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Lyrical lockdown: rappers respond to coronavirus | Music


As cultural institutions and the arts sector struggle to adjust to their new roles during the coronavirus outbreak, one strand is proving particularly resilient: rap music.

Since the outbreak started, artists from the genre have created a series of humorous, popular and informative songs, which range from cautionary tales about hand-washing to a rant by Cardi B about the outbreak being repurposed into a song that entered both the US and UK charts.

The Cardi B and DJ iMarkkeyz track Coronavirus reached 69 in the UK iTunes chart and got to number 8 in the US, with other tracks by Dominican dembow act Yofrangel, Detroit rapper Gmac Cash and Florida hip-hop artist Smokepurpp all mixing hip-hop with lyrics about the outbreak.

Some celebrities have turned to rap as a way to ward off boredom while remaining indoors. The actor Rita Wilson, who is in self-isolation with Tom Hanks, posted a four-minute video of her reciting the lyrics to Naughty by Nature’s 1993 classic Hip Hop Hooray on Sunday. The video, which went viral, was captioned “Quarantine Stir Crazy”.

Psychs: Spreadin’

But some tracks have taken on a more serious public health role as well as entertainment. South London rapper Psychs’s track Spreadin’ is about the pandemic and features lines about the importance of using no-contact greetings instead of traditional handshakes It warns against the hubris of young people who think it will not affect them.

The song, which has more than 275,000 views on YouTube, features lyrics including “wash your hands, don’t touch me, please. Please don’t hug me” and “we can make a handshake using our feet … I’m not trying to catch no virus”.

The 18-year-old rapper told the Guardian that the idea to write a song about the outbreak came from his manager. He said: “The first draft was just me rapping about the events that have happened so far. I sent it to a friend who said: ‘If you’re going to do this, it should be an awareness thing.’ So I changed a couple of lines and that’s how we ended up with the song we have today.”

The Los Angeles Times nicknamed the phenomenon pandemic pop and said the tracks, like Spreadin’, were often “comical and eerie… [and] play the coronavirus for dark laughs while capturing the dread that everyone, everywhere, is experiencing”.


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Psychs, who is from Croydon in south London, said reaction to the song had been overwhelmingly positive, with people thanking him for the track and its sentiment of using common-sense measures – and remaining indoors – to stay safe.

“It means something to a lot of people out there,” he said. “People are saying: ‘Thank you for this song, I’m not coping well but this song is getting me through isolation.’ When you see things like that it makes you realise you can have an impact on people’s mental health.”

The song also criticises Boris Johnson’s government and its response to the outbreak, calling it a joke. Psychs said that songs like Spreadin’ could hopefully help to encourage a shift in attitude in the UK, which he believes needs to change.

“It’s not funny,” he said. “We need to actually take it seriously. I’m seeing people going to the supermarket when it’s time for the elderly people to shop or when it’s time for the NHS workers to get there – that’s a joke.”

Psychs hopes the exposure will help him build a viable career when the music industry grinds back into gear after Covid-19. “I’m humble enough to understand that the only reason the song has got the attention it has is because it’s a trending topic right now,” he said. “I knew one day I’d get attention for something, but I didn’t know it would come through something like this.”



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