The young rapper is well on the way to fulfilling his potential as heir apparent to Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole.
A relative newcomer without five years of professional tenure under his belt, Cordae fully plays into the mythology that hip-hop is a young sport in need of an heir apparent to Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole — aged veterans who have been lauded for blending thoughtful topics and worldly subject matter with contemporary rhythms and flows. Formerly a member of the YBN collective that once threatened to make big noise before disbanding, in 2018 he accepted the duty of delivering an answer to Cole’s “1985” — a manifesto that schooled the youth while nitpicking against what he saw to be a troubling direction popular music was headed. Cordae’s response “Old Niggas” explained his generation’s perspective with wisdom that was beyond his then age of 21, in turn making him one of the next rappers to stake a claim for deserving spotlight.
Cordae’s critically-acclaimed, Grammy-nominated 2019 debut The Lost Boy was heavily based on introspection and drenched in feel-good soul that was meant to transcend and touch various age demographics. He desires to function as the go between for his genre’s former “classic” era — where intricate lyricism and traditional drum patterns were cherished, contrasted by the modern and foreseeable trap-laced future where he seeks to maintain a presence. It’s not a novel concept, but he’s begun to build support for the position: Nas enlisted him for a revised version of his gem “Life Is Like A Dice Game,” and Eminem hit his line to appear on a remix for his song “Killer.” To believe in yourself is one thing, but to get respect from the greats is another. So it’s understandable that Cordae uses From A Bird’s Eye View to unabashedly enjoy what has become a middling degree of fame — as long as he doesn’t get too comfortable.
The title and cover art both seem to reflect a contemplative state as he’s figuratively on top of the world, but the album starts on a note that may be suggestive of survivor’s guilt. “Shiloh’s Intro” stars close companion Simba — a lesser known Maryland wordsmith at the starting end of a 24-year prison sentence, rapping from behind bars about how he ended up in this predicament. While Cordae has been fortunate enough to reach his lofty music dreams thanks to steadfast focus and determination, there’s a sense of humility in his devotion to a peer whose life veered off from a righteous path.
For the bulk of From A Bird’s Eye View, Cordae embraces playing in the big leagues as he struggles to keep his integrity intact while making the creative concessions that come with blowing up. The first track “Jean-Michel” is a hook-free barrage that serves as an announcement that he’s on a mission to remain relevant for the long haul. While likening himself to art virtuoso Basquiat is an overused, self-important trope within rap, there’s a distinct similarity in how the rapper’s work has already been heralded in the first half of his 20’s. Still in the intermediate stages of figuring out how to use his platform, Cordae faces the conflict between flaunting his riches and a higher calling, as he says “seven figure checks they require my signature” — only to follow up this boast with chides of “your favorite artist’s first priority is gaining wealth” mere seconds later.
As much as Cordae hopes to brand himself as a grounded voice of the youth, the fact of the matter is the pride he takes in his accomplishments borders on an obsessive focus in regards to fiscal earnings. A sizable amount of Bird’s Eye View is spent bragging on affluence, to a point where it almost seems he’s transitioning away from family-friendly material like “Thanksgiving” to take on the stereotypical rap star persona. Lead single “Super” finds him flaunting a lucrative 2020 Coca-Cola Super Bowl commercial spot and waxing poetic on larger than life notions such as the size of mega-producer Dr. Dre’s yacht and the ability to text Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey at a whim. The quasi-inspirational “C Carter” displays how far he’s come from early aspirations to living the good life — a concept executed masterfully on cultural staples such as Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy,” except Cordae reveals his backstory on a rather surface level.
Seeking to cement a spot as one of the culture’s next leaders means Cordae uses From A Bird’s Eye View to hit a number of routine benchmarks — namely premature hyperbolic claims to one day be the greatest rapper ever, along with deliberate measures taken to further blossom into a household name via collaborating with some of the more recognizable acts in his field.
The catchy “Gifted” has a formal release here after initially capitalizing on an appearance from 2020 chart-topper Roddy Ricch, and “Sinister” features the culturally omnipresent Lil Wayne, showing that Cordae can hang amongst the best over a dark thumping beat from reigning producer Hit-Boy. Conversely, while he holds up his end on “Today” with crystal clear enunciation and sharp flows, newer hitmaker Gunna brings less to the table as he slurs his words over a rattling tempo.
Though he’s worthy of a spot amongst the elite, Cordae manages to be outclassed by Freddie Gibbs on the cinematic “Champagne Glasses,”a bright spot accompanied by a Stevie Wonder’s harmonica solo — a marketing ploy that’s old hat given the fact that Drake and Travis Scott have used the same placement over the years to signify the concept of high art. “Parables (Remix)” sees Cordae adopting a more aggressive edge alongside a superstar guest spot by Eminem, going bar for bar with the rap legend for a second time. While his collaborations with established stars seesaw between highlights and skips, Cordae has a clear knack for wordplay and versatility with melodies, and everything comes together on the sing-songy “Chronicles,” where he joins vocals with H.E.R. and Lil Durk for a song that could make him a mainstay on R&B radio this forthcoming summer.
Making a headstrong promise to be around for another few decades, with From A Bird’s Eye View, Cordae projects a nearly grandiose self-confidence as he aims to convince the world he was born to have a career rapping. Though his sporadic playboy fantasies require listeners to suspend disbelief considering his well documented public relationship with tennis sensation Naomi Osaka, he’s mostly authentic if not vaguely transparent in telling his personal truths to the world.
While his tales aren’t overly dramatic or spicy and he tends to offer little in the way of surprises, Cordae has a sense of urgency in making the best of this moment — and what he lacks in edge and depth is made up for with heart and passion as he makes the concerted effort to reach as many ears as possible. It took predecessors like Nas and J. Cole much more slippery falls before they realized that fans adored their earnestness more than their ability to keep up with tropes of rap stardom, but Cordae has plenty of time to learn those lessons on his own — and with his versatility and hip-hop’s ever-decreasing rigidity, he likely has a completely different curriculum in the first place. Either way, he continues to show promise that proves he’s near the top of his class, and worth taking the ride with.