“I’ve been at this nine years and now they start to call,” Russ sings on his breakout single, “What They Want.” Don’t confuse this as idle boasting from the eclectic Atlanta phenom; it’s a reminder that his rapid ascent was anything but accidental.
As the truism goes, there are 10 years of hard work behind every overnight success. In an industry filled with plants and manufactured hype, Russ did it all himself. No deep-pocketed managers funded his ascent. No co-signs propelled his rise.
Since 14, the Atlanta native has dedicated himself to music with a passion you usually only see in Tour De France champions and fictional whaling captains. His music boasts the diverse tastes of someone who grew up everywhere: New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio, and eventually Georgia.
You can detect those regional influences in his hooks of the artists he grew up with—a rich gumbo that resembles 50 Cent passing blunts with Jim Morison; The Allman Brothers jamming with Drake; The Beatles with George Martin swapped for Outkast; the middle ground between 2Pac and Dipak (Chopra).
Early in his teenaged years, his family eventually settled 20 miles outside of Atlanta. Around that same time, he began making beats. Towards the end of high school, he picked up a mic, and taught himself how to play the piano, guitar, and drums. After dropping out of Kennesaw State as a freshman, Russ formed his DIEMON Crew. They shot their own videos, made their own merchandise, and mostly recorded in isolation. At the age of 23, he’s emerged as a DIY pioneer.
When most of his peers mimic the most popular disposable art, Russ has created an uncategorizable style—one almost as brilliantly alien as history’s finest ATLiens. No exact analogues exist. Russ doesn’t slip back and forth from hyper-melodic inspirational guitar anthems to raw East Coast hip-hop—they’re all effortlessly combined in the same song. There are hints of hammock-rocking reggae, whiskey-soaked Southern rock, and soul-scarred R&B. No gimmicks, just eclectic fusion at its most advanced.
Russ made all the beats. He wrote all the raps and the hooks. He engineered and mixed and sang the songs, played the guitar, programmed the drums, and delved deep into his soul to figure out who he is and what he wants out of life. Then he wrote manifestos like “Do It Myself” to outline the road map for others to follow.
If the true mark of a rebel is to resist accepted falsehoods, speak up for what they believe, and go against the grain, Russ owns that description. Take his current hit, “What They Want.” Sure, the beat is hard and there are bars about girls and his rise to success, but it goes much deeper. He’s the one pulling the strings and pointing out the puppets. He’s savvy and attuned to the demands of the music industry.
This is a business and he’s aware that a sought-after commodity but refuses to fall into the clichéd pitfalls. Russ waited to sign to a major label until he had the leverage to fulfill his vision. No one can ever be the boss of him. He’s desirous of money but wary of it—nothing can compromise his integrity.
Consider “Pull the Trigger,” a song that questions accepted wisdom, rejecting fear, inspiring those on the fence to jump over it and get what they believe they deserve. The drums slap, the piano lines are menacing, the hooks as sticky as Southern humidity. Or “Losin Control,” a forlorn rap ballad as elegantly constructed and artfully sung as anything to ever come out on OVO.
This is heartfelt, truthful music for self-empowerment. Real soul. It’s hard but melodic, sophisticated but with a direct emotional message. There is a quote from the Alchemist, “and, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Russ internalized that message, actualized it, and now, this story’s really about to begin
Like so many rappers after the turn of the millennium, Los Angeles-based rap artist Keenon Jackson (otherwise known as YG or Young Gangsta) got his start by accumulating a wide internet following. The success of "She a Model" and "Aim Me" online earned him a bid with Def Jam, and he signed to the pioneering hip-hop label in 2009. Several mixtapes followed, including 2010's The Real 4Fingaz and 2011's Just Re'd Up, each of which boasted a charting Billboard single. He also became a popular MC, guesting on tracks by Freddie Gibbs, Travis Porter, E-40, Nipsey Hussle, and Young Jeezy.
My Krazy Life In 2013, it was announced that Jeezy would be producing his debut studio full-length, to be titled Im 4rm Bompton, which was slated for a summer release that year. The planned album never appeared, as YG entered the studio with a different producer, DJ Mustard. The album My Krazy Life finally landed in 2014, with Drake, Rich Homie Quan, and ScHoolboy Q among its guests. The album earned positive reviews, and debuted at number two on the album charts. Drake returned for 2016's album Still Brazy, which included more of a political and sociological bent, including the anti-Donald Trump single "FDT."
Recording artist Vince Staples has come a long way from his trying upbringing in Long Beach, California’s Ramona Park neighborhood. Releasing his critically acclaimed debut Summertime ’06 album in 2015, the then twenty-year-old saw his life turned right side up, going from being nearly trapped to having what appeared to be complete freedom.
Yet, as his most recent projects suggest, appearances can be deceiving. The LPs delves into the confusion of sudden fame and acclimating to a lifestyle antithetical to the one he’d known in Long Beach – one wrought with gang violence and poverty. It’s a fundamental narrative in hip hop, but rappers have always found a new way to breathe life into it. Staples brings forth a vision that’s brutal, elegant, playful, and despondent in one breath.
Such is the nature of his music, as self and socially aware as it is comical. With FM!, Big Fish Theory, Prima Donna and Summertime ’06 behind him, Staples has set the tone for what’s yet to come. A standout rapper in today’s hip hop world, he keeps his sound deeply tied to his west coast roots and his message one that knows no boundaries.
