Welcome to “New Music with Nick.” In this column, I will be reviewing some of the most notable new album releases across various genres, focusing on hip-hop, R&B and pop music. Join me in exploring the ever-shifting landscape of the streaming era.
Cordae: “From A Bird’s Eye View” (January 14, 2021)
Just a few years ago, Cordae Dunston was still “YBN Cordae” and was part of the YBN Collective, a group of rappers that all emerged from Xbox Live gaming. Cordae was simply a late-teen finding his way and developing his rapping sound through various YBN projects, singles and loose videos on the internet. Very much still a kid in the game, there was always a spark that his raw style and personality brought to his artistry.
Cordae has grown his career quickly. Following a brief stint rapping solo under the name “Entendre,” YBN Cordae signed his first major label deal with Atlantic Records in 2018. After the release of his debut album on Atlantic Records, his removal of the “YBN” moniker symbolized the full commitment to the start of his solo career. Cordae then launched his own creative company, Hi Level, that is building out his music and creative brand. Outside of music, Cordae has been dating Naomi Osaka, one of the biggest superstar tennis players in the world, bringing him even further into the spotlight. Things have certainly changed for the young rapper since freestyling in Xbox Live parties, to say the least.
Now Cordae sits at a pivotal moment in his career. Following a phenomenal debut project in 2019, “The Lost Boy,” Cordae was deemed by many (myself included) as somebody that would be a key figure for the future of hip-hop. Although there isn’t a particularly standout skill that he has as an artist, there has been a special personal and soulful feel that has made him consistently intriguing in the initial phases of his career. Cordae wears his influences on his sleeve, for better or worse, and his mix of nostalgia and modern beats bring a fresh sound to rap. “From A Bird’s Eye View” is the latest installment in the story of the young rapper’s success and growth as a person and an artist.
The album’s title signals Cordae’s current state of thought; reflecting on his life and development from a higher level and clearer view. Despite this retrospective title, Cordae’s sophomore effort fell flat in its aims. The collection lacked both the cohesiveness and spark of his debut album.
“From A Bird’s Eye View” lives at the surface. Any sense of introspective exploration is left at a very shallow level, feeling generic and hardly worth the effort of the mentions. Many rappers succeed without lyrical and personal depth, but Cordae has built his identity around songwriting and conscious prowess in his artistry. Cordae paints himself as the wise and intelligent beacon of hope in the genre, making his lack of lyrical follow through sharply disappointing.
Most of the music on the album was passable, except for the Eminem feature on the “Parables Remix.” The verse was dreadful, and Eminem seriously should consider stopping rapping at this point. The harsh and awkward verse lacked any sense of normalcy or rhythm, marking a low on an already middle-of-the-road album.
A few other songs were definitely not Cordae’s best work. “Sinister” with Lil Wayne was an underwhelming single with very generic, purposeless and mediocre rapping. “Today” was also an awkward and disappointing showing with a highly forgettable feature from Gunna.
The production quality remains at a fairly average level, with few beats that really stand out or greatly complement Cordae’s style. One of the best soul samples and beats on the album comes on “Westlake High,” the album’s outro track, where Cordae unfortunately stops rapping and just talks over the beat for half of the song as if he has just dropped a modern classic in a misplaced display of egotism.
The brightest spots on the collection come when Cordae shines with simple soulful melodies and flows. Although not his only strength, it is definitely one of the styles that consistently works best for him. “C Carter” is a true highlight, with Cordae providing catchy melodies and reflective bars that immediately capture a sense of nostalgic hope. Through its personal and reflective feel and delivery, the infectious chorus and the heartfelt reminiscing bring the album glimpses of the reflective depth on which it largely misses out.
“Want From Me” is another song that plays to Cordae’s strengths very well. The impassioned and soulful chorus is followed by some of Cordae’s best verses on the project. If Cordae had stuck to this introspective appeal more often and added more depth, I think this album could have been a real accomplishment and a key addition to building his foundation as an artist.
Ultimately, “From A Bird’s Eye View” is far from a bad album. A lot of the disappointment simply stems from the lofty expectations built up by a fantastic debut. Even so, it still certainly falls short of what I know Cordae is capable of producing. Given he is deemed a leader of rap’s new generation, it would have been nice to see more. Regardless, Cordae remains one of the more promising young rappers, and somebody who will be interesting to keep up with as hip-hop moves forward.
Favorite Songs: “C Carter,” “Want From Me,” “Westlake High,” “Champagne Glasses”
Album Score: 67/100
Check out this Spotify Playlist and like it to follow along with some of some of my favorite songs of 2022 as the year progresses!
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.