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Acclaim Digital Cover 020: Cordae

Hype is no thing to the Maryland rapper, as he toggles through his experiences with food-for-thought lyricism, and annihilates the sophomore slump with his goal-oriented vision. In this interview, he talks us through the creation of From A Birds Eye View, finding balance, and more.

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“Haunted by these goals I’m trying to accomplish, underrated, over-hated, I’m tired of the nonsense,”
Cordae spits on ‘Jean-Michel’, the track that kicks off his newly-released sophomore album From A Birds Eye View. It paints a picture of an artist realising the weight which his art holds for him, and the struggles to approach it surrounded by the eyes of the public. 

Virality has been a part of his life since he was in his teens, grasping the attention of the internet with his response to J.Cole’s ‘1985’, and thriving in the chaotic world of YBN alongside fellow rappers Almighty Jay and Nahmir. Critical acclaim has been a staple reaction to his music, enjoying the prestigiousness of a Best Rap Album Grammy nomination for his more-than-stellar debut album The Lost Boy. Press has been both a platform and a plague, doing hefty media runs from Jimmy Fallon to a Zoom call with me, and having to endure the constant prongs into his personal life from thirsty tabloids. As a kid growing up in Maryland once known as Entendre, releasing mixtapes with names such as I’m So Anxious, you’d think this would be overwhelming for Cordae; but not anymore. The wisdom he’s garnered throughout the creation of this project has allowed for a refreshed focus, with his eyes fixated on the growth that lies before him. 

This is what makes From A Birds Eye View so good. It’s completely unfiltered, with Cordae letting off food-for-thought raps and taking the time to vent. As he details his struggles in an open-book manner, the rapper takes every track to create a special moment, delving into his journey, and reflecting on the adversity he faced along the way. It would be easy to say that this album is a coming-of-age moment if it weren’t for his ability to go toe-to-toe with ageless legends like Lil Wayne and Eminem. It’s always been clear that Cordae was an anomaly, having accrued such a knack for songwriting and lyricism at such a young age. But From A Birds Eye View is a deep-dive into the mindset behind his wizard-like approach to hip-hop. 

Over 20 minutes, Cordae took us through the creation of From A Birds Eye View, finding balance, and more.

Congratulations on the album, how are you feeling about the release?
I feel great honestly, I feel really good.

There’s the cliche that is the sophomore slump, is that something you feel you experienced with this album?
Hell no, you can’t enter any sort of project, any body of work, anything you do creatively with a state of fear because that’s just going to take over everything you do.

An album is something that represents who you are, is there ever a fear of being yourself in that process?
Nah, because all I can be is myself. That’s the only thing I know how to be, myself. Nobody can be me better than me, I can’t try to be somebody else or pretend to be something I’m not.

Creating this project, how do you think it exemplifies your growth over the last few years?
I think that’s up to the listener to determine, rather than for me to project. I can’t say “I think I’ve grown this way as a person because my music is like that.” I think it’s up to the listener to decide based on the music.

In Jean-Michel’, there’s a line that sticks out to me when you say “Haunted by these goals I’m trying to accomplish.”Why do you think in life we get scared of things that we aim to achieve?
It’s not really that I’m scared of the things I aim to achieve, but they are the things that keep me up at night. I can’t really get a full night’s rest because every hour that I’m asleep I think “Man I could have made a song- I could have done this- I could have put in some more work’. So I’m always just thinking, I’m very goal-oriented. 

Are there moments in time where you can kind of block that out and have contentment, or is it always just focused on the work?
The word for me is gratitude. I have infinite gratitude for where I am in life, the things I’ve done, the people I’ve met, and for my struggles. I have gratitude for where I’m at currently, and I have gratitude in advance for where I’m going. Just infinite gratitude. 

There’s a consistent theme across a lot of the songs on the project, where you talk about overthinking. How do you make that contemplation an asset as opposed to something that hinders you?
You have to put thought into decisions, you can’t just be someone that reacts emotionally or without putting any thought into anything. Especially when you’re crafting music and bodies of work, you’ve got to put thought into this shit but at the same time don’t go into over-analysis paralysis or get to a point that you’re not making any strides towards the goal. It’s truly a fine balance. 

