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With almost two million followers on Instagram and over 5 million listeners a month on Spotify, YBN Cordae is absolutely killing the rap game. With vulnerable lyrics and fire beats, he designs music that speaks to a generation. On my podcast “Deep Into the Mind” YBN Cordae shared some of his biggest lessons and most insightful advice. From not taking things so seriously to embracing your vulnerability, these are the things that have helped to make him a huge success.
1. Take it all in: In a world that consistently moves faster than we can keep up with, it’s imperative to take a breath and enjoy life in all its entirety. As YBN Cordae tells us, it’s certainly not always pretty. However, that doesn’t mean that life isn’t worth living anyway. “We all take life for granted, one way or another. If you get mad at anything during the day, you took your life for granted. Nothing should piss you off, because you woke up this morning.”
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2. Close your circle: Whether you’re wildly successful or you’re just beginning, the people you surround yourself with have more impact than you know. Choosing the people you let in and the influences you seek is often the most important piece of the puzzle. “I’m an introvert, but I disguise my introversion by being an extrovert. If I don’t have to be around people, I’m not. If I’m around people, I’m gonna do my thing. But I’m not really with the fake kickin’ it — everything’s organic, everything’s natural,” Cordae says. But even when it comes to being around people who he loves, Cordae is careful. “I’m very protective of my energy. You have to protect your energy around outside sources because your positive energy can be canceled out by someone’s dark energy.”
3. Embrace the vulnerability: Vulnerability matters to people, especially in the creative field. Choosing to lean into the things that have hurt you or the things that make you tick is how you can make music and art that resonates. Cordae tells us, “My creativeness stems from my love of music. Music is pure emotion. Music is the infinity sign. Music is self-expression in its purest form — it’s how I express my anger, my self-doubt, my love. I think my music is very vulnerable and very expressive, very transparent. I’m still growing as an artist. I’m always perfecting my craft.” Without using self-expression to fuel his music, Cordae wouldn’t be the same artist. By leaning into hurtful or motivating things, he’s made music that hits people right in the heart.
4. Find what works for you: Whether you’re killing it in the creative field or spending your days working at a regular 9-to-5, there are certain things that will work for you and motivate you to finish. Without focusing on the things that make your life and your work matter, your life can seem rather lost. “I don’t advise anybody to stay away from everything, but I don’t smoke or drink. Ever since I stopped smoking, things started going up. My mind was more clear, I was more focused, but I don’t recommend that for everybody. With a sober mind, I’m an aggressive worker. I haven’t figured out life yet. I’m still figuring it out, trying to become the best human being possible. Before I am an artist, I am a human being,” Cordae says. “You have to be a nice person— that energy’s reciprocated to you. I’m just myself. I don’t try to portray any lifestyle I’m not living. I’m just myself, unapologetically. I’m not trying to create an image or a facade. Nobody can be me better than me. I haven’t found myself all the way yet. If you’re in competition with anyone, you’ve lost. I’m competitive, but I’m not in competition. I can only be me.”
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5. Be obsessed with your work: Regardless of your success level or your beginnings, nothing matters if you’re not truly committed to your work. Cordae summed it all up perfectly, explaining to us that without obsession, you can’t have movement. “Strive harder. Manifest, make your goals into a reality, have a purpose behind everything. Move smart. Study whatever craft you want to get into, analyze it from a more critical standpoint, become obsessed. I still have so much more I’ve gotta do, and never get satisfied,” he says. “Complacency leads to declination, so I’m always like, ‘What’s next?’ You’ve gotta be appreciative of everything. You’ve gotta take those times to soak in the moment, but not for too long. Don’t get too caught up in your hype.”
6. Think big picture: It’s incredibly appealing to sign the first deal you’re offered, to cash the first check you see, or to join partnerships that don’t fit you. However, as Cordae tells us, there’s no point in working in a way that won’t fit with your goals. “I’m always very careful about who I align myself with. Don’t always take the first check. Think long-term. Don’t skip any steps and don’t bite off more than you can chew,” Cordae says. “There’s so much more I gotta do, and I’m just looking at the big picture. It’s gonna be dope. I don’t know what life has in store, but I know it’s greatness.”
7. Put in the work: So many people in any kind of work try to skip steps. They tend to look for shortcuts, search for the easy way out and try to find ways to race to the top. However, it’s hard to build a long career when you haven’t truly invested in your own longevity. “When you buy a house, it’s from scratch. When you buy land, you’ve gotta lay your sediment, your concrete, the dry rock, and the foundation of the house. You don’t buy land and the first thing you get is cable and TV,” Cordae explains.
8. Remember that it’s not all about money: The financial piece of working is obviously an important one. However, running headfirst into your work without focusing on the work itself is a surefire way to fail. Without honing your craft and focusing on the work at hand, the money won’t come anyway. It’s imperative to focus on building your skills before building your bank account. “It’s not all about the money. When you do what you love at a high level, the money will follow,” Cordae says. “The wealth will follow seamlessly, easily. Make good music, or whatever you’re working on. Focus on that idea. Focus on your signature.”
From focusing on the foundations to learning how to look at things big picture, YBN Cordae’s advice may be just what you need to get on track with your own creative life. With the advice of one of the top Gen Z rappers at your fingertips, you’ll be able to embrace creativity, lean into your own vulnerability and enjoy your obsession with your own work.