Rapper Christylez Bacon On His New Song About Inequality In Quarantine | WYPR

Rapper Christylez Bacon On His New Song About Inequality In Quarantine

Aug 5, 2020
YouTube

For the Morning Edition Song Project, the show has been reaching out to musicians in recent weeks for their take on the era of COVID-19, asking them to put their thoughts to music in an original song about life in 2020.

Our latest artist, Christylez Bacon, is a musician and rapper who grew up in Southeast Washington, D.C. It's a section of the nation's capital which sits across the Anacostia River and away from all the monuments the city is known for. Bacon says it "was kind of like growing up in Nigeria for me because everyone was Black," and that the pandemic hit his old neighborhood hard.

"People want to go to work but aren't able to, and that makes things really tight. And then you have a lot of people suffering from the things that will get you caught up the most with COVID, like high blood pressure, diabetes, all of these things," he says. "And where I'm from, you're in a food desert. If you can't make the trek to the grocery store and get on the bus, it's a tough situation for sure."

He writes about this situation in his song "Quarantined," which begins with a personal story of his mom getting sick in late January — although they're not sure if they'll ever know whether it was from the coronavirus. NPR's David Greene talks to Christylez Bacon about his visit to the emergency room with his mother, about how the pandemic exposes inequalities within American society and the hypocrisy of companies tweeting about Black Lives Matter without taking actions to prove it. Listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We have been reaching out to musicians in recent weeks for their take on the COVID era. It's a series we're calling the MORNING EDITION Song Project. We ask artists to write an original song about life in a year that has been - well, it's just been a lot. Let's meet Christylez Bacon, a musician and rapper who grew up in Southeast Washington, D.C.

CHRISTYLEZ BACON: Man, you might know all the capitals and the monuments and all that stuff. You got to go across the Anacostia River to reach the place where I'm from, right? So it's kind of, like, sectioned off in a way, and it's kind of different. A lot of native Washingtonians over there always tell my friends and stuff that are from other places that growing up in southeast was kind of like growing up in Nigeria for me because everyone was Black.

GREENE: Christylez says the pandemic hit his old neighborhood hard.

BACON: People want to go to work but aren't able to, and that makes things really tight. And then you have a lot of people suffering from the things that will get you caught up the most with COVID, you know, like high blood pressure, diabetes, all of these things. And where I'm from, you're in a food desert. If you can't make the trek to the grocery store and you're on a bus, it's a tough situation for sure.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUARANTINED")

BACON: (Rapping) Look, it's wintertime without the snow in December. The year is through. Young'uns locking themselves inside, and it's due to severe flu.

GREENE: He writes about this situation in his song "Quarantined," which begins with a personal story of his mom getting sick in late January.

BACON: Yo. So I call up my mother, and I'm just like, hey, Mom, what's happening? And then my mom, her voice is sounding really labored, man. Like, it's really hard for her to breathe.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUARANTINED")

BACON: (Rapping) I was chatting with my mother and the same thing is going down. She's struggling to breathe. Man, this thing is taking our town.

GREENE: So Christylez got his mom to the emergency room, and it was packed.

BACON: I'm just looking around. Everyone is just, like, coughing up a storm.

GREENE: They spent 24 hours there. His mom was X-rayed and even put on a ventilator but not tested for COVID. We don't know for sure what she had because, remember, this was January before the virus was circulating widely in the U.S.

But now do you think it was COVID looking back?

BACON: Bruh (ph) like, the, respiratory thing, pneumonia just out of nowhere, this joint just popping up and then ventilator - I was, like, whoa, I think my mom had the rona, y'all. I think she had COVID-19.

GREENE: Your sister got sick, too, right?

BACON: Yes. And then her household gets sick. They kicked it, but it just took them under for a while.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUARANTINED")

BACON: (Rapping) January 25, everybody's hella sick and they see that patient zero's in the other Washington. Nah. Quarantined, nobody next to me. I get my true facts from the CDC. Scientists saw it coming like ESP. I'm trying to see the other side of COVID-19.

GREENE: Well, as you think about, let's say, a neighborhood like Southeast D.C. where you talk about the food desert, do you think that going through a pandemic like this has the possibility of exposing a lot of systemic problems that we as a society need to address? Or do you think it could just make things worse?

BACON: I think it definitely exposes the problems. And that's a pro about this. But we also seeing, like, the true colors of a lot of folks, too, you know? I'm saying when times are great, you know, it's easy to be someone's friend, but when you face challenging situations, that's how you know the quality of the person.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUARANTINED")

BACON: (Rapping) Forced to go to work and risk your life for a little money while the riches are hiking prices for the 2020. They see glimpses of what a Black man lives, then tweet a Black Lives Matter but do nothing about employment.

GREENE: You say they see glimpses of what a Black man lives, then tweet a Black lives matter and do nothing about their employment.

BACON: Yeah.

GREENE: Can you talk about what you're trying to convey there?

BACON: Yeah. So it's talking about companies, right? A company will say Black lives matter. It's like, but do you really believe it? There's what you say and then there's the fruits. There are your actions. And so what's happening with your employment? Is your employment, like, not diverse? If you do have Black people on there, how much do they get paid versus everyone else on the staff, you know? It just like, OK, the talk is cheap. What's happening with your actions, you know?

GREENE: What was it like for you personally to watch your mom get so sick and your sister and other people in your family and live through this pandemic and then have George Floyd killed by police sparking the protests and the dialogue about racial justice, all of that coming together?

BACON: Oh, man. For me, seeing the George Floyd joint, the video, I was like, dang, this is crazy. Like, he - the dude just won't let up, right? And to see a man die before your eyes like that on camera - I mean, I seen a person die in front of my own eyes, like, growing up in southeast, you know what I'm saying? By, like, this situation, like, from law enforcement, unfortunately, is nothing new. It's nothing new to me. But I understand how it's new to other people. Before this George Floyd situation, talking to people who aren't Black or people of color that had this type of experience with law enforcement was like telling them about the existence of a yeti or a sasquatch. They like, oh, we heard of the yeti, but we never seen the yeti, you know what I'm saying?

But it's like, yo, we trying to tell you it exists. It exists. But then it's just like - people are, like, almost gaslighting in a way. And it's like, nah, that don't exist. And then Trayvon Martin happens and then this other thing happens and then Amadou Diallo and then (unintelligible) and then countless cats and now George Floyd. And it's like, OK, now this is the example that you need to see. And then you have to go through this whole process of like, OK, is this person worthy, you know, saying even though the person is victimized - like, that whole thing happens in the media and the assassination of the character. It's a crazy thing to experience all of these things at once. But it's amazing how things being slowed down because of COVID made it possible for people to actually pay attention.

GREENE: One final thing - before we taped our interview, you sent us an email saying you felt the song was still missing something. And I know you were writing. You were still working on a new bridge, like, up to the last minute. What was still missing? What were you still trying to capture even up until those final moments?

BACON: It was, like a thing in me that I felt in, like, the gut area just below the sternum, like, in the solar plexus area. That thing was just pretty much like, nah, Joe. Like, you're not done (laughter). And it kept me up, man. It kept me up to, like, 3 a.m. or something like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUARANTINED")

BACON: (Rapping) We want to claim societal progress, the unjust populace, dying from excess instead of less, countries dying from famine; us, mismanagement.

That third verse is just talking about, like, the people in power and our society and what we can do. Like, I feel like we have to change our hearts, you know? We need to all work together to make sure that we have this thing that is affecting humanity as a whole and heal everyone, man.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUARANTINED")

BACON: (Rapping) Humans need a new mentality without fences and longer tables to help everyone in dire need.

GREENE: Christylez, thank you for bringing this to us.

BACON: Thank you, man. I appreciate y'all.

GREENE: Christylez Bacon - his song for the MORNING EDITION Song Project is called "Quarantined." And to hear a live version of the song, go to MORNING EDITION's Facebook page or @MorningEdition on Twitter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.