The Coronavirus Raps Have Arrived

The Coronavirus Raps Have Arrived

Cardi B, currently in that awkward career phase between initial overexposure and whatever the next thing is, planned to be on to the next thing by now. Cardi’s been talking about a new album sometime this year, and a new single sometime sooner than that. But right now, everything is up in the air — for Cardi, and for the rest of the world. Six days ago, during a Twitter exchange with a fan, Cardi said that her single was “delay due to the virus.” And yet Cardi B does have a new single. It’s just not a new single that she had an active hand in making.

Last week, Cardi posted an Instagram video of herself excitedly freaking out about the global pandemic currently freaking everyone out: “Coronavirus! Shit is getting real!” That video went non-COVID viral, as Cardi Instagram videos tend to do. Then the Brooklyn DJ and producer iMarkkeyz took a sample of Cardi’s Instagram rant, turned it into an oddly catchy song, and released it three days after Cardi posted her video. The resulting iMarkkeyz track “Coronavirus” is now showing up on iTunes charts around the world. It’s even more viral. DJ Snake, never one to miss out on a trend, has remixed Cardi’s video, too. Miley Cyrus and her boyfriend have done their own version. So: In the midst of announcing that the release of her new single had been pushed back, Cardi inadvertently helped someone else make a new single, and now that song is a hit. Cardi seems happily befuddled over the whole thing. (Cardi and iMarkkeyz have both announced intentions to donate proceeds from “Coronavirus.”)

Welcome to coronavirus capitalism. This disease is all anyone can think about it. Nobody knows how to make money out of that global panic, but people are damn sure going to try. Rap music moves fast, and rappers have long been great at translating public sentiment into music. But in these chaotic early days of widespread quarantine, nobody knows how to feel, and so a goofy little dance song with Cardi B yelling the word “coronavirus” can become a sudden out-of-nowhere smash. It will not be the last. We are about to see a whole lot of rap songs about coronavirus. The first ones are already showing up.

In fact, coronavirus songs have been showing up for more than a month. Early in February, the Dominican dembow artist Yofrangel came out with “Corona Virus,” a song where the artist chants in Spanish about taking care of yourself and covering your mouth when you sneeze. In the video, Yofrangel and his friends dumb out in the back of an ambulance. That video now has five million views and counting. Yofrangel was early.

In the US, the spread of the virus caught just about everyone off-guard, so now people are just starting to catch up. We’re seeing a lot of shit like the Atlanta artist Money Man releasing an EP-length mixtape called Pandemic, where he wears a surgical mask on the cover but doesn’t rap anything about the actual illness. This is a ridiculous and craven strategy, and I respect it. I also respect the Florida SoundCloud-rap brat Smokepurpp coming out with a song called “Fuck Corona U Aint Stopping Shit (Excuse Me),” with lyrics that have absolutely nothing to do with coronavirus. This is the same kind of attention-hogging mentality that once led me to write headlines like this. It’s so stupid, and I love it.

I’ll take that approach over the sincere one, anyway. On Sunday, the duo of producer Statik Selektah and rapper Termanology, longtime collaborators who have always pushed toward the lyrically-lyrical side of the rap landscape, released their new album The Quarantine. It opens with “Pandemic,” a song that starts out addressing the current situation: “Mask on ya face with ya hands sanitized/ Stores low on supplies, better open ya eyes.” But before the two-minute track is over, Termanology has moved on to talking about diseases spread among Native Americans, 9/11 conspiracy theories, GMOs, and the general corruption of the system. Other than the 9/11 stuff, none of this is wrong, but I don’t get a whole lot out of this guy attempting to be the voice of wisdom without actually saying anything. The impulse makes sense, but the music just isn’t interesting.

We’ll get a lot more like that. But most of the virus-related songs of the past week or so are a whole lot less serious. Consider: Lil Boom’s “Fuck Rudy Gobert,” a two-minute broadside against the Utah Jazz center whose positive test led to the suspension of the entire NBA season — as if that shit wouldn’t have happened within a couple of days anyway.

On Sunday, we got the first true masterpiece of coronavirus rap: “Coronavirus,” from the Detroit rapper Gmac Cash. The hook: “Move, bitch! You got coronavirus! Ooooh shit, you got coronavirus!” Sample lyrics: “I’ma chill at the crib cuz I’m safe here/ I ain’t even ’bout to drink me a Corona beer.” In the video, he runs around spraying strangers with disinfectant. This song is extremely fucking ridiculous, and it is also what this moment demanded. It’s the best.

We’re looking at an unprecedented situation, an economic apocalyse, and an uncertain future. But now we can do it with “ooooh shit, you got coronavirus” stuck in our heads. Could be worse.


1. Rio Da Yung OG – “Copy Cats”
Michigan is absolutely lousy with rap monsters right now, and Rio, from Flint, is quickly rising to the top of the heap. This song is two minutes of murderous punchlines, delivered with blase motormouth panache. It’s entirely typical of the run that Rio has been on lately. Look out for this guy.

2. Smino – “Tempo”
Smino’s cadences are really something. Here, he sounds like he’s almost bored, just pushing the beat around with his voice, chopping it into ever-more-abstract shapes.

3. Yung Marley – “Campaigning” (Feat. Sada Baby)
The skit attached to this video is a beautiful, ridiculous thing. This record exec sure seems relaxed about the idea of his own imminent drill-torture. The song itself doesn’t fully take flight for a minute or so in, but then Sada Baby hits a hypnotic melodic hook, and then he and Yung Marley just keep doing it for the rest of the song. Also: “.45 bullets squeeze your body like a bearhug/ Sniffing dog food on a plane, call that Air Bud.”

4. Fivio Foreign – “Big Drip (Remix)” (Feat. Quavo & Lil Baby)
The choppy and explosive Brooklyn/UK drill flow is so excitable and anarchic that it’s a trip to see rap’s most prolific featured-guest professionals doing their best to adapt it. But they’re doing it. It’s happening.

5. Paul Wall & Lil Keke – “Ridin’ 5″
At this point, the stars of the early-’00s Houston screw wave are basically ancient folk musicians. They’re just going to keep doing what they do, and the only thing that changes is the length of the beard. It’s oddly comforting.


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