The YBN crew first popped off back in September 2017 when YBN Nahmir blew up with his hit song "Rubbin' Off the Paint." In the following months, he proved his staying power as he continued to reel off hits with the help of YBN Almighty Jay, an 18-year-old rapper who famously dates Blac Chyna.
Now there’s YBN Cordae, the third member of the Young Boss Niggas crew. He brings a new sound to the group—a "lyrical forcefield" as he calls it. Cordae has only put out two songs so far, but he’s already stirred up lots of conversation and proven he isn’t afraid of taking risks. After remixing Eminem’s classic "My Name Is," he dropped "Old Niggas," a response to J. Cole’s "1985." The song finds Cordae going full bars mode as he attempts to dismantle the old hip-hop heads vs. new rappers debate.
Born in North Carolina and raised as a DMV product of PG County Maryland, Cordae is uniquely equipped to bridge rap's stylistic divide. In some ways, he's a hip-hop purist with a focus on lyricism and an extensive knowledge of the game. But as a member of the YBN crew, he also has all the personality and youthful appeal of today's exciting new wave of rappers.
Speaking on his goal to unite rap's growing divide, he says, "We're arguing and shit, but at the end of the day, we all look the same to the police. The old heads look like the young niggas to the police. We all go through the same struggles and we're all under the same oppressors. Not to sound like Huey from The Boondocks and shit, but it's real. At the end of the day it's like, why are we arguing with each other? Why are we going through this generational shit when there's bigger shit at hand? Y'all are supposed to be our guiding forces and the people we can go to for shit."
Watch his "Old Niggas" video below and continue for our interview with YBN Cordae.
When did you start making music?
I was always writing music and shit when I was young but I didn't start recording until I was like 15 or 16. That's when like Pro Era was killing shit. RIP Capital Steez. But I didn't really take rap seriously or anything until about a year ago. I was writing rhymes way earlier than that, but that's when I started consistently recording.
What about YBN? What is YBN and who’s in YBN?
Me, Nahmir, and Almighty Jay. We're the three artists. Then you got the head huncho Glizzy, Fresh the DJ, and Lil Manny. We the hottest young niggas out right now. We're the perfect balance with me, Nahmir, and Jay. Nahmir pumps the hits out. Then you’ve got Jay. He’s the wild nigga. [Laughs]. But Jay really cranks, he's about to drop a hit. Jay’s definitely the headline man, the one who gets the most TMZ love but he really about to go crazy. And then there's me.
How did you join YBN?
It happened through this internet shit. That's the age we live in now, just following each other for a minute. Every time I was out in LA, Nahmir and them would just let me stay at their crib because I'd always be going back and forth between Maryland and LA. Every time I went out there, they'd just show me mad love. I was just with them niggas all the time on some homie shit, not even on any rap shit yet. Just hanging with my brothers and it just worked out.
How would you classify YBN?
YBN is family. Everybody in YBN is family. Nahmir and Jay, those are really my brothers. And we're all Young Boss Niggas. That's the acronym, it's perfect. Those are my brothers for real and they got a lyrical force field around them now so for any rappers that try to diss Nahmir or Jay, I don't wanna hear nothing.
How would you say you fit in with YBN Nahmir and YBN Almighty Jay?
We're all in our own lane. It's such a perfect fit that we're not stepping on each other's toes at all. We're all the same age, too, so it just keeps me motivated. Competition is the best form of motivation. We're brothers at the end of the day, but when I’m in the studio with Nahmir or Jay and I hear them make hits, that shit make me wanna go harder.
We're all workaholics and that's the culture that we've started in this YBN shit—just working working, working. Even when we back in LA, we just wanna be in the studio perfecting our craft. That's sort of the system we're building now. We never get satisfied or complacent, because we're just getting started. We really wanna take over the game. We wanna be the number one niggas out. Platinum plaques. We want Grammys, all that shit. It's just a culture of working, that's what we got over here.
From the young niggas perspective, we don't have a spokesperson for us. There's no one really speaking up for themselves that way through song.
You’re bringing a unique flavor to the crew, being more of a lyrical purist. Is that a concerted effort or just kinda how things turned out?
Bro, it just happened. We didn't plan this. Everybody thinks this is like a constructed plan, but it really just happened. It's just God's plan honestly. It's just God's timing and God setting everything up. The way it all came together perfectly, we couldn't make this shit up. It just happened like that.
