: Is this your first time in London?
Nah, this is my second time in London. First time performing, though.
How long are you here for?
I got here a couple of days ago, but I leave tomorrow morning.
Obviously, you have the new album, The Lost Boy, coming out. We’ve already heard one track, “Bad Idea” with Chance The Rapper, but what are you most excited for fans to hear from the new album?
Just everything as one, for everyone to hear the whole album as a complete body of work. I haven’t dropped the album yet so I’m trying to do everything with these songs. I just want everybody to hear it and hear my story. It really is a complete body of work.
Within a year of you changing your name from Entendre to YBN Cordae, you’ve played Rolling Loud, toured with Juice WRLD, and now you’re heading up your own tour with an album on the way. How does it all feel?
It’s dope! I’ve just realised I’ve got so much more to do. I’m just getting started, so I don’t really let it get to me. I just keep that tunnel vision and keep it going. We’re just getting started. Honestly, my mind is on longevity. I’m going to be here 20 years from now, still performing and still making music.
Do you have a long term plan figured out?
Yeah, I’ll be a billionaire. For real.
Are there any UK guys you’re really feeling right now?
Dave. Dave can rap like fuck.
Do you have any plans to collaborate with him or any other UK artists?
Yeah, me and Dave were in the studio last night. As soon as I landed, I went straight to the studio with him. It’s not done yet but we started some collaborative shit. Last time I was in Paris, I collaborated with [French rapper] Orelsan, so I like to make the most of being out here, collaborating with other artists.
A lot of people are talking about you and giving you co-signs and whatever. Do you feel like all eyes are on you? Is there a lot of pressure?
Not yet. I don’t really feel the pressure, it’s just like I said: stay humble, keep working, keep getting better. I’m a work horse. I really do this shit. I’m just doing what I was supposed to do, what I was built for.
Your influences read like a who’s who of classic hip-hop. Was there an older sibling or someone in your family introducing you to this stuff?
Oh, my pops, for sure. He got me into all that; Jay-Z, Rakim, Kool G Rap, all the GOATs.
Was he trying to encourage you into this career? Did he want you to be a rapper?
Fuck no! He was just trying to show me music. That was the last thing he wanted! Who in their right mind would want their kid to have a career as a rapper? Nobody! [Laughs] That’s got to be the most undesirable profession to be in or to aspire to.
Did it take a minute for him to get on board with it?
[My parents] just got on board with it. Rightfully so, though. If I have a son and he wants to be a rapper, I’m going to be like, “Get the fuck outta here! Take your ass to school!”
Are you still doing remix/freestyles like the J. Cole and Eminem ones?
Not really. I just did that because I knew it would blow up with the remixes because Eminem just had the classic jump. I just like freestyling. I do that on my own time—freestyling to classic beats is my shit.
I was going to bring up “Da Rockwilder” in particular. Did Redman or Method Man ever reach out to you?
It’s funny. I just met Method Man a couple days ago, last week actually. I just met him! He said he fucked with me and showed me love, so that was dope.
Are you finding those big names are reaching out to you more now?
Oh yeah, for sure. A bunch of different artists! I’m not going to say their names just yet, because they’re on the album. There’s not a crazy amount of collaborations on the album, just the right amount. In terms of them reaching out to me, it’s about half and half. There’s a mutual respect there with all of them.
Was it a different process going in the studio to make an album rather than singles or EPs?
Nah, it’s the same thing. It’s just a question of having the storyline and the focus to create a complete and cohesive album. That was my focus.
What is the storyline that runs through it?
There’s a lot of soul, a lot of folk even. It’s just myself, me being vulnerable, open and authentic to myself.
Of course, we’re here to talk about the PUMA collab too. How did that all come together?
Who? Oh, PUMA! Sorry, it’s not your accent, I thought you were talking about an artist! [Laughs] My management was the one who put that together and built the relationship with PUMA, but I’ve been wearing PUMA my entire life. Literally, that was my shit. I wore uniforms in middle school. In PG [Prince George's County] Maryland schools, you have to wear uniforms, so PUMA jackets and PUMA shoes were our way of accessorising. All we could wear was fleece jackets and windbreakers, so that was our way of having some individuality. And last year, when I was on tour with Juice WRLD, I kept wearing PUMAs to perform in. You know the RSXs? I kept wearing those for every performance because I really love the shoes.
So what do you have in store for tonight’s show?
Just giving it my all, man. It’s my first show in London, which is dope because I don’t even have an album out. It’s going to be dope coming back here this time next year; it’ll be like five times the masses, literally, so it’s really cool to see this in the beginning. This run is just for me to build my core audience that’s going to be with me forever. It’s about touching those fans. I want to build that core audience for the rest of my life.
Have you got any festivals booked this year?
Oh, man! I got the best booking agent ever. I’m on every one of them! Every last one of them, baby. Woo-Hah!, Splash Festival, Belgium, Switzerland, everywhere you can name.
Anything you’ve got coming up that you want to announce or plug?
Nah, man. Shout out PUMA. Shout out family. Shout out London. I got a lot of dope shit coming soon, but nothing I can talk about. Just billionaire status!