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Hip-hop has always had an infatuation with crews, and while the landscape of today is irreconcilable with the genre’s humble beginnings in The Bronx, its metamorphosis into a global presence has never diminished the affinity for rap groups. Whether it’s musical unions such as Migos, Flatbush Zombies, BROCKHAMPTON, SOBxRBE, or A$AP Mob, today’s collectives continue to prove that strength in numbers reamins. The necessity of finding these kindred spirits in your own community undoubtedly yielded many of the most heralded rap crews of all time, but what we’re seeing today is the emergence of a new breed of group that is not born out of proximity but of a shared ethos that they’ve made known to the wider world.

In the same vein as the rampantly inventive BROCKHAMPTON, a prime example of this modernized incarnation of the rap crew is Young Boss N*ggaz, more commonly known by the acronym of YBN. For anyone that’s even vaguely acquainted with the regularly replenished pool of artists that are next up, its three core members – Nahmir, Almighty Jay, and their latest recruit Cordae – have been completely inescapable in recent times.

Founded in an ad-hoc and offhand fashion by a young Birmingham, Alabama native known then as Nick Simmons, the man that would become YBN Nahmir informed XXL that the inspiration for the adolescent’s decision to dabble with making music came from an unconventional yet typically millennial source:

“I started making music when I was like 14. I had a little rock band and I was just recording some shit, fucking around. Everybody had rock bands. But after that I found out I could record with the rock band’s mic. I put a napkin over it to try and make it pop better. I always took rapping seriously but it wasn’t like how serious it is now. It was more of a hobby but now I just started taking it really seriously because rapping is changing my life.”

Nahmir met his long-time collaborator and confidant Almighty Jay on the digital battlefields of Xbox Live. With the ranks of his burgeoning collective now featuring the Galveston, Texas MC alongside an assortment of other members, including YBN Manny, YBN Walker, and the group’s apparent ‘head huncho’ Glizzy, Nahmir formally unveiled himself to the world with “Hood Mentality” featuring the newly enlisted Jay. In comparison to the numbers and online chatter that each new track from their camp commands today, this rudimentary effort from the two glaringly young MCs made little to no dent in the collective consciousness.

Nahmir and Jay were not to be deterred by the world’s nonplussed response to their first offerings and would continue to hone their craft until their fortunes would take a drastic turn in September of last year. Unveiled as a highly coveted exclusive on Worldstar’s hype-machine of a YouTube channel, the YBN moniker was soon firmly implanted into the cultural vernacular when Nahmir’s “Rubbin’ Off the Paint” began to gather steam. Produced by Sweden’s Izak, this bass-heavy, Spongebob-referencing track (that would later lead to a legal dispute after the track was sold without Nahmir’s knowledge) displayed the 17-year-old as a cocksure artist with an acute understanding of the composition of a viral hit and how to inject your own flavor into this tried and tested formula.

From then on, YBN’s every move has been met with a mixture of praise, skepticism, or flat-out ridicule from hip-hop consumers, and the arrival of their latest recruit YBN Cordae (along with the new dynamic he’s added to their arsenal) makes them a truly fascinating proposition from here on out. Now that they seem to have inscribed the YBN name into the fabric of the genre for the next few years at least, the enviable position that they’ve found themselves at such a prodigious age means that what the future may hold for them warrants further exploration.

YBN Nahmir

Imbued with increased self-assurance and a rabid new fanbase to appease after “Rubbin Off the Paint” brought him into the view of over 100 million evaluating eyes, Nahmir is clearly cognizant of how fast the hip-hop news cycle can leave you behind and has kept the fires of intrigue stoked with track after track. Next to aligning yourself with WorldStar, there is perhaps no more well-trodden path to enhancing your status amid the pack than enlisting the services of director du jour Cole Bennett, and that’s exactly what Nahmir did with “Bounce Out With That.”

On top of a succession of material that had aired in the interim between his previous sensation and this offering from January 2018 – such as “The Race” (Tay-K Remix), “I Got a Stick,” and the Almighty Jay-aided “No Hook” – this second explosion of views and streaming revenue was enough to land Nahmir a deal with Atlantic Records and inclusion on the 2018 XXL Freshman Class. Upon attaining these accolades, Nahmir would’ve been forgiven for taking a moment to depressurize, but instead, he opted to remain committed to building his brand with new tracks like “Automatic” and “Pain Away” featuring YBN Cordae.

This level of focus and ardent commitment from someone that’s just made the transition to adulthood is certainly admirable, but when you consider the mogul-mindset that he’s espoused during interviews, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Rather than being content with a flourishing music career, the Los Angeles-resident expressed his desire to expand into other facets of the media to Noisey last month:

“We got the gaming shit coming, we got some movie shit we’re doing coming soon, we already going crazy with the rap shit, so a bunch of things coming soon and mothafuckas just gonna have to watch and find out.”

YBN Almighty Jay

Where Nahmir has garnered traction for his demure, nonchalant flow, his friend and fellow YBN stalwart Almighty Jay’s energy exists in the plain of hyperactivity. Labelled by Nahmir himself as a “wild n***a,” this exuberant Texan began to accumulate considerable buzz in his own right when the infectious “Chop Sticks” emerged in late 2017. Complete with an abundance of ad-libs and a proclivity for rattling trap beats, Almighty Jay’s demeanor in both interviews and on wax suggests that he has acclimated to the trappings of hip-hop fame like a duck to water.

