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Wednesday, November 30, 2022
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(Image Courtesy of Frank Schwichtenberg / Creative Commons)

Cordae's freestyles are better than his recorded studio music

It’s been a busy month for Cordae. He released his sophomore album, From a Bird’s Eye View, on Jan. 14, an ambitious 14-track project with several high-profile features, such as Freddie Gibbs and Lil Wayne. It’s a solid record that’s fairly reminiscent of his first album, with an emphasis on production that still lets him display his flow. But Cordae’s most impressive musical endeavor of the month came two days prior, when he appeared on Power 106 FM in Los Angeles to freestyle.

It’s not that From a Bird’s Eye View or The Lost Boy are bad — they’re well thought-out albums and they do enough to distinguish themselves from the mass of mainstream hip-hop — but Cordae is old-school. His real talent can’t be found in a polished, professionally-produced album. His real talent is in the gritty, precise flow of words from one measure to the next that is best represented by a freestyle. 

Cordae returned to Power 106 a champion, having absolutely crushed his first freestyle on the show back in the summer of 2018. His first time around, he expertly dissected several diverse beats, from Kendrick Lamar’s jazzy “DUCKWORTH” to Lil Pump’s goofy “ESSKEETIT.” Switching flows effortlessly and spitting lines both humorous (“My money stronger than Larry Lobster”) and jaw-dropping (“I need the new Bugatti / for the few who got me / killing beats is a ruthless hobby”), Cordae had DJ’s Justin Credible and SourMilk amazed. 

So when Cordae walked into Power 106 on Jan. 12, greatness was bound to grace the airwaves of greater Los Angeles. On the video, you can almost see him channel his energy as the opening skit of Biggie’s “Kick in the Door” gives way to the thumping, sinister beat. It’s clear that when Cordae is rhyming off the top of his head, he’s more animated and energetic than when he’s in the studio. He ends an exceedingly impressive eight minutes by ad-libbing his own chorus over Kodak Black’s “Super Gremlin.”

Because the freestyle is essentially rap in its purest form, it’s nothing new. However, in the modern, heavily mediated reality of music, it has become more prevalent. Everyone is walking around with a camera and endless beats in their pocket. Platforms like YouTube are helping freestyles like Cordae’s, that would’ve been heard once on the radio, archive and spread. There are shows entirely dedicated to freestyles, like producer Kenny Beats’ “The Cave,” which garners millions of views regularly. Lin-Manuel Miranda even freestyled for Obama in the White House in 2016. 

Freestyle is one of the truest tests of the MC. Anyone’s voice can sound good in a studio, where modern digital production can transform a voice into something it could never be. Anyone’s flow can be smooth when they have hours to pour over an instrumental track and rewrite and rehearse line after line. The very nature of a freestyle strips an MC of everything but their natural talent. A quick examination reveals that Cordae’s is boundless, despite an underwhelming studio career. 

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