I’ve seen people clownin' on Twitter saying things like YBN is recruiting new dudes every week. What’re your thoughts on the notion that you came out of nowhere?
I think it just seems like that because I'm just now dropping music, but I been around for a while. You can look at old ass interviews with Nahmir and Jay, and I'm just like in the background on some behind the scenes type shit.
If you think about it, that's how a lot of artists are. Like, if you look back in 2012 and watch the “Versace” video, you'll see Rich the Kid in that video. Or like Gunna with Young Thug. So I've just always been around. Those always been my brothers, but I just started releasing music. We ain't recruiting nobody, we already got the dream team. Unless you get a face tat! For anyone out there, if you get a face tat with 'YBN' all across your eyes, that's dedication and we got you because that's the only thing we missing: “A nigga with a face tat.”
How would you describe your sound?
Soulful shit. I make that shit that touches your soul, that the average human being can relate to. There's no way I’ma play this shit if you not about to nod yo head to it, and you not about to feel that shit in your soul and in your heart of hearts. It brings out certain emotions. I want my music to make you reminiscent or nostalgic of your childhood, or take you back to a better place. You know how you listen to a song and you remember exactly where you were when you first heard that song? That's the kind of impact I want my music to have. So you can bump this shit ten years from now and be like, "Yo, I was in college struggling and this got me through that." I want that therapeutic, healing music that can help people get through some shit.
I've heard some people refer to your stuff as backpack rap. Would you say that's accurate?
Nah, I don't wanna get boxed into anything, especially that backpack rap shit. I can see where they got that from, with me dropping the two remixes and my first two videos being remakes, but that's not my shit at all. We gon' see who's backpack rap after these next couple joints though.
Why did you decide to drop remixes first?
It just happened to be like that. With "My Name Is," I needed an introduction to the YBN shit. That was the perfect introduction track to the world. Making both of them joints statement songs got everybody's attention and showcased my lyrical ability. Shout out my homie Wayne because when I first played that beat he was like, "Yo if you get on fucking Eminem's 'My Name Is,' you gotta absolutely destroy that shit." That's true. You can't just get on an Eminem beat and say no half ass shit. You gotta go insane!
With the J. Cole "1985" shit, I just heard the song and it inspired me to give old niggas my perspective. From the young niggas perspective, we don't have a spokesperson for us. There's no one really speaking up for themselves that way through song. Everybody else is talking shit in interviews and on social media. That's cool, because that's their shit, but I feel like somebody needed to do this.
I feel like "Old Niggas" was one of the first really constructive piece of dialogue in this conversation of the new rappers vs. old hip hop heads. Why did you approach it in the way you did?
First, it wasn't a diss. It was just a response from the young niggas' perspective, and it wasn't even directly speaking to J Cole. It was just speaking to the old heads with that mentality of the hip-hop gatekeepers and shit. Somebody had to do it.
You know what also really inspired the J Cole response track, though? It's crazy, but my car broke down. My tire was messed up and the old head from my neighborhood helped me change my tire and shit and we just started having a real dope ass conversation. I told him there's such a disconnect, and the conversation we were having doesn't happen often. The fact that my tire broke down and I went to him and he helped me and we just had a really dope conversation. I'm like, where's the disconnect? I was just like, "Man it's because we don't listen," and then he was like, “Nah it's because we just be talking and we don't show action." That's what sparked that line, "Young niggas don't listen and we know it, well old niggas always talking, never show it." That conversation is what really set it off.
I always think about the fact that hip-hop hasn't been around very long, and like any other art form, it has to evolve. It’s going to continue to evolve. But people don’t like change, I suppose.
Exactly. If you think about it, hip-hop came out of nothing. It was a response to oppression. I mentioned that in the song. When hip-hop first came out, everybody was like, "What the fuck is this shit?" They just thought it was a little trend, but look where it is now: the top genre in the fucking world. Hip-hop has always been evolving. First you had the OGs, the originators of it all. Then you had lyricism come in towards the '80s and '90s, with guys like Rakim and Kool G Rap doing the multi-syllable rhymes type shit. Then you had Biggie, Nas, and Jay Z really perfect the art of storytelling. Hip-hop has always been evolving.
"All in the same boat but still in a stuck position." That line stuck out to me.
