Cordae’s second album, From A Birds Eye View, arrives less than three years after his debut, but finds him in a very different place. He’s a millionaire running a record label, with two Grammy nominations and a number of gold plaques to his name. He’s collaborated with luminaries such as Nas, Eminem, Stevie Wonder, Lil Wayne and Young Thug, and went public with tennis extraordinaire girlfriend Naomi Osaka.
“Being famous and making money is still extremely new to me,” he says over the phone, a night after playing The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.
“It’s truly a social experiment. You take somebody from the hood and you make them a famous rapper within one year. They go from having no money in their pocket to having millions of dollars accessible … I’m living in a social experiment and going through it day-by-day.”
It sounds daunting, but Cordae faces up to the experiment with exuberance. On lead single Super, Cordae lays it out some of the big life changes since the last record — he’s doing Super Bowl commercials with Martin Scorcese, he’s on a super-boat with mentor Dr Dre and texting back and forth with super-influential Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.
The fingerprints of the 24-year-old’s idols are all over From A Birds Eye View: Eminem, Nas, Stevie Wonder and Lil Wayne all feature on tracks, and Mos Def was present in Paris when the album was finished. Given the rapid ascension, it’s remarkable that Cordae stays grounded.
“I personally like to live in the moment. But I just started to do that. I used to always be like, ‘What’s next? What’s next? Okay, I just did this, okay, what are we about to accomplish next?’. It’s tunnel vision, and it’s important to have that and not get too comfortable. But now, I just take in the moment, have gratitude and keep it moving.”
That sense of gratitude radiates from Today, a “special” first collaboration with good friend Gunna. The two became close while touring Australia on a run of mutual festival dates at the start of 2020, as part of a small traveling party that included Ella Mai and Tyler, the Creator.
The resulting track is a gleeful, reflective toast to living better. As Cordae explains, the Australian backdrop provided more than just lyrical fodder — it set the tone.
“We’re not supposed to be here. We’re from trenches, we ain’t supposed to be in Australia rocking shows. That day, we went to a black sand beach and it was a crazy vibe, it was beautiful. And we just linked up later and went to a studio.
“Gunna don’t even know this, but I first started the song when I was on an arena tour. As soon as I made that song, I was like ‘Yo I’ve got to get Gunna on this. That fool is going to slide on this joint’ and that’s exactly what he did.”
Among the constellation of stars featured on the album, the most important guest to Cordae is the least known — Shiloh Young, who raps as Simba. Simba is the first voice listeners hear on the album, dropping a freestyle down a crackling phone line.
“That’s my brother, Simba. He’s currently in prison right now, he got 25 years. He was rapping before I was, so I wanted to shed some light on him and his talent.”
“It meant everything. I had to have him on there. I’m really working on getting bro out. It’s not really fun being out in the world and enjoying all of these dope things if you don’t have your bros with you. It’s only fun when you’re with fellow companions and loved ones … we’ve got to get bro back home and I’m campaigning for that.”
Simba’s inclusion is personal for Cordae, but he wanted it to represent something bigger. Black Americans are incarcerated at nearly five times the rate of white Americans in the United States — a situation Cordae wants his audience to be aware of.
“It's still a reality we have to face. The system is set up for Black males to be in prison, straight up.”
Racing from chest-beating anthems to odes of appreciation to statements on mass incarceration is a diverse gambit to take on, let alone on a second album, let alone by a rapper younger than some NBA draftees.
Cordae pulls it off because he’s got the range — a relentless flow reminiscent of a young Nas, an emerging melodic tilt like Young Thug, and a personality you can’t help but be drawn in by.
It also helps that Cordae refuses to rest on his laurels. Turning his mind to the future, Cordae’s ambitions are as diverse as his subject matter:
“I’ve gotta win some Grammys, you can’t fill up the trophy room with nominations. I’ve got to make bigger records. I’ve got, like, eight gold plaques, it’s time to give out 10 platinum plaques now.
“And continue to get better as an artist and as a human being, to be a little less vain. And to make more dope cheese, it’s time to get this bread, too. And just have fun, and just enjoy life and enjoy every step of the journey.”
It’s an answer characteristic of Cordae: playful, thoughtful and audacious. Then again, given where he’s climbed in his three years between albums, it’d be unwise to bet against Cordae achieving anything he sets his mind to.