How Hip-Hop Prepared Me For Coronavirus
"There's Only One Year Left!" - Busta Rhymes on Extinction Level Event (1998)
(AllHipHop Features) I sent one email. No response. I sent another message. No response. One more correspondence, but by then, I knew what was going to happen. Minutes later, I received a notice that the listening session for the long-destined, highly-anticipated debut from Jay Electronica was canceled. Coronavirus had claimed another victim and was an unwitting character in the perpetual enigmatic saga of Jay-Z's close comrade. The irony is in 2009, on his hit song "Exhibit C," the rhymester said, "Trying to find the meaning of life in a Corona."
The coronavirus, the international pandemic also known as COVID-19, has swept the world causing fear, panic and dominated headlines news, social media, and governmental attention worldwide. Unlike its cousins H1N1 (another pandemic), Swine Flu, Bird Flu, the coronavirus has a higher death rate than the common flu (1% fatality rate and the seasonal flu’s 0.1% fatality rate).
The National Review broke down the ever-changing math: "If 40 million Americans get the seasonal flu, a 0.1% fatality rate means 40,000 deaths. If 40 million Americans get the new coronavirus, a 1% fatality rate means 400,000 deaths." The numbers are staggering and the fatalities are increasing. Some have suggested that the fatality will soar to 2% or 3%, but the number has recently come down to roughly 1.4%.
Hip-Hop, a relatively young culture, has been a beacon of truth and hope for a consistent, lengthy time, for better or worse, with the truth-tellers often being considered mad until their once-weird premonitions came true. As the Golden Era came to a close, and the world crept up to the year 2000, songs that predicted the end of days became more and more prominent.
On "Judgement Day," Method Man rapped, "First there was the collapse of civilization / Anarchy, genocide, starvation / Then when it seemed like shit couldn't get any more fucked up / We got the plague / The living death / Closing his icy grip around the whole planet." Scary stuff.
Busta Rhymes opened his seminal album Extinction Level Event
The Final World Front with a bone-chilling conversation with a father and daughter.
Daughter: Daddy, what's it gonna be like in the year 2000?
But I'm afraid the end time is near. The cataclysmic apocalypse referred to in the scriptures of every holy book known to mankind. It will be an Era fraught with boundless greed & corruption. Where global monetary systems disintegrate, leaving brother to kill brother for a grain of overcooked rice. The nations of the civilized world will collapse under the impressive weight of parasitic political conspiracies which remove all hope & optimism from their once faithful citizens. Around the globe, generations of polluters will be punished for their sins...
Growing up in this 90's era, it was apparent to myself and my peers that we needed to be ready for the end of the world, the chaos, the disease, and we stocked up on all sorts of goods and even raided military surplus stores. However, the old adage, "Stay ready so you don't have to get ready" continued to echo through the years. COVID-19 is glaringly special even though coronavirus is not new.
The plight of the downtrodden, more specifically Black and Brown people, is older than Methuselah, to quote my grandmother, and these indigent circumstances are often business as usual. However, with coronavirus pandemic, our global connectivity is underscored. So there is a connection to the hundreds of thousands homeless in California to the 1% of the extremely wealthy. Everybody has a role to play.
Rap has always been ahead of the curve, forcing society to look at its ugly face, even though Hip-Hop music doubles as a form of entertainment and business. Our preparedness is certainly questionable, but our insight is not. Hip-Hop has discussed these dank, apocalyptic themes for decades. A video between Wu-Tang Clan and Onyx, appropriately themed "The Worst" (1998), visually depicts a Dystopian world where humans eat in the streets right next to pigs, which leads to men chowing down in revulsing restaurants, suggesting a sick environmental ecosystem. Seeing an arm-less Method Man of Wu-Tang drive with Onyx's Sticky Fingaz on his car's hood adds to the mania. Fun aside, this creative mini-movie was set in the year 2090.
One insider, that works in the infectious disease industry, told AllHipHop the truth from his perspective.
"Black people are not prepared and we knew this day was coming," he said under the guise of anonymity. "But it is not really a race thing. Its a rich or poor thing. By the way, they have the meds to stop COVID-19. Now, will the poor be able to get the meds?" Australian and Japanese researchers maintain they already have a cure for COVID-19 and plan to roll it out soon following clinical testing. Stateside, Seattle and other places have started tests, but say their "cure" won't reach the market until next year.
Contextually speaking, Hip-Hop's views and opinions are firmly rooted in history. Slavery resulted in a fundamental mistrust of the law, as slave catchers evolved into the modern industrial prison system. The medical industry has roots in experimentation like the Tuskeegee Experiment (Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male) and more. For example, Medical Apartheid is a book that chronicles "the full history of Black America’s shocking mistreatment as unwilling and unwitting experimental subjects at the hands of the medical establishment." And this doesn't even account for anti-vaxxers, which seem to be unified across racial lines.
Moving past historical facts and conspiracy theories, pandemics go back to the dawn of humankind or modern antiquity like the influenza pandemic of 1918 or more sinister acts such as when the Pilgrims "gifted" the Indigenous natives of North America with smallpox, kickstarting genocide. According to most accounts, this incarnation of the coronavirus started in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, but many theories have arisen, including unverified concepts that the virus is a man-made biological weapon. For Hip-Hop, nothing is off the table.
Today, pandemic-laden lyrics, New World Order notions, depopulation agendas and visions of an imploding civilization are regulated (or unregulated) to social media, message boards and individuals that have been able to amass a following. Rappers tend to have witty bars though. Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler The Creator trade bars on a song on a 2010 song titled "AssMilk": "Flow is anthemic, dirty like it's plants in it /Sick, spit a pandemic, crack and cancer mixed with cannabis." Childish Gambino rapped, "Ill pandemic, man that shit be everywhere /Midas is your highness and you Haribo like Gummi bears." Killarmy's Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars, they are not. Times have changed, but the sentiments are in the DNA.
Hip-Hop in 2020 hasn't been particularly responsible or insightful when dealing with the sensitivity of the coronavirus. There are the memes and even hit songs like DJ iMarkkeyz's Cardi B-assisted banger. Then there are Meek Mill's inappropriate comments about North Korea, but Vanessa Hudgens was also chided for her insensitive comments about COVID-19. On the brighter side, Lecrae has committed to helping the homeless by setting up portable hand washing stations around Atlanta. Hip-Hop Hooray.
Right now, as I sit self-quarantined, quite prepared (or so I believe), I am resigned to my thoughts. It is like the raps songs that we used to listen to and the movies we enjoyed have come true. This is real life, and real now. People are dying, folks are breaking down mentally and confusion is all around us. To make matters worse, there are far too many social media experts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram vying for views and likes.
Sure, we wanted that J. Cole/Dreamville festival or Rhymesayers Entertainment tour (Brother Ali, Sa-Roc, deM atlaS and Nikki Jean) or that Lauryn Hill show or Quavo's celebrity flag football game, but this is serious. And yet...we have been here before. Maybe? To loosely paraphrase, philosopher Franz Fanon, hell to some is the daily struggle for others.
Finally, I have to thank rap music for setting my brain in the right, mentally preparing me for this wretched coronavirus and finally giving me a reason to put on an industrial gas mask from the 90s.
Laugh. Stay blessed and remain encouraged.