In a world of full of painful departures, his art gives listeners reason to believe that, somehow, as he advances, the people who have left him and the people who he's left behind will still be waiting for him at the end.
Words connect us. They comprise the stories we pass down from one generation to the next. Ultimately, they pull us closer together and enable us to empathize. YBN Cordae recognizes, respects, and reveres the verbal potential for unity. Acrobatic raps, cinematic wordplay, and nimble rhymes cement the Maryland-raised and Los Angeles-based MC as a consummate 21st century storyteller. This status would be affirmed by 200 million streams within a year and a place at the forefront of hip-hop’s modern vanguard as a 2019 XXL “Freshman Class” cover star, among other accolades.
Now, he employs the full power of language on his full-length debut, The Lost Boy [Atlantic Records].
“Words are the foundation for human communication,” he explains. “That’s how we connect. I’m just telling my story on a human level. I’m talking about the things I’ve gone through and seen others go through in my environment. It’s all me.”
It stands out as quite the tale, to say the least…
Born to a 16-year-old mother in Raleigh, NC, he wrote his first rhyme at just four-years-old—which he can still rattle off as if he just penned it. Citing Nas, Big L., and JAY-Z (his all-time favorite) as chief inspirations, he studied the artform every waking minute. At the time, he shared “his grandma’s trailer in the country with at least 15 people at any given time” and recalls his uncle Tuti “smoking weed with his homies, making beats, and playing music” as another formative influence. When Cordae turned ten, mom got a job with the government and moved the budding rapper and his younger brother to Maryland. These experiences informed a diverse viewpoint.
“I’ve lived in a trailer park, but I’ve also lived in the inner city and the suburbs,” he continues. “I’ve dealt with all different walks of life as far as the American experience goes. My mother had a good job, but she was still a single mom. We didn’t have cable or internet, so I did music to occupy my time. I take all this into the album.”
Settling in Maryland, he rapped on-command at school, entertaining a classmate for $3 per rhyme and trading his earnings for Doritos or lunch. At the age of 15, he began collecting, trading, and buying sneakers, saving up enough money to purchase a home studio. As he started recording consistently, he linked up with YBN during 2017 in between attending Towson University and waiting tables.
A year later, he dropped out of college as his remix of Eminem’s “My Name Is” and “Old ******” exploded virally. In the aftermath, Cordae’s proper debut single “Kung Fu” popped off with 77 million Spotify streams in less than 12 months. Pegged “one of music’s most promising rising stars” by The Wall Street Journal and touted on Complex’s “The Best New Artists of 2018,” he landed on “Artist to Watch” lists from Amazon Music, New York Times, Billboard, iHeart Radio, and VEVO DSCVR, to name a few.
Along the way, he recorded what would become The Lost Boy. Adhering to a defined vision, he ambitiously threaded together a cohesive coming-of-age narrative that plays out like a film or classic novel.
“I’m telling a story from the beginning all the way through the end across the whole tracklist,” he elaborates. “I made it very strategically. I kept saying, ‘Lost Boy’ the whole time. I had an epiphany. I realized I was figuring out who I am and going through the ups and downs of life. The phrase gave me a concept to follow. In the beginning, I’m talking about how I was lost in college as a waiter. Shit hits the fan, of course. Then, I’m reminiscing about going home. I’m discussing a whole new echelon of stress and problems with success. I’m trying to find my way back to home at the conclusion. Every track is a prequel to the track after.”
He teased out the project with the cathedral-size raps of “Have Mercy,” amassing 25 million Spotify streams right out of the gate. On its heels, the single “Bad Idea” [feat. Chance the Rapper] pairs finger-snaps and soulful crooning with a head-spinning lyrical crossfire from Cordae and Chance.
“I met Chance at Coachella,” he remembers. “He cut his verse in ten minutes off the top. Witnessing him do that was really dope. I’m talking about what I’ve been through in the lyrics.”
Meanwhile, the follow-up single “RNP” [feat. Anderson Paak] slips from a thudding bass line into a proclamation from Paak marked by Shaft-level swagger. The production from none other than J. Cole underscores another rhyme masterclass from Cordae whose swift cadences converge on an airtight call-and-response with his co-star.
“I was telling my dad about industry and rapper problems,” he admits. “He said to me, ‘Yo bro, you’re still living your dream. You make music for a living. These sound like rich ***** problems to me’. He put everything in perspective, so I wrote a song about it.”
The record collates snapshots of his life. Icy horns and gusts of verbal agility drive the confessional opener “Wintertime.” Elsewhere, “Thanksgiving” details “bringing your girl home for the holidays,” and the fierce “Broke As Fuck (Freestyle)” exorcises the pain of his grandmother’s passing and the murder of his cousin as he screams, “I’m the illest,” practically through tears. “Nightmares Are Real” [feat. Pusha T] sees both spitters “on some storytelling shit” as “We Gon Make It” [feat. Meek Mill] fires off “motivation music.” Everything culminates on the uplifting “Lost & Found” where he exclaims, “Yeah, I was a lost boy, but now I’m found.”
By the time The Lost Boy concludes, an early bar on “Wintertime” still rings out the loudest.
He pleads, “Hopefully my words never die.”
“When you listen to the album, I hope it inspires you to ask yourself questions about who you are as a person and who you’re growing into,” he leaves off. “The music was really therapeutic for me. I’m using these words to encourage you to unapologetically be yourself. I feel like I found myself.”
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