The coronavirus has infiltrated every facet of human existence: live music, late-night, porn, and even the streaming charts. As more citizens across the U.S. begin to self-isolate and quarantine, it only makes sense that rappers are among the most susceptible populace when it comes to boredom. Perhaps unsurprisingly, last week began to give us the first wave of coronavirus-dedicated freestyles. Also unsurprisingly, the results are mixed.
Considering your appetite for the art of freestyling, conspiracy theories, and front-facing camera videos: Your tolerance for those will determine your desire for the emerging subgenre of coronavirus bars. The art of freestyling is, by design, a slippery slope: It forces the practitioner to improvise the first thoughts that come to their head while trying to rhyme to a beat, with no safety net (except not hitting “Publish” on the video when it’s done. If Papoose, Trippie Redd, Cassidy, Lil Uzi Vert, and Mo3 are any indication, trying to rap about a global pandemic only brings about more pain.
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Standout Bar: “You don’t have the symptoms so you think I’m not inside your ass/KD I’m the real Easy Money sniper”
Predictably, one of the first rappers to start the movement is Papoose. In 2004, the New York lyricist made the alliterative magnum opus “Alphabetical Slaughter,” which saw the lyric-obsessed MC rap his way through the alphabet with lines like, “Big biscuits barrels blazin’ beheadin’ bitch boasts and bluffers.” Fifteen years later, he dropped the similar “Fortune 500,” which featured the rapper pointing at company logos and trying to string them together into a coherent verse. All of which to say: It’s not surprising that Papoose had thoughts regarding COVID-19.
Papoose’s viral virus verse follows his typical routine. There’s a double entendre where he says “FEMA,” but then a couple of seconds later says he didn’t mean the bone “femur.” He veers into pop-culture territory by namedropping Kevin Durant and Idris Elba, two celebrities who announced this week they tested positive for the virus. It’s toward the middle of his verse that Papoose, somewhat unsurprisingly, begins to lose the plot. He alleges that an unknown entity “Took the kids out of school so they could stop learning/Took parents out of work so they could stop earning.” While it’s true that schools across the nation are canceled and that the unemployment rate is quickly rising, the situation is far more nuanced than a car-ride freestyle can accurately explain.
Standout Bar: “If niggas get to coughing, niggas get to dying/Nigga cough next to me then them bullets flying”
Trippie Redd’s freestyle is simultaneously the catchiest and most troubling of the coronavirus freestyles. He begins the video informing viewers to wash their hands for 20 seconds with hot water, which is advice that we should all heed at this time. Unfortunately, Trippie then warns that if you show symptoms like coughing, you’ll die, which is scientifically inaccurate. According to the Nature Medicine journal, the “overall symptomatic case fatality risk (the probability of dying after developing symptoms) of COVID-19 in Wuhan was 1.4 percent,” although officials are still waiting for an accurate mortality rate, so that percentage might change. We should all take COVID-19 seriously, but let’s not spread false information, even within the parameters of a freestyle.
Standout Bar: “If you ain’t home yet, just remember that COVID only 19 it ain’t grown yet”
From a technical standpoint, Cassidy’s freestyle will appeal to your average hip-hop traditionalist. The Philadelphia rapper’s delivery is crisp, his punchlines coherent, his diction immaculate. Nevertheless, the 100-second freestyle quickly devolves into conspiracy-theory bars in which Cassidy claims that the powers-that-be know the pandemic is “easy to manage,” but want the masses to panic to make more money. One look at the stock market and fears of a global recession call this claim into question. Then, as the freestyle concludes, Cassidy explains that seeing people wear masks outside inspired him “to make a couple calls and realize this incident is just to implement fucking martial law.” At this time, it’s unclear, who Cassidy called and how they connected people wearing surgical masks to a plot for the government to enact martial law.
Lil Uzi Vert
Standout Bar: “I’m not wearing no gloves, I’m not wearing no mask/I ain’t gotta do none of that, I defeated the virus myself”
Lil Uzi Vert is deservedly pumped. After a period of silence that saw him almost quit rapping altogether, he dropped two albums in March — Eternal Atake and LUV vs. The World 2 — that have been among the most-streamed projects of the year, elevating the Philadelphia rapper to another tier of stardom. In a recent Instagram Live, Uzi screams, yelps, and rejoices at his success. “I dropped my album during the coronavirus and my shit still popped,” he yells at one point. “Coronavirus the biggest thing on Earth right now and my shit is still popping.” A few minutes later, Uzi begins an impromptu and very short freestyle over Eternal Atake standout “Homecoming.” During his verse, Uzi refuses to go inside (please, Uzi, practice social distancing) and claims that he’s cured COVID-19 (he hasn’t). Even amid a pandemic, nothing can get Uzi down right now.
Standout Bar: “They telling lies they got us watching for a virus, but fuck corona my people still live in poverty”
Mo3’s “Black Corona” freestyle is the most soulful of al the COVID-19 raps. The Dallas rapper’s voice is soulful and slightly scratchy as he delivers a verse about those he’s lost and the various ways the system has let down the impoverished. The majority of the freestyle is inspirational until Mo3 claims that an unknown force is “telling lies” about the virus. Misinformation is indeed running rampant, but two truths — the dangers of coronavirus and the need to help those economically struggling before the pandemic hit — can also exist in harmony.
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