Cordae on Grammy Love, His New Album, and Going Off the Grid in Africa

There are one or two artists nagging about the Grammys. This is rapper Cordae s handling of his tendency to hate the best music achievement award. The young phenomenons debut album, The Lost Boy, in 2019, was nominated for two of the awards, but failed to yield results.

Now, with the release of his second album From A Birds Eye View, which features collaborations with icons such as Eminem, Nas, H. E. R. , Gunna, Lil Wayne and even Stevie Wonder, Cordae is ready for the second round of hype.

“I think ni*as is lying and just sulking because they not winning when they say that,” says the Maryland native, referring to former famous beefs other hip-hop artists have taken up with the institution. “When I win my Grammys, I’m going to be there and I’m going to accept it and I’m going to be grateful and have infinite gratitude and, you know, be very appreciative of the moment.”

Complex, meanwhile, talked to Cordae about what its like to work with his heroes and some of Canadas leading talents, his recent eye-opening trip to Africa and what the album and his new label Hi Level mean to listeners.

You’re a very thoughtful artist. You put a lot of thought into what goes into the production, into the music itself. Tell me a little bit about the album, and what do you hope that listeners take away from it?

I don’t want to, like, put any pressure or like a standard of what you should take away from it. I think that’s up to you guys. No individual or mass group of individuals should all take away the same thing from an album. Everybody should get a little something different. And I can’t project what you should take away from this album onto you… that’s up to you.

You mention the word pressure… your debut album was nominated for two Grammys. Do you feel any pressure to live up to that first album?
Hell no, because the second one is way better to me.

What makes it better for you?
Just everything, just that. But again, that’s something for the listener to decipher, and months from now, you know, give us some time to process and age and things of that nature. And we’ll come back to this conversation.

A lot of artists have spoken out against the Grammys, saying that they don’t really matter. Do you feel the Grammys are still what they used to be?
I mean, it just depends on who you are. You know, a lot of artists who speak out about the Grammys have already won a ton of them. [Laughs.] You know what I’m saying? Like, it’s usually always an artist that has a bunch of Grammys already. But before they won them, you know, they wasn’t complaining. Nobody’s complaining about the Grammys when they’re away, you know? I don’t know if [the Grammys] is quite as significant as it used to be in like the ’70s or ’80s, but I don’t know, honestly. To me, it’s still significant. When I win my Grammys, I’m going to be there and I’m going to accept it and I’m going to be grateful and have infinite gratitude and, you know, be very appreciative of the moment. But, you know, I feel it, though. All artists are sensitive about our shit, and we all want to be recognised, especially at the highest level. Grammys is still the highest level of recognition in music, you know, and so every artist, one way or another, wants to win a Grammy or be recognised in some way, form, shape, or fashion. So I think niggas is lying and just sulking because they not winning when they say that. Yeah, that’s my honest answer.

You spent a couple of weeks in Africa, off-grid around your birthday, and you mentioned that that was actually a really important trip for you. What influence and impact did that trip have on you and the album?
I just went out there for a couple of months. My spirit was just telling me to do this, something I needed to do as a human being, especially as a black man. I was just living life and just being out there living life, being a civilian, kind of getting off the grid for a little bit…

It had an influence in some way, shape or form… but my main influence from this album is really just go and do things in life. From a bird’s eye view, that’s a double meaning: one is to see things from the zoomed-out lens, see things from a broader perspective, to see things from outside of yourself. It’s a more top perspective. But the other is, I’m kind of giving you things I’ve witnessed, things I’ve gone through, things that I’ve seen and experienced. And I’m giving you it all from a bird’s eye view. You know, “Momma’s Hood” is about one of my best friend’s dying. “Want From Me” is the perspective of a woman who needs more. “Jean-Michel,” I wrote that at the very beginning of the pandemic, you know, so that’s why it’s so dark and feels so hopeless and anguished, if you would. And every song has a purpose behind it, a meaning behind it, and a real-life event and story behind it that transmute it and translate it into the song.

I was really happy so see some Canadians on your credits. I saw Boi-1da on there—he’s a Canadian favourite…
I think Boi-1da produced the biggest song of my career so far, and that’s going to be “Chronicles.” And he’s just got a great ear. And honestly, he’s a homie of mine. Like everybody that’s a part of this album are like just real life homies, man. Like, they just happened to be legendary… And Boi-1da is really on some legendary things, you know? And he’s really a legendary producer. Honestly, there’s no other way to put it. And I say all that to say that this album just felt like just me cooking it up with all the homies. I’m just creating music that’s cooking up with all the homies and even all the features.

How did the Stevie Wonder collab come to be?
He hit me up. His team reached out to me to get on a record for his a couple of months ago… and while he was working on that record, he was very hands-on. He told me exactly what sort of message he wanted me to eloquent on the record we did, and he was like, “You need something for me, you know, for your album?” Oh my gosh. And I was like, “I’m not leaving the studio until I get it.” But we was working in the studio for like four or five days, honestly, like going back and forth on each other’s records and music. And he was able to play harmonica on my record, and it was very, very, very dope. And I appreciate that for real.

Money was a big goal for you this year. And some of your collaborators like Eminem and Nas have jumped into the NFT game early. Eminem just copped that NFT. Nas is putting his music up essentially where his fans can own a part of the rights as an NFT. What are your thoughts around NFTs? Is that something that you see yourself kind of diving into in the near future?
You know, everybody’s on this NFT wave, and not to say it’s a bad thing because it’s always good to be a futurist, you know. From the NFT space to Metaverse, all of the things that compound within that, you know, it’s a very dope thing. I have some NFT projects I’m working on right now. It just seems like a lick that everybody’s hitting on this whole NFT thing. But you know… I don’t have a love of money, right? But money just allows you to be comfortable and allows your loved ones to be comfortable. And I just want to be able to be a blessing to others. And that’s what the the attainment of money is for, is to be a blessing and to put people in positions to excel, you know?

Can we expect to see a Cordae concert in the Metaverse at some point in the future?
I don’t know, man. I like to keep the concerts pure. I like to keep that a pure thing. You want to come see Cordae? Come buy a fucking ticket and get your ass in the car and come to a show.

I wanted to ask you about Hi Level. It says it’s a family, it’s a community, it’s a record label. What can you tell me about Hi Level?
It’s a way of life above all of those things. It’s a mantra. Everything you do in life must be high level. It’s a mantra… especially in the standard that I’ve held myself to. Everything that I do, I must attack it and execute on it at a high level. And that’s where the name came from.

We thank Complex for doing this interview and wish Cordae all the best in his career.


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