Imagine old Kanye — heart-on-his-sleeve, pink polo Kanye — mixed with the fiery upstart Kendrick Lamar of Section.80. That’s the intersection where you’ll find YBN Cordae, a rapper whos loves to enumerate his blessings. “Thanksgiving” details a domestic scene a la “Family Business”; “Family Matters” runs through the laundry list of an embattled family (“her baby dad beat her ass”), tilling the sam ground as Kendrick’s “Sing to Me (I’m Dying of Thirst),” while also dredging up the problematic aspects of a male making money off observed female trauma. Cordae does a whole lot of signaling here, as he tries to become that wholesome, technically-gifted rapper that’s here to ‘save the culture’ — but without the gravitas that such a rapper usually is imbued with. Listening to The Lost Boy is like enduring the brash sentimentality of a track like Kanye’s “Roses,” but without the rest of the Kanye persona that makes that song come off. “Sweet Lawd” and “Grandma’s House” even directly plagiarize skits from The College Dropout, but still fail to capture the multidimensional, po-mo genre transcendence, wit, and humor of Kanye’s mid-Aughts work.
The Lost Boy benefits greatly from the presence of Cordae contemporaries Pusha, Anderson .Paak, Chance, although the sheer absurdity of .Paak’s verse, and the pathos of Push’s (“Let me tell you how I started in this rap shit / Eighth-grade back-flipping on the mattress”), also overshadow the headliner here. “I think I could do better, but I still / I want this forever,” Cordae gently opines on “Been Around,” a bit of word-salad in the place where a Kendrick or a Common would provide something more concrete and immediate. “Broke as Fuck” and “Have Mercy,” both solo tracks that embrace and simultaneously parody SoundCloud-isms, standout the most on The Lost Boy because the rapper’s full skillset is finally on display—both tracks are performed with verve, with inspired lyricism, and non-obvious instrumentals (aka dropping the whole of-the-moment gospel hook). As does the collaboration with Meek Mill (of all people), whose wailing on “We Gon’ Make It” strengthens the melodrama of Cordae’s lyrics. This is the work of a young person brimming with the desire to say something important, but someone who doesn’t know what that thing is yet.
Published as part of What Would Meek Do? | Summer 2019.