How YBN Cordae Went From Waiting Tables To Hitting the Charts

From: Suitland, Md.
Age: 21
Label: Art@War/Atlantic

Like Father, Like Son: YBN Cordae -- who was born Cordae Dunston in Raleigh, N.C. -- grew up listening to the music his father loved: Nas, Talib Kweli and Mos Def. He spent hours watching YouTube videos of famous hip-hop artists to hone his lyrical skills. At 15, he released his first mixtape, Anxiety, under the name Entendre. After graduating high school in 2015, he released two more: I’m So Anxious (2016) and I’m So Anonymous (2017).

School's In Session: While attending Maryland’s Towson University, Cordae waited tables at TGI Fridays and “was miserable as fuck.” But once he met YBN Nahmir -- who in 2014 established the YBN collective, short for Young Boss N---az -- through a friend in 2017, the two instantly became close, crashing at one another’s homes in Maryland and Alabama, respectively. He started going by YBN Cordae soon afterward. “It’s a real-life brotherhood,” he says. Now their mothers are in a group chat. “They drink wine together. It’s that level.”

Picking Up Steam: In September 2017, Nahmir released his sizzling single “Rubbin Off the Paint” on Worldstar Hip-Hop; seven months later, its success landed Art@War's imprint a partnership deal with Atlantic Records. Through the deal, the YBN collective gained a larger platform, which helped released Cordae’s music, including a fiery remake of Eminem’s “My Name Is” in 2018 and a remix of J. Cole’s “1985 (Intro to ‘The Fall Off’)” titled “Old N---as” that boldly took aim at Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. “That was my coming of age,” says Cordae.

A Star Is Born: So far this year, Cordae was named an XXL Freshman alongside Megan Thee Stallion and Tierra Whack, and in July released his debut, The Lost Boy, which bowed at No. 13 on the Billboard 200 and features Chance the Rapper, Pusha T and Meek Mill. In October, he will join Logic on his Confessions of a Dangerous Mind Tour. “An artist like Cordae comes around every five to 10 years or so,” says Atlantic Records vp A&R Yaasiel “Success” Davis. “There was Kanye West, Drake, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar. Now you have Cordae.”

This article originally appeared in the Aug. 10 issue of Billboard.

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