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YBN Collective
Highsnobiety


3.5/5.0

Prior to YBN: The Mixtape, the world at large didn’t know enough about the Young Boss N****s Collective to judge whether it would ultimately be successful or not. Each member of its main trio–YBN Nahmir, YBN Almighty Jay, and YBN Cordae–looms larger than their music. You’ll find only a handful of their songs, but dozens of tabloid headlines. They’re young, rambunctious youths that, aside from a whirlwind of shenanigans involving dating celebrities and being accused of being industry plants, are three rappers of varying, not-yet-understood tastes. YBN: The Mixtape makes it a mission to explore their identities and search for a collective purpose. While it may not be the deepest, and the trio not the most polished of today’s cast of rap personalities, YBN: The Mixtape shows that when conditions are right, the group’s youthful banter accounts for great music, although perhaps not the most inventive.

When we think of modern rap collectives like the A$AP Mob or even Pro Era, we think of shared similarities. A$AP Twelvy and A$AP Ant spit a near similar brand of punctilious rap. The boom bap-inspired extravagance through which Joey Bada$$ channels his energy, fellow members Kirk Knight and CJ Fly repurpose. YBN is cut a tad different. Each of its members occupies their own space. YBN Almighty Jay is outlandishly loud and ignorant, YBN Cordae is the polar opposite – refined and articulate. YBN Nahmir is somewhere in the middle with more of a steely, calm front. Together, they cover the scope of new age rap’s constantly changing paradigm. YBN: The Mixtape does a suitable job of exploring each of their styles succinctly while connecting the dots to an encompassing picture of what YBN is – youth, craziness, impulsiveness, and a smidge of nostalgia.

The mixtape starts with a phone call. Thirty seconds of brotherly love and support; two friends discussing their stressors. Jay and Nahmir then smoke a blunt and, over some much gloomier production, rap about what they’re going through. It’s a little deeper than what we’re used to from “Rubbin Off The Paint”- Nahmir and Instagram’s loudest star in Jay, a change probably prompted by the very existence of Cordae who threatens to engulf them in popularity within the industry. The ploy works. The track is a mesmerizing climax of flows that haunts with shady imagery. Aptly titled “Intro,” it sets the stage for an enchanting project full of addictive music.

“Porsches In The Rain” is an early highlight, a bruising party-starter that blooms from a dark, depressing symphony. Nahmir and Jay’s ability to liven up any instrumental is scary. Their lyricism isn’t anything complex enough to warrant analysis, but it’s passable and suitable for what they’re trying to accomplish. Their breathless flows and magnetic control of cadence sharpen the atmosphere and crystallize diamonds when they are together, picking up the other’s slack in different areas. They replicate this same energy on follow-up “Nah For Real” that sounds bleak initially, before evolving into an earworm submerged in dark energy.

If you pay attention to the tracklist, you’ll notice nearly immediately that the group’s synergy is not equally distributed. Nearly every collaboration of Nahmir comes with Jay and vice versa. Cordae is left out of the mix, save for “Make Me Feel” and “Pain Away” where he links up with Jay and Nahmir respectively. Their synchronicity comes from their similar style-centric flows —“New Drip” sounds like a song version of anything that Nahmir and Jay talk about to each other during their sneaker shopping trip with No Jumper. “Think Twice” similarly is under-20’s, strip club, spilling-100s rap with no other particular purpose other than to sound good talking about their “drip.” When Cordae appears here, he’s usually by himself. It’s a wise choice that allows him to show that he’s the most technically gifted of the bunch.

“Target” invokes the spirit of Eazy E with suspenseful story-telling for a new age, a prime example of Cordae’s fascination with rap itself rather than what it brings to the genre’s most successful artists. His other track, “Kung Fu,” is a little rough around the edges. The production, while fitting of the ominous nature of most of the tracks on YBN: The Mixtape, isn’t Cordae’s forte. If he believes it is, he needs to take a long, hard, look in the mirror. Lyrical rap is at odds with new age’s trap-esque beat catalog. Mixing the two just doesn’t sound as good, no matter who does it.

It goes without saying that on “Make Me Feel,” the production favors Jay over Cordae – and that’s being generous. Jay sounds awkward with his repeated, goofy refrains of “You make me feel like a boss” while Cordae tries to sing while the wannabe techno backdrop plays on. Yuck. “Pain Away” fares a tad bit better with a grainy audio vignette that makes Cordae’s abysmal singing sound a little bit better. But this is up Nahmir’s alley. His empty rhymes continue his masterful control of flow that makes his share of the album endlessly interesting to listen to.

Without a doubt, the weakest link is Jay. While he’s technically good, his rhymes are empty. It’s not that he’s recycling his drip as the protagonist in each story he plays, there’s just no oomph in his words. Think of runny oatmeal without enough oats—it just spills down your throat without actually filling you up and tastes good, but the texture doesn’t do anything for you. Eventually over time, it even repulses you. By the end of YBN: The Mixtape, I found myself looking for less Jay and more of Nahmir and Cordae. “Chopsticks” is a rare highlight, but I can’t decide if it’s because Jay sounds like he’s angry or because the production is spacey enough to counterbalance his mundane delivery. Including “Rubbin Off The Paint” and “Bounce Out With That” enables listeners to hear how far Nahmir has come since his breakout hits from last year and earlier this year.

In truth, it’s not far, but there’s not much more he can add to his dynamic without dipping into the more lyrically and socially aware Cordae’s territory. Maybe that’s why he enlisted him into the group. Jay has his own domain as well. Together, the three can exist as themselves without that need for change that rap fans often demand of their favorites. The three have enough similarities, but also slightly enough differences, that when listeners consume their music, they’re satisfied with what they get. YBN: The Mixtape makes this clear over the course of twenty-three tracks. It feels excessive, but that’s probably the point. After all, they’re establishing their identities. There’s some cleaning up to be done, especially with YBN Cordae’s choice of beats, but, overall, the collective’s propensity for catchy, mindless music is enchanting. They might not ever have a “Fight The Power!” moment but the YBN collective is well on its way to earning its spot in the cramped, claustrophobic space of rap’s elite. The group just needs a little more polish.

YBN Collective’s’ ‘YBN: The Mixtape’ is available to buy or stream. For more of our album reviews, head here.

Words by Trey Alston
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