Yeah, man. Because we're arguing and shit, but at the end of the day, we all look the same to the police. The old heads look like the young niggas to the police. We all go through the same struggles and we're all under the same oppressors. Not to sound like Huey from The Boondocks and shit, but it's real. At the end of the day it's like, why are we arguing with each other? Why are we going through this generational shit when there's bigger shit at hand? Y'all are supposed to be our guiding forces and the people we can go to for shit.
Why did you say you trust God, Mos Def, and Talib Kweli? As opposed to other old guys that you mentioned you don’t look up to (Kanye West, R Kelly, and Bill Cosby) ?
It was just like, I don't trust y'all. Like, y'all don’t got my best interests at heart. I can only trust God and then Black Star. I don't know them personally, but they've always been for the people. They've always been for the real.
at the end of the day, we all look the same to the police. The old heads look like the young niggas to the police. We all go through the same struggles and we're all under the same oppressors.
I think you made a great point about how older guys passed this game down to you and now you're just following in their footsteps.
If your dad is a drug dealer and shit and you get older and start selling drugs, then how could your dad be super mad at you? It's a weird thing, man. It's just one of those things. It's a constant back and forth, because there are so many different perspectives and aspects of it that make it such a complicated thing to dissect. Literally, we could talk about this shit for hours.
Rap has become an outlet of sorts for young black people to stay off the streets and get money in today’s society. If anything, older guys should be happy for young rappers, right?
Exactly. When Yachty first came out, he was getting a lot of flack from the old head community. But at the end of the day, they should be rooting for us. Also, there are a lot of dope OGs out there who know what's up! But to the few who don’t, it's like, at the end of the day we're staying out of the streets. We ain't out here killing nobody. We ain't out here selling drugs, doing no wild shit. Instead of being a product of our environment, we're able to speak on the shit that's going on. We're able to generate wealth from that, so why hate on these cats? Like, Yachty, he's rich. He's rich as fuck! The long way!
Why hate on the youngins when we're just out here getting money, instead of being in the streets and getting killed? I've lost a lot of homies in that life. My little brother is in jail and shit, so I've seen that shit firsthand. So instead of doing that, why don't we speak about the shit that's going on and rap about it? Just shut the fuck up and let us do our thing.
In the song, you said you could get rich, wear diamonds, and flex, but still talk about important things. It's not mutually exclusive, right?
Yeah, it's like Jay Z made "Big Pimpin'!" Literally in the same album Jay Z was kicking knowledge and dropping "Big Pimpin'" at the same time. Nas made "You Don't Know Me" and "Oochie Wally." That's just a part of the shit we're going through. I'ma still wear all my Gucci flip flops and the diamond with the big rocks. A chain for a rapper is like Samson's hair from the Bible. It's just embedded in a rapper's DNA. Every rapper in the hip-hop era had a dope chain at some point. Even J. Cole got "Mr. Nice Watch."
What do you think about the bigger picture of all of this? Lots of times we fight and bicker amongst ourselves when we could be working together for something bigger.
That's always been a problem, in history in general. It's the same in the black community, too. We'll be fighting each other when there's a larger problem at hand. The old heads and new niggas are over here fighting and shit, while we're letting a bunch of culture vulture, culture appropriating ass mothafuckas like Lil Tay get in the game. You know what I mean? Like, she probably about to start rapping and shit.
I saw a tweet saying you’re the Avatar unifying the rap nations out here. How do you feel about that?
Yo, I seen that! That was mad funny. It's perfect, I'm in an Avatar state right now, 24/7. That was the perfect analogy.
It seems like you have a lot of knowledge about the history of rap. What were you listening to early on?
At like 10 years old, my pops put me on to Nas, Jay-Z, Big L, and Eric B & Rakim. And of course he would play us Tupac and Biggie in the car. I would love it so much that I would go and do my own research. I would go home and YouTube more shit and look it up and listen to that stuff all the time. Then of course you got the guys like J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Drake. That's the big three right there. You got Joey Badass, you got Travis Scott who goes fuckin' crazy, he's a big influence on me. Kid Cudi of course, and even Chance the Rapper. Lately, I've been listening to the new niggas, though, who're doing their thing. Like Lil Yachty cranks for real. Kodak, too. Free Kodak! So it's just like a balance of all that. In order to be a great, you have to study the greats.
How has being from the DMV influenced you?