Evidently of the belief that this is the preordained path laid out for him, Jay went as far as to permanently etch a statement of intent and personal mantra on his skin by getting the word ‘legend’ tattooed behind his ear. When asked by XXL what his career goals were, Jay elaborated on his decision to ink his predicted standing in hip-hop by stating that “I want everyone to remember me for something in hip-hop. You know how you got your Lil Wayne’s, your Snoop Dogg’s, your Eminem’s and Dr. Dre’s. Legends, know what I’m saying? I wanna be remembered like that.” After furthering his name recognition in the music world with “Two-Tone Drip” and his latest Zaytoven-assisted offering among others, the name of Almighty Jay would soon transcend hip-hop blogs and YouTube reaction videos and make its way into the columns of celebrity gossip sites.

While he may jestingly proclaim that they met on Christian Mingle, the young rapper has been involved in a love affair with Blac Chyna over the past few months that has transported him from the realm of budding rap prospect to mega-tabloid fodder and the subject of the encroaching lens of the paparazzi. Forced to contend with his every outing with the model and make-up entrepreneur being watched by an expectant press, Jay is under no illusions that his love life hasn’t threatened to overshadow his creative output, and even cited it as his standout moment to XXL’s The Break on the grounds that “everyone notices that.” Following a brief split, the pair have now patched things up and have recommenced their romance in earnest, but hopefully Jay can take heed of the example set by Travis Scott in how to separate the frivolous fame that comes with his beau from his output, as opposed to allowing this to eclipse his material in the same manner that once laid waste to Tyga’s last vestiges of relevance.

YBN Cordae

The group’s newest proponent, YBN Cordae, is an enigmatic outlier in every sense of the word. Formerly known under the pseudonym of Entendre, Cordae may be a late-comer to the collective, but he has wasted little time in establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with.

Having honed his skills since the tender age of 15, the North Carolina-bred MC’s material veers away from not only his peers in YBN but foregoes the lackadaisical approach to lyricism that has become so prevalent in order to display a serious knack for wordplay. Portrayed in interviews as a student of the game, his greatest influences equate to a laundry list of those who’ve reached nigh-on unscalable heights on the mic: “Nas was a huge influence. That’s probably my favorite rapper of all time. Nas, Big L, Rakim, Jay-Z, of course.”

Barbed-tongued and refreshingly insightful, his verbosity and penmanship adds a new aspect to the group and has led him to declare himself its ‘lyrical forcefield’ that could deter their fellow rappers from wishing to engage in beef for fear of his accomplished retort. Lyrical skill may be one thing, but Cordae has wasted little time proving that he has no intentions of piggybacking from his compatriots’ strides into the wider world and has begun to construct a fanbase of his own through a combination risk-taking and raw talent.

There are few sacred cows, boundaries, or taboos in hip-hop, but something that always breeds apprehension is the attempt to either spark the notoriously volatile temper of Eminem or outdo him on his own beats. Despite all of the trepidation that usually comes with stepping into his hallowed catalog, Cordae was unfettered by this age-old wisdom and signposted his arrival in the YBN camp by hopping on The Marshall Mathers LP‘s “My Name Is” and showcasing his array of skills.

As if that wasn’t enough of a daring and awe-inspiring feat for a rookie MC, Cordae wasted little time before directly addressing another bastion of excellence in the genre by offering a measured rebuttal to J. Cole’s Lil Pump diss, “1985.” A thoughtful response which sought to dispel the misconceptions that are harbored between ‘old heads’ and the new school, he has since elaborated upon why he’s looking to unite the divide by claiming that “At the end of the day, we all look the same to the police, the old heads look like the young n*ggas to the police, we all go through the same struggles and we’re all under the same oppressors.”

What this tells us about Cordae is that he is aware that his output doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and thus pitting his own rhyming abilities against gatekeepers of the genre may be daring, but it is also inherently newsworthy. Placed at a deficit by his shorter timespan in their camp, he has taken a slip road that has allowed him to make up ground and ensured that both admirers and detractors waited with baited breath for his next move. Given the credence that’s been given to the consumer’s viewpoint towards his fellow YBN members, the response to his bona fide original debuts under their banner has prompted many observers to proclaim him to be its finest member. Entitled “Fighting Temptations” and “Kung Fu,” these hook-laden tracks align modern rap with hallmarks of a bygone alongside a veritable smorgasbord of wordplay and metaphors that have led him to be categorised alongside J.I.D, Denzel Curry, and other similarly astute wordsmiths.

Bonded by a shared desire to leave an irreversible dent in culture and build a lasting legacy, YBN’s core members may differ greatly from a sonic and aesthetic standpoint, but it doesn’t make them any less cohesive as a unit. In fact, their fundamental differences may be the very thing that propels them to the top as their ability to cater to different audiences could theoretically allow them to make their presence felt in every side of the hip-hop marketplace. Whatever the future holds for Nahmir, Jay, and Cordae, what is becoming all too clear is that successful and longstanding careers they crave are theirs for the taking if they can retain the hunger that’s got them to this favorable position.

For more like this, read what rappers can learn from Joe Budden’s late-career renaissance right here.

Words by Robert Blair
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