The downbeat: YBN Cordae’s dual videos showcase the relationship between marketing and artistry

A black and white depiction of YBN Cordae, who is wearing a black shirt and has short dreadlocks.
Graphic by Chloe Frelinghuysen

Rapper YBN Cordae just announced the name of his first full-length album, “The Lost Boy,” as well as his first solo tour. For his single “Have Mercy,” Cordae also dropped two contrasting visuals showing a track A and a track B, creating a kind of a choose-your-own-adventure style video series.

The two releases prompt the audience to wonder: Are the two videos an artistic choice used to best represent Cordae’s vision for his autobiographical song? Or are the visuals purely for marketing, used to promote sales for his new album and tour?

Music and visuals have a long, intertwined history. Even back in the days of turntables, artists considered the art that would be displayed on the sleeve of their records. With digital media, however, there seems to be an increase in visuals used to brand and sell music.

Music itself may not be as important to listeners as how the music looks, according to one study conducted by Harvard University. The study found that “visual trumps the audio, even in a setting where audio information should matter much more.”

If an artist’s aim is to sell music and make money, this trend naturally shifts their focus from the music to the visual quality of their art. If consumers like the artist’s visuals, theoretically, consumers will spend money on the music.

Videos are especially effective at attracting consumers because they combine sound and movement. Video content also has the highest retention rate of any form of digital media.

Forbes published an article that said viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it on video, compared to 10% when reading pure text. With 65% of people being visual learners, according to the Social Science Research Network, it makes sense that YouTube receives more than one billion unique visitors a month, while videos are shared 1,200% more than links and texts combined.

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While video marketing is known to be effective, Cordae’s dueling videos are still unique in comparison to existing content.

Path B of Cordae’s visuals is especially interesting. Scenes of burning palm trees and dimly lit hotel corridors mix with Cordae’s line “baby Jesus, please save us” to create the sense that Cordae is crying out for help.

The visuals do not feel inauthentic, nor do they feel like an advertisement. Cordae does not appear to be glamorizing his life, especially with the Path B video. I don’t believe Cordae released two videos with the idea that more is more; I believe Cordae released two videos because he wanted to.

Part of Cordae’s appeal as an artist is his ability to bridge generational gaps in hip hop. Cordae himself said in an interview with Open Space that “I’m not a rapper. I’m an artist,” when discussing his mass appeal.

Cordae speaks to marketing in the interview as well, saying, “The numbers are going crazy cause it’s on fucking World Star. People are talking about it, they’re sharing it.”

Cordae wants to be successful, and being successful requires more than just marketing.

Success requires concern for artistry. But unlike Cordae’s video release, where the viewer chooses one path or the other, attention to marketing and concern for artistry can occur simultaneously. Cordae proves that the presence of one does not mean the absence of the other.

By using modern marketing, Cordae shows that old-school tactics are still relevant, especially when they have a modern twist. Visuals have always been part of music, and in this era, videos can propel music to reach wider audiences than ever before.

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Ella Boyd SC ’22 is TSL’s music columnist. Besides writing, she enjoys listening to music, discussing pop culture and making art.

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