When a trio of young rappers began gaining traction under the collaborative moniker YBN, astute listeners were quick to point out comparisons with the young rappers and star-powered rap groups who came before them. In particular, YBN Nahmir's cockiness and big personality were foiled by YBN Cordae's whip-smart lyricism in a way that mirrored the roles of Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt in Odd Future. YBN were more of a collective than they were collaborators, and Cordae's singles and mixtape contributions were marked by complexly constructed rhymes delivered with a style that nodded more and more to hip-hop's golden era as he went. On his debut studio album, The Lost Boy, Cordae emerges in bold, colorful strides, joined by some of rap's key players on an album as adventurous as it is thoughtful. His intricate flows take shape over an ever-shifting palette of instrumentals, from the slithery trap beats of "Have Mercy" and "Broke as Fuck" to the nostalgic summery beat and wistful electric piano of the Chance the Rapper-assisted "Bad Idea." The album moves between styles, landing on infectious pop with "RNP," a melody-forward tune produced by J. Cole that sees Cordae and Anderson .Paak trading verses about living the good life. Themes of family, community, and redemption find their way into the lyrics among the sex, cars, and tales of past struggles. Cordae's dexterous lyrical delivery sometimes mutates into sincerely sung verses, as on the R&B-tinged "Way Back Home." The rapper's skills aren't in question on The Lost Boy, but the album sometimes overshoots in its ambition, aiming for too many styles to hit them all with excellence. It's still a strong collection, and when Cordae strikes a perfect balance of mellow production and lyrical power on standout tracks like "We Gon Make It," it points to even more fully formed work ahead from a strong talent just getting started.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas