Rap in the Time of Corona May 2020


Every couple of weeks, I’m rounding up the best new global rap releases for R$N, taking in everything from chart smashes to underground transmissions. London and New York put in particularly strong showings this edition, with music from exciting newcomers Dreya Mac and Melvoni among the highlights.

It’s a pleasure putting this column together, mostly because there’s just so much good rap music coming out right now.

Narrowing it down to a dozen or so tracks is a real challenge, but it’s still impossible to feel like I’m doing more than scratching the surface. If anything, rap artists seem to have been energised by the COVID-19 pandemic, devising creative release strategies and taking advantage of album delays in other sectors. Get stuck in below.

Dreya Mac – Skippin

Dreya Mac’s debut single is a remarkably confident introduction. The way she switches up flows and melodies reminds me a little of IAMDDB, but with a playful style that already feels like hers alone. An exciting new artist, and one to keep an eye on for sure.

NSG – Porsche

Even if you subscribe to the reductive view that NSG keep making the same track again and again – I don’t, but it’s difficult to argue this one doesn’t sound like ‘OT Bop Pt. 2’ – what’s the problem when they’re turning out music this good? The Hackney group’s upcoming Roots mixtape should set the doubters straight. Now turn that camera off before we get dizzy.

Westside Gunn – $500 Ounces (ft. Freddie Gibbs & Roc Marciano)

This Alchemist beat sounds like sliding into 1,000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. Pure luxury, and a perfect backdrop for three of the most hard-nosed MCs out there. There’s strong competition for the best verse, but Roc Marciano takes it, if only for that head-spinning opener (“The MAC-11 hit your melon and crack it/ ain’t no pads for that in the medicine cabinet”).

IDPizzle – Dior (Remix)

The Belgian-Congolese artist’s remix of the late Pop Smoke’s ‘Dior’ blew up after heavy support from black radio platform No Signal. On first exposure it feels like sacrilege; next listen it sounds like a summer hit-in-waiting; by the third spin you’re shouting “BILLI JIN BILLI JIN” at the top of your lungs. IDPizzle calls himself “the creator and king of rumba drill”, and quite frankly I can’t wait to find out where he takes this new sound.


What were you doing at 16? If you’re anything like me, playing Mario Kart for days on end and struggling to acquire a fake ID. Melvoni, on the other hand, has already got himself signed to Epic, and set his sights on becoming a genuinely exciting New York voice. He’s actually the younger brother of Lil Tjay (who has a great new project out himself), and while there’s plenty of melodic similarities between the two, Melvoni’s delivery has a raw, ‘all or nothing’ quality which should stand him in good stead.

Sarkodie – Overload 2 (ft. Oxlade)

‘Overload 2’ is one of those glorious tracks where all the elements come together in perfect harmony. Fresh off the release of his OXYGENE EP, rising Nigerian star Oxlade delivers an unforgettable chorus which should be lodged in your head for weeks to come.

Drake – Demons (ft. Fivio Foreign & Sosa Geek)

Even when I’m tiring of Drake’s schtick, he’s still capable of conjuring up moments of vibrant alchemy. ‘Demons’ is just that; one of a pair of tracks at the tail end of his new Dark Lane Demo Tapes project where he tries on the NY drill sound for size, and finds it surprisingly snug. It’s a welcome shot of energy after 40 minutes of treading water. Brooklyn duo Fivio Foreign and Sosa Geek absolutely seize their big moment and run with it.

SP17 – Gang Signs

With certified drill anthems like ‘Moscow’ and ‘Take 1’ under his belt, Walworth warrior SP17 has been active for a few years now, but he’s just got around to dropping one of the best debut projects you’ll likely hear in 2020. Showcasing his versatility, the amusingly titled Overweight & Overpaid is full of highlights, but ‘Gang Signs’ is the pick of the bunch, with SP17 flexing his pop credentials over a funky bass line.

Queen Ladi Gangsta & 100%SILKS – Double Tap

Best dancehall tune out right now. Hypnotic and unashamedly raunchy. I would give a year’s supply of toilet paper to hear this played very loud in a dark club.

Smoke Dza – Rules (ft. Tish Hyman)

We hardly need any reminders of the perfect summer we’re missing, but a pitched-up soul sample will do just that. Harlem’s Smoke Dza raps about high-end department stores and “5 bucks a spray” cologne over an inspired flip of Symphonic Four’s ‘Who Do You Think You’re Fooling’, while Tish Hyman belts out the anthemic hook.

OFB – Let Man Know (ft. Abra Cadabra)

OFB duo Bandokay and Double Lz team up with fellow North Londoner Abra Cadabra for the hardest drill tune I’ve heard in some time. Abz has been showing off his versatility recently, but his gritty voice is just made for tracks like this.

Novelist – Seen It All Before (ft. Aim, S Milli & Prem)

G-funk, baby, and the G is for grime. The fact that it’s just as easy to imagine this booming out of a Long Beach lowrider as it is a Lewisham high-rise is testament to Novelist’s singular vision. Always keeping it fiercely independent, he’s been a fixture for so long that it’s mad to think he’s still only 23. His promise to give us “52 Weeks Of Fire” means the current hot streak should be continuing for a while longer.