Album Review: Cordae – From A Birds Eye View

[Atlantic; 2022]

Cordae has been praised by nearly every musical legend you can possibly think of. And for good reason. Since breaking onto the scene with his former collective, YBN, Cordae has always stood out from his other musical counterparts. It could be his youthful yet timeless confidence, reminiscent of the peerless emcees who laid the foundations for rappers like Cordae today. Or it could be his unique sense of attention to his craft as a lyricist, taking time to sharpen his sword in the name of becoming one of the greats. In his rookie year, Cordae released 2019’s, The Lost Boy, receiving Grammy nominations for both Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for “Bad Idea” featuring Chance the Rapper. 

Out of the many, many rappers that have come and gone in the past five years, Cordae has shown that his talent is one of a kind, and he’s in it for the long haul. Looking to double down on the idea that he quite possibly could be the next to pick up the same baton that Hov handed Cole, the Maryland rapper has musically separated himself from the days of YBN and has attempted to spearhead the rising collection of Gen-Z rappers looking to carry on the essence of hip-hop through the culture’s most traditional yet crucial element: bars. And with Cordae’s latest offering, From A Birds Eye View, we’re given a promising lens into the young emcee’s growing capabilities.

A loosely-crafted conceptual LP, From A Birds Eye View, finds Cordae meditating on themes of self-worth, poverty, success, love, and lust over the course of 12 songs. Following the intro, second track “Jean-Michel” sets the album’s tone; Cordae showcases to his opposition that everything he has achieved, he has more than earned. In between the track’s braggadocio bullet storm, listeners can find the Maryland-spitter touching on themes of fame and what could potentially happen if you let manufactured power go to your head, rapping, “The price of fame costs your life / but staying alive was more important / Uh, death is the greatest surprise / I see the hate in your eyes / I saw potential at first, grew a resentment for Earth / You lust for power too much / And it’s getting worse / The more you get, the more that you’ll desire, can’t quench your thirst / Of a conqueror, ask Alex, ask Christopher.” Cordae has clearly grown as an emcee but also as a human being, with these nuggets of introspection being some of the album’s brightest moments. 

Continuing the momentum set forth by “Jean-Michel”, Cordae puts on a dizzying lyrical clinic in “Super”, before reminiscing about chopping it up with his late friend, Pitch, with allusions to survivor’s guilt on the latter half of “Momma’s Hood”. He goes on to articulate the duality of man, differences between men and women within the confines of relationships over the smooth “Want From Me”, then switches to the contagious head-bobbing banger in “Today”, which features a stellar feature from Gunna, who matches the intensity and vibe of Cordae shockingly well.

Sadly though, after that the LP’s quality begins to take a bit of a dip as we transition from a consistent stream of heat towards a lukewarm mess. “C Carter” feels out of place, both in terms of time and quality; the outdated song comes across as Cordae’s best J. Cole impression, harkening back to Jermaine’s early days on The Come Up. Thematically, “C Carter” fits From A Birds Eye View‘s vibe but pales in comparison to the album’s stronger songs. When listening to the project, I was taken out of the album’s overall vibe whenever this song came on, and I firmly believe the LP would be better off without it. 

Right after this, we get into the Lil Wayne-assisted “Sinister”, a song that showcases Cordae’s lyrical ability but, more importantly, his ability to hold his own with any emcee – even with rappers consistently featured in top 10 lists of the past 10 years. “Sinister” is a complete package through its visceral lyricism, defiant tonality, and laid on top of Hit-Boy’s masterful production.

Then, treading back into hit-or-miss-territory once again, we get “Chronicles” featuring H.E.R and Lil Durk, which finds Cordae experimenting with his voice as he goes full-on crooner in this melodic performance. Although his vocal performance is weak and the lyrics come off corny, I will admit the vision is there, and I can’t knock an artist for flexing their creative muscle. I am hopeful that this type of confidence in his creative ability as an artist begins to blossom into even greater heights on his next endeavors, but, in the present, in the skeleton of the now on this LP, it comes off a bit dull. 

Thankfully, Cordae finds his footing as the album begins to come to a close. “Champagne Glasses” features a fantastic performance from both Cordae and Freddie Gibbs with a touch of musical royalty as we get a classic harmonica performance from one of the greatest musicians of all time in Stevie Wonder. The standout track sees our two emcees spitting celebratory verses, discussing how far they have made it and, in Cordae’s case, the seldom-mentioned darker side of success, rapping, “Everybody celebratin’ with they champagne glasses / I’m just sittin’ full of pain as I’m tourin’ the country / Thought the stress-free life was gon’ come with the money.” I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the exclusion of Nas on the finalized version of the track; I’m curious to hear the story on that.

“Westlake High”, named after the high school that the 24-year-old rapper attended back in Maryland, is an honest view into the consciousness of the Gen-Z artist as he attempts to make sense of the world and his relationship to it. Cordae comes to a conclusion on this track that he is human and is bound to make more mistakes as he progresses further in life. It’s a beautiful way to home the loosely-connected conceptual album of his sophomore body of work. 

From A Birds Eye View ups the stakes in every imaginable way from his rookie outing, The Lost Boy. Still, it lacks a true it-factor, suffering from questionable songs and moments. Luckily, the emcee’s ever-growing ambitions as an artist are put on full display here—even if they haven’t been fully realized quite yet. But this album does leave fans with a promising look into what the former-YBN affiliate can be and potentially do. Cordae’s drive and desire to go down as one of the best rappers to ever do it is evident on his latest album; through the project’s risks, verses, and thematic elements, he has shown that he intends to do whatever it takes to get to that next level – it just needs a bit more focus.