The DMV just has its own style and sound. We even have our own subgenre in music with Go-Go. The culture is so crazy. The lingo goes crazy. Our fashion goes crazy. We just have our own unique culture in general. We've just got our own swag. When you hear someone talking and they just say certain words like "Kill mo" or "Jai like" or any of our signature slang, you already know where they're from. Or if you just see somebody with some New Balance, you just know where they're from 9 times out of 10. We just got our own shit and we have a lot of influence on the game.
Who is Simba to you? I've seen you and Nahmir saying "Free Simba" before. Is that how you and Nahmir got connected?
Yeah, he definitely has something to do with it. Simba is my little brother, I actually just got off the phone with him today. He's sort of like the bridge for me and Nahmir, but he's never met Nahmir in person. Nahmir saw me because of the song I had with Simba. He told me he rocked with that joint like a brick ago. Every time I'd go to LA, I'd be with him. That's really my homie for life. Free Simba though, he gon' be home soon.
I want to make a change in people's lives. If I can help someone get through a bad day or some tough times by listening to my music, that would be super dope.
What do you hope to achieve through rap?
I just wanna make a change, bro. I want to make a change in people's lives. If I can help someone get through a bad day or some tough times by listening to my music, that would be super dope. Personally, I want to be the biggest artist ever. I want to be the number one non-negotiable artist. The most impactful, best artist in every facet of music. The number on artist period. All the accolades, classic albums, all that shit. And I want to do all that while staying true to myself, true to my music. I want to be the king of this shit.
When I say we wanna be the best, I mean it. That means I wanna have the best music, the best shows, the best interviews, the best merch, everything. At the end of the day, I am an artist and a creative, so why limit myself to one avenue? There's so many avenues for me to express my creativity and show off my mental capabilities. We're calling ourselves Young Boss Niggas. That's a bold statement. We've got to act like a boss, think like a boss and move like a boss.
You did two million views on your first video and now a million views on your second video in the first day. How does that all feel?
It feels dope, bro. It's a good start. It's more motivation for me to go harder. On my next video, I want 10 million views in a day. It's like I was saying before, its about acknowledging where I'm at. I'm happy. I'm super appreciative of all the support. I'm super thankful for everybody who been supporting. A lot of OGs have been posting my shit. Shout out Royce da 5'9. It's really dope to see all the love and support I've been getting, but it's all motivation for me to keep going harder. I know what my ceiling is and I know that I'm nowhere near my ceiling yet. I know that I've still got a lot of work to do. I've still gotta perfect my craft. I've still gotta get better and I've still gotta drop really, really dope music. We're just getting started for real.
What does it mean to you that you’re kinda blowing up now?
It's cool, but I expected this. I've been mentally preparing myself for bricks, so I'm just staying grounded and staying humble. If we're being real, man, I still ain't even scratched the surface yet. I've still got a lot of work to do—my 10,000 hours to put in. I've still got so much more that I want to do and that I'm going to do. I'm still in the beginning stages. I've still gotta put in my grind and I'm about to be here for a long time. I'm not here to blow up today and disappear tomorrow. I want to be at the top of the mountain for a long time, so I've just gotta get to top of the mountain. This whole blowing up shit ain't about nothing. I'm trying to be the best to ever do this shit.
What’s the future look like for you going forward? Can we expect original music soon?
Yeah, nothing but original music. I did the remixes and that was easy. Me rapping, spitting bars, that's the easy part. But making music for me is easy, too, so that's what I'm about to hit 'em with. Now, just all original music. I'm about to drop a video within the next week.
Finally, I have to ask, why did you have to do D Rose’s knees like that? “Old niggas unreliable like D Rose’s knees”
Because they unreliable as hell, b! I was the biggest D Rose fan, I would fight niggas over D Rose. I'd be like, "This year this nigga coming back averaging 25 and 12." I'd say that shit every year, but this nigga, man... Him and his damn recyclable ass knees be in the way. Them shits fucked up, bro. This nigga quit basketball, left the game with a bush, and came back with dreads. You knew it was over. Them shit's was made out of cardboard. It is what it is. But I'm sure he's good peoples, man. That's just the first thing I thought of when I said unreliable and it just happened to rhyme. Shout out D Rose though. He needs that Wakanda vibranium.
Anything else you want to add?
YBN tape on the way! Shout out Nahmir, shout out Almighty Jay, free Simba, free T-Mac, and rest in peace Lil Tony.