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The release timing of YBN Cordae‘s debut album, The Lost Boy, just weeks after the release of the remake of Disney’s The Lion King seems almost prescient. In the film, the protagonist, a young lion cub, is presented his legacy, his eventual regency over “everything the light touches,” but runs away after suffering a devastating loss. He spends time in the jungle, lost to the world, dead to his family and friends, before he rediscovers himself and returns to The Pridelands to reclaim his right to rule.
On Cordae’s startlingly precocious debut, the young rapper imagines himself in the titular Lost Boy phase of the movie, finding out who he really is. In reality, he ends up reminding himself and the listener that he knows exactly where he came from and where he’s going. Despite his humble beginnings, he is destined for greatness.
YBN Cordae has an old soul. Despite arriving in the rap game along with a rambunctious group of party rappers which included YBN Nahmir and YBN Almighty Jay, Cordae has a more weathered, sagacious outlook at times than his YBN brethren. It’s evident in his early run of pre-fame mixtapes, with titles like I’m So Anxious and I’m So Anonymous, and on his breakout freestyle, “Old N*ggas,” on which he took issue with J. Cole’s “1985” depiction of young rappers. When he smartly pointed out the similarities between the old heads tut-tutting young rappers like Lil Pump and their own frictions with their elders and bad examples from R Kelly to Kanye West, Cordae set himself apart from his Soundcloud-raised peers and established his potential: “I’ll be the greatest ever, n—a, just watch.”
The danger in setting such a lofty goal off the bat is that Cordae would be forced to eventually live up to it — a problem many of those crowned as young rap saviors have stumbled over. Once upon a time, Cordae’s friendly rival/influential mentor J. Cole was bound for coronation but abdicated his throne early on in his career, letting his own hero Nas down in the process. Joey Badass brought back the feeling on his throwback-sounding mixtape 1999 but was determined to be too precious in his reliance on old-school tropes and beats. By the time he broke away from the constrained, late-90s sound he’d cultivated on 2017’s All-Amerikkkan Badass, the rap establishment has already moved on to its next hope for a messiah.