Photo: Raven Varona
Cordae Talks Making His Cathartic, Star-Studded Album 'From A Bird's Eye View' — And Why He's Already Looking Ahead
The sky's the limit for Cordae after releasing his sophomore album, From A Bird's Eye View. The Maryland-raised rapper followed up his GRAMMY-nominated 2019 debut, The Lost Boy, with the deeply personal effort, which sees contributions from Lil Wayne, H.E.R., Lil Durk, Stevie Wonder, Gunna and more.
Recent tragedies — including the death of his grandmother and murder of his childhood friend — resulted in reflective tales on From A Bird's Eye View, with the 24-year-old bringing listeners on a journey from his upbringing to current stardom.
Now that he's released the introspective effort, Cordae is looking straight ahead at the ever-growing opportunities that await him. One of those ventures is Hi Level, the record label he launched in 2021 one year after leaving his former hip-hop collective YBN. Cordae got his start with the YBN Nahmir-founded group in 2018 (and initially took the stage name YBN Cordae as a result), but it officially disbanded in 2020.
With Hi Level up and running and the release of From A Bird's Eye View — his first album since leaving the YBN collective, and second on Atlantic Records — Cordae is planning major moves for this new phase of his solo career.
GRAMMY.com caught up with Cordae about his vision for Hi Level, using songwriting as a form of therapy on his new album, and not getting stuck in an artistic box.
Congratulations on releasing your album! I've been seeing a lot of positive fan reactions online.
Thank you! For sure, I appreciate the support. I don't take it for granted; it's something that doesn't go unnoticed.
On the album track "Super," you mention leaving YBN because you didn't have ownership in the collective. Did wanting to have ownership and control in your career inspire you to then launch Hi Level?
Absolutely. And even more than that, I started Hi Level to open the door for other creatives. Hi Level is a record label, but it's also a way of life — a mantra, if you would.
I always say that everything I do, I must do it at the highest level that I'm capable of. So, when I see Hi Level, it's sort of a reminder of that and what it represents. Allowing creatives — and even non-creatives, just anybody from any walk of life — allowing them to have that mentality or reminding them to have that mentality.
What's your vision for Hi Level? Are you planning on signing some artists this year?
Yeah, absolutely. I'm definitely looking to sign some artists and some producers. We already have, like, an in-house team, as far as videographers, cinematographers, photographers, producers, engineers. We have a bunch of these assets in-house. So, we're just waiting for the right artists, producers and creatives to build with and utilize these resources.
Yeah, he definitely did. For me personally, I wasn't super tapped into Nipsey's music, but [more] his mindset and his frame of mind. I used to watch his interviews — if you didn't know his music, you knew him for being a boss, for ownership.
Obviously people like JAY-Z, too, and even Prince, all these great artists throughout the years have highlighted this idea of ownership, especially when it comes to music. I think it's a cool trend, to want to own some things. Ownership is a dope trend.
You collaborated with Lil Wayne on "Sinister" and you've mentioned how impressive it is that he's managed to stay hungry after over 20 years in the game. Have you picked up any tips from him, or other veterans, about how to have a long, successful career?
Yeah, you've just got to work! That's kind of what they all tell me, to sum it up in layman's terms. Just keep going. You might get overwhelmed with things, or maybe get too much on your schedule, but you've got to just keep going.
The album starts with "Shiloh's Intro" where your brother freestyles over the phone from prison. We also hear more of that phone call in "Shiloh's Interlude." Why was it important for you to feature your brother on the project?
Well for one, that's my brother Shiloh. He's in prison right now serving a 24-year sentence. He used to rap — we used to rap all the time together, and I felt like it was necessary, but also dope from the creative side, to include him on the intro for the album to shed some light on him and his situation.
It also kind of put the pieces [of the album] together because he's really seeing things from a bird's eye view perspective — more so from a caged bird's perspective, if you would. I think it starts [the album] off beautifully.
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Slim Jxmmi from Rae Sremmurd recently shouted you out on Twitter since you referenced the duo on "Parables (Remix)." They're gearing up to drop an album soon, do you think there's a chance for a collaboration?
Oh dope! I didn't know they were finna drop an album. Mike WiLL [Made-It] is my big homie, so I'm sure there's definitely something that could be worked out.
Before dropping From A Bird's Eye View, you asked fans to listen to the album from front to back with no interruptions, as it was intended. Other artists have said this, too, with Adele recently getting Spotify to remove its shuffle button for albums. Since album cohesiveness is important to you, do you agree with the change?
I agree and disagree with it at the same time. I agree with it because it makes people more inclined to listen to the album from start to finish and that's how we, as artists, created this music for it to be listened to, from the beginning to the end in that order. That's why I spend so much time with the transitions and making sure the cohesiveness of the album is all in play, and so if somebody presses shuffle, they kind of just s*** on it. [Laughs.]
I do think it's very important, especially for the first time listening. But also, if you want to shuffle, just make a playlist. Pick all your favorite songs from the album and make a playlist and hit shuffle on that. I personally don't ever hit shuffle on an album, especially if it just came out.
You rapped about losing loved ones on From A Bird's Eye View — your grandmother, your friend. Were any of the songs on the album difficult for you to record?
It was hard to listen to them more so than to record them. Writing songs is therapy for me, so it's never really that hard writing it. Recording can get a little tough, but actually listening to it — that can be therapeutic too, but when I re-listen to, like, the end of "Westlake High," I can get a little emotional. "Momma's Hood," I get a little emotional.
Hopefully using music as an outlet for heavy emotions can help your listeners who might be going through similar things, too.
You and H.E.R. linked up again on the album's "Chronicles." You guys have collaborated a few times now [on her songs "Racks," "Trauma" and "Lord Is Coming"]. What is that artistic chemistry like?
The artistic chemistry with H.E.R. is incredible, honestly. She's one of the most talented artists I've ever worked with or that you'll see, in terms of songwriting ability, vocal ability, being able to play different instruments, and producing as well. She's really a top-tier artist as far as creativity, musicality and just the overall package.
She got you in your singing bag, too!
I was trying! [Laughs.] I can harmonize. I can keep a note. You know, I'm always trying to extend the creative pallet — not get stuck in a box.