Talk about doing it for the culture. After partnering with the Walt Disney Co. and ThePowerBloc in June to help fund historically Black college and university (HBCU) scholarships, two-time Grammy-nominated rapper Cordae wrapped up a weeklong tour on Tuesday of the eight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) institutions to preview his new album.
The “Kickin’ It With Cordae” tour began Sept. 14 at Norfolk State University, before making stops at Howard, Morgan State, Coppin State, Delaware State, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, North Carolina Central and finally South Carolina State on Sept. 21.
Besides previewing music from his upcoming album, From a Bird’s Eye View, in live performances, Cordae also participated in one of many college students’ favorite pastimes: gaming. The 24-year-old, who briefly attended Towson University in Maryland before dropping out to pursue a music career, is an avid gamer. Cordae got his start with YBN, a group of gamers-turned-rappers who released several mixtapes and singles before disbanding in 2020. His tour partnered with each MEAC school’s esports program and included discussions with students about gaming and music, as well as giving students the opportunity to compete against the Suitland, Maryland, native in a round of NBA 2K.
“Cordae reached out to us,” said Sonja Stills, chief of staff and esports director for the MEAC. “He wanted to be able to play his unreleased music on HBCU campuses, so one of the things I asked them is, ‘Is Cordae a gamer?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, you know NBA 2K is his game.’ ”
The MEAC launched its esports (organized competitive video gaming) program in July 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic was forcing HBCU campuses to go fully remote. Now, more than a year later, the MEAC is looking to expand its esports program to a potential varsity sport. This could provide students the opportunity to pursue careers in production, animation and communications in the multibillion-dollar esports business. Some speculate that esports could also be a way for universities to invigorate enrollment in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), narrowing the racial and gender gaps persisting in STEM education.
“About 82% of Black teenagers play video games,” said Tarrin Morgan, head coach of esports at Morgan State. But only 2% of the people working in the industry are Black, he said. “With this moment right now, there is a big emphasis on changing that inequality and providing opportunities to Black and brown students to enter the video game field and really open up a very unique pathway there.”
Added Stills: “If you look at games, we [Black people] are not well represented. We are a certain culture and I think that we are the ones who can really put our look on a particular game. It’s important to create games that are reflective of us.”
In a Q&A session with students at Morgan State, Cordae said he wants to inspire Black students to get involved in the gaming business. “I just wish when I was going to school that somebody would have done something like this,” he said. “Now that I’m in somewhat of a position of power, I just try to do everything that I wish somebody would have done for me.”
Arté Warren, a senior music major and gamer at Morgan State, was one of a few students who got the chance to test his gaming skills against Cordae in NBA 2K.
“Playing Cordae felt like I was just kicking it with a friend,” said Warren via email. “It was definitely a proud moment for me to represent my HBCU by taking the W. Some of my peers were telling me I’d be barred from the school if I lost, so I had to take care of business, lol. We played two quarters, two minutes apiece. I used the [Atlanta] Hawks and he used the [Portland] Trail Blazers. At the end of Q1, it was 7-0 my way, and at halftime it was 14-6 my way. I can’t say the win surprised me though. I take the game very seriously and approached this game like it was any formal 2K competition.
“Oftentimes our mamas or authority figures in our lives yelled at us to get off the game, because it wouldn’t do anything for us. Well, that just simply isn’t true now,” Warren continued. “And the crazy thing about it is that it goes beyond just playing video games. There are graphic designers that make the characters and scenes for games. You have the distributors whose job is to sell games and make them accessible to as many people as possible. You have game promoters. You have game music scorers whose job is to make the music for games. There are so many avenues in esports where careers can be made, and the evolution of esports at HBCUs will start to expose more people of color to all those different avenues.”
Besides gaming, Cordae talked with students about music and his new album, which is dedicated to his late grandmother and was inspired by his journal entries.
“My mom was like, ‘Son, the stuff that you do every day is a blessing, so journal about it, write down all the things you do every day,’ ” Cordae said to The Hilltop, Howard’s student newspaper, during his Sept. 15 visit to the university. “And I started doing it, and I’m like, wow, I’m looking back on my life, and in this journal, it’s like from a bird’s-eye view, so that’s what inspired this album. [For the students] I wanted to really talk and have intimate conversations where I can be enlightened. I feel like that’s what I was put on this earth to do: to inspire, to motivate and be motivated.”
Also inspired by Cordae’s latest music was Onya Solomon, a senior multimedia journalism major at Morgan State. “One thing about Cordae that inspires me is his drive,” said Solomon. “I myself aspire to do music as a career one day, and his work ethic and the way he composes his art makes him a source of inspiration for me. … Just getting a chance to listen to his project before the rest of the world, I found that very cool.”
Whether he was talking about music, gaming or expanding business in the Black community, Cordae told students at Morgan State that he wanted to set a positive example for his people, especially those at HBCUs. “I may live in Beverly Hills [now],” he said. “You know, if I just stayed there all the time and not come back to my ‘hood in Maryland or not come back around family, and not come back to speak to y’all, you become disconnected and I don’t want to ever be that guy.”