Breakout stars, like Lil Nas X or Lizzo, seem to come on the scene all at once, dominating charts, nominations, and memes. But YBN Cordae, whose two Grammy nominations on Wednesday morning came out of nowhere, has just been chilling. On January 26, he has the opportunity to take home two of rap music’s biggest awards: Best Rap Song for “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper, and Best Rap Album for his debut album, The Lost Boy. The Lost Boy just dropped in July, after Cordae’s rambunctious performance on Late Night With Seth Meyers and a month holding his own with the rest of the XXL 2019 Freshman Class. He’s got tracks with Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, and Meek Mill, has a whole crew of YBNs backing him up, and is dating professional tennis player Naomi Osaka. It’s the quietest blowup you’ve ever seen and he’s not done yet. Here’s what you need to know about the Grammys’ sleeper agent, YBN Cordae.
First of all, YBN probably doesn’t mean what you think it means.
Unless you thought it stood for “Young Boss N*ggas.” In 2014, YBN started as a gaming collective founded by Nick Simmons, who now raps under the name YBN Nahmir. He and his friends would post gaming videos online and stream them on Twitch. Nahmir and YBN Almighty Jay, who met over Grand Theft Auto, decided to record the song “Hood Mentality” after freestyling over Xbox Live. They met the artist soon to be known as YBN Cordae online in 2017.
But that wasn’t always his name.
Maryland native Cordae Dunston started rapping when he was 15, eventually dropping three mixtapes under the name Entendre, a nod to his layered lyrical style. When he joined YBN in 2018, he became both the oldest and the most practiced member of the group, at 21 years old. To introduce the world to his new name, Cordae released a remix of Eminem’s “My Name Is …” The music video currently has over 700,000 views.
He went from dissing J. Cole to working with J. Cole.
Cordae’s biggest hit to date is actually a rebuttal to J. Cole’s “1985.” In “Old N*ggas,” Cordae defends all the young rappers nowadays and calls out the hypocrisy in hip-hop. The music video went viral and now has over 13 million views on YouTube. Instead of hitting millennial J. Cole with an “Ok, boomer”-esque roast, Cordae debates him and explains the Gen-Z perspective without getting too serious. To him, the main difference between old rappers and new rappers is “the size of the pants.” “Old heads always wear baggy-ass, fatass jeans and we like our shit more fitted, more drip,” he told Genius. Just a year later, J. Cole produced and co-wrote Cordae’s song “RNP” featuring Anderson .Paak.
Speaking of virality, his freestyles popped off, too.
YBN Cordae has left a wake of radio-show hosts in his path over the past few years. Each time he freestyles on air, even the loudest of mouths stop and listen. While on L.A. Leakers, Cordae rapped over three distinct beats back-to-back, earning over 100,000 interactions on Twitter alone. His freestyles on Hot 97 with Funk Flex have over a million views on YouTube.
He rapped with Megan Thee Stallion, Rico Nasty, and more in the 2019 XXL Freshman Class.
The XXL Freshman Class is a right of passage for aspiring rappers, launching the careers of Anderson .Paak, Chance the Rapper, and so many more of the industry’s biggest names. This year, YBN Cordae joined Comethazine, Tierra Whack, DaBaby, Lil Mosey, Roddy Ricch, YK Osiris, Rico Nasty, Gunna, Blueface, and Megan Thee Stallion. His cypher with Blueface and Rico Nasty has over 10 million views (granted that includes all the people who exited after hearing Blueface rap “I need a Kim Possible to play with my Rufus.”)
He has the Dr. Dre seal of approval.
YBN Cordae constantly praises Dr. Dre as his favorite producer of all time. And now Dr. Dre isn’t just an influence, but a mentor. He and Dre spent 16 hours in the studio together last year. Whatever hits they made are still unreleased.
It’s not a lisp.
The technical term, YBN Cordae is quick to remind, is a tongue thrust. Cordae sometimes slips a lisp while speaking, but prides himself on being an articulate rapper. “I am an aspiring artist who has a lisp and an inhaler, n*gga,” he said on Instagram last year. “That means I can barely pronounce words and I run out of breath. No fucking excuses for you whack ass n*ggas.”
He’s already in a power couple.
Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Cardi B and Offset. YBN Cordae and Naomi Osaka. While Cordae could use a couple Grammy wins to launch him to icon status, Naomi Osaka has already proven herself again and again. The tennis superstar, currently ranked No. 3 in the world, and the rapper became Instagram official in September. She broke the news with the caption: “Very grateful you’re in my life, always learning from you, always inspired by you. Also, always VERY entertained by you lol. Love ya kid.” Oh, and Naomi Osaka is also just 22 years old. The kids are more than all right, they’re legends in the making.