Is there a moment you remember where you found that balance?
Nah, I’m still figuring it out. I’m never going to sit here and pretend with you all that I’ve got all the answers and that I’m the most perfect, infallible human being. I fuck up all the time, well not all the time, but I fuck up just like everybody else does. I think life is all about trying to find out, I don’t think that’s something you can accomplish in 20 years, that takes time. 

Talking about fucking up, there’s a line on ‘FABEV Freestyle’ where you say “My mistakes are beautiful.” When do you realise that mistakes can be beautiful?
There’s no such thing as mistakes.

Is there a moment when you learned that? Or is that something that’s been instilled in you throughout life?
It’s something I always knew but I didn’t really apply it. You may know something, but you learn the best from experiences and sometimes the best experience you gain is from mistakes.

‘Super’ finds you flexing your strength as an artist and human. What do you think your superpower is in this life?
The ability to always try and find positives, even in negative situations.

Is that a process that you have to constantly remind yourself to do?
It’s a process man, it’s a lot easier said than done, I’ll tell you that. Sometimes you just have to, it’s the best way to keep your sanity, honestly. You can’t just get down in the dumps for too long feeling sorry for yourself, because what are you possibly going to achieve by doing that?

Rap over the last several decades has gone from a place where it’s more performative and about perception, to a place where people can be vulnerable and real. When do you think that happened?
I don’t know exactly. Maybe LL Cool J, because he used to make all the love songs, so maybe he introduced all the vulnerability into rap. Jay-Z reintroduced it with ‘Song Cry’. Drake is probably the most vulnerable rapper of all time. Music today is predicated on vulnerability.

Do you think music today is more of a glorification of vulnerability? Or is it a positive thing? The way it approaches it?
I think it is a positive way because we all are superheroes, but even a superhero has a bad day.

Is there an album you remember listening to where it made you realise that rap could be a place where you can be yourself without judgment or fear?
Probably a Kanye West album. When he says “I never could see why people will reach a fake ass facade that they couldn’t keep up,” on ‘Everything I Am’ from Graduation. So one of those three Kanye albums, because he came out in a super gangster rap era and was like “I’m not a gangster, I like wearing fly clothes. I’m doing different shit and I’m not going to pretend I shoot at people in my leisure time”. That was definitely a trailblazer. 

What is it about Maryland that spawns artists like you and JPEGMAFIA that are constantly demolishing creative boxes?
In Maryland, we just refuse to be champ. I’m so glad I grew up in Maryland because we just refuse to do anything that is champ, lame or corny. It’s just impossible, you get shunned for life for being champ. In saying that, to grow up in an area like that you’ve got to be yourself fearlessly. It’ll always stand out because everyone in Maryland is so fucking cool, like ‘too cool for school’ sort of cool. To stand out, you really have to be extremely confident to the absolute highest level. Growing up in a space like Maryland, that’s how you end up with a Rico Nasty. 

Do you feel like Maryland is still an underrated place or overlooked in terms of the amazing music it produces?
Absolutely. You’ve got artists like Wale, and trailblazers like Chuck Brown, who inspired your favourite artists and created his own sub-genre.

Speaking of legends, you worked with people like Lil Wayne on this project, someone who is no stranger to using rap as a way to express himself. Were there any conversations you remember having with him that helped you find this wisdom and perspective that you show on this project?
Wayne just told me “Man, be a monster, keep working, and keep putting in work.” It’s something I took literally.

When you have someone like Lil Wayne on the track who was known for killing features, is that a moment where you go back and change some bars? Or do you just stand firmly on like what you’ve already written?
I keep my stuff because I’m just trying to make good music. That’s what’s most important to me, to make a song that people can come back to and replay, and if I’m trying to competitively out-rap everybody when we’re on the same song together then that’s not doing the job. I pick all of my vocals and people that are on my album based on their vocal approach. Every record that I got a feature on, I knew that I wanted the guest artist as soon as I made it because I knew their vocal tone would match. Plus, everybody that’s on the album is a friend of mine that I real-life rock with. 

Do you think the idea of ‘don’t mix friends with business’ when it comes to music is a cliche?
A lot of the friends I have on this album are people that I met through making music professionally. All the producers credited on this album are the homies, all the features are the homies, so this just felt like me back in the day, back in the basement, making an album. 

Lastly, what’s next after this album? Relax time, or are you right back to it?
Oh, it’s right back to it. For me, it’s time to apply the pressure. This is the year I become a superstar.

Stream Cordae’s new album From A Birds Eye View now.

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