Since bursting onto the tennis scene back in 2014, when she was just 16, with a major upset over a former U.S. Open champ at her first-ever pro tournament, Naomi Osaka has sped to the top of the rankings and earned multiple Grand Slam titles, defeating plenty more top-ranked players along the way. Off the court, Osaka is known for her activism and unfailing commitment to her mental health—but what's less well known is her low-key relationship with rapper Cordae.
It would be difficult for anyone to keep up with Osaka—she boasts multiple Grand Slam wins; was the highest-earning female athlete of 2020; has been included in the Time 100 list for two years running; and is also a high-profile activist for causes including Black Lives Matter—but she seems to have found an equally driven, highly accomplished partner in Cordae, her boyfriend of two years. The pair met up for their first date at an L.A. Clippers game and were first reported to be dating in April 2019, after which they started popping up on each other's social media feeds, before making their first public appearance as a couple at another Clippers game the following December.
Here's a primer on the rapper, who, like Osaka, first began making waves at the age of 16 and has a reputation for being "ahead of his time."
His first mixtapes were released under the name Entendre.
Within just a few weeks of Osaka making headlines for her 2014 professional debut at the Stanford Classic, Cordae, also 16 at the time, was taking his own first steps into stardom across the country. The Maryland native released his first mixtape, Anxiety, in June of that year, under the stage name Entendre. Two more mixtapes followed—2016's I'm So Anxious and 2017's I'm So Anonymous—while the rapper, born Cordae Dunston, attended Towson University for several years.
In 2018, he joined the YBN collective, rebranding himself as YBN Cordae, and collaborated on 2018's YBN: The Mixtape. He also began putting out solo singles, starting with a remix of Eminem's "My Name Is," which received immediate widespread acclaim via the WorldStarHipHop YouTube channel.
He's a two-time Grammy nominee.
In July 2019, as YBN Cordae, the musician released his debut solo album, The Lost Boy. It peaked at number six on Billboard's Top Rap Albums chart, was praised by critics and fans alike, and received nominations for Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song (for "Bad Idea") at the 2020 Grammys.
The YBN collective disbanded in August 2020, after which Cordae dropped the group's moniker from his stage name and was able to turn his full attention to his solo work—something he's done in earnest, as evidenced by the update he gave Apple Music last August about his upcoming second album. "I'm like a hundred songs deep," he said. "I really love doing music and perfecting my craft, and I'm getting better every day. And the new music from here on out is going to show that."
Like Osaka, he's a vocal supporter of BLM.
Osaka has been outspoken about her support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and Cordae has been just as vocal about the cause. Last summer, in between attending protests demanding justice for the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, he shared a video of another BLM protest he had attended back in 2015. And in September, as Osaka was making headlines for wearing face masks at the U.S. Open that paid tribute to Black Americans killed by police, Cordae cheered her on from the stands in a "Defund the police" shirt.
Additionally, last July, Cordae was among a group of 87 people who were arrested while protesting outside of Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron's home to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, Louisville's Courier-Journal reported at the time. And in October, he opened the 2020 BET Hip Hop Awards with an impassioned freestyle about racism and police brutality.
He's Osaka's biggest fan.
While Osaka is known for her serene on-court attitude, Cordae serves up more than enough excitement for the both of them from the stands. He's also already an expert at making time to be a supportive boyfriend amid his own incredibly busy schedule: As Osaka described in their joint GQ cover interview, when she had to quarantine alone ahead of the 2020 U.S. Open—without her dad by her side for the first time—Cordae flew out to be with her, which Osaka named as the most romantic thing he'd ever done for her.
Cordae says he wasn't always comfortable in that space. Of the 2019 U.S. Open, he told GQ: "Like, that was my first time being in an environment like that in my entire life. My elementary school, middle school, high school was 99.9 percent Black. Kids who look like me. It just felt really weird for me being in that space. That was my first tennis match ever."
Cordae also spoke to GQ about how he knew the tennis pro was his perfect match. "I can't really be with someone who doesn't have any substance or doesn't act or think on the same frequency and wavelength as I do. Like, you know, Naomi was born in Japan. So she has a very worldly perspective. My perspective has always been being a young Black man in America. But she thinks more worldly. I've only been traveling the world the last two years," he said. "We'd be recommending each other books and movies all the time. So, you know, just always feeding the brain."
That support and admiration, of course, goes both ways. On Cordae's 23rd birthday last August, Osaka got sentimental on Instagram, writing, "I always feel so lucky to be in your life and to be continuously learning from you. I'm so grateful that I can talk to you about anything and ask for advice (cause you know I need all the help I can get lol)."
They both work hard to keep their relationship low-key, Cordae told GQ. "We kind of move very reclusively. We don’t really post intimate moments, because I feel as though they’re sacred. A relationship is really a sacred thing. Once you let outside influences get into it, it becomes less sacred," Cordae said.
And no, he doesn't play tennis.
“It’s not my sport,” he told GQ. “If you asked me about tennis, before being immersed in it because of Naomi, I could only give you Venus and Serena Williams, you know?"
Proof he doesn't play: