Anxiety around the coronavirus is common for everyone right now, but with news that Black people are four times more likely to die from the virus than their white counterparts, there is a collective weariness among the community. The innovative and responsive creative output of Black creators has been a respite from the heaviness that rests on each of us as COVID-19 not only impacts our lives, but the lives of those we deeply love and care for.
Each and every night, social media sites such as Instagram Live felt like using a Sky Box for the first time: inundated with choice. Feeds were alight with pink glowing circles as people launched game shows, hosted talks, played music, led workout sessions and instructed bake-a-longs. Simply put: Black content creators pushed boundaries during lockdown and gave us small pockets of joy during such an uncertain time.
Here’s a guide to a handful of creatives that made quarantine season slightly more bearable.
IG Live: Battles & Twerkathons
Before losing his record to a certain rainbow-haired individual, Tory Lanez gathered hundreds of thousands of people in his high-energy Quarantine Radio on Instagram Live. His record-breaking stream had women from all over the globe twisting and twerking under a current of oat milk and honey (which, if anything, is definitely poetic). Night after night we flocked to the singer-rapper’s IG page, intrigued by what wonders his late-night show would bring us. Inspired by the chaos of Club Quarantine, the British rapper Swarmz racked up 1,000,000 followers from his highly successful and slightly risqué ‘Twerk Show’ on the very same platform.
When we weren’t bound by a twerk trance, like running between rooms in a club, we flocked to Timbaland and Swizz Beatz’s Verzuz battles, where they got R&B and hip-hop legends to flex their incredibly broad catalogues of music to the world. Not only was this a showdown to jam to, it was an educational opportunity for younger generations to understand the full musical influence of household artists and producers. Jill Scott versus Erykah Badu was the most wholesome ‘battle’, whereas Teddy Riley brought an entire Coachella-worthy setup to tee-off with Babyface in one of the more chaotic, yet entertaining battles. Over in the UK, all 17,000 members of NSG crammed in a questionably social-distant Instagram Live to battle a trim-less Afro B. The conversation split from the comment section to Twitter, where fans battled to defend their favourite artists. Skepta vs JAE5 and Jammer vs Skepta kept things exciting, too, as they each drew for their biggest hits and underground classics.
Music Videos & DJ Sets
Aside from chilling in their home-clothes, clashing over jumpy internet connections, artists were finding ways to bring us social-distance friendly music videos and challenges. Playfully dancing in front of a greenscreen and clad in ‘80s-inspired bodysuits, Hackney-born singer Bree Runway dropped the music video for her song “Damn Daniel”, which was shot in her house with at-home styling, makeup, and hair not compromising on quality. “Lockdown isn’t easy on the brain at all, and it’s such a boring time as well,” Bree tells me in an email. “I wanted to provide my fans with a pick-me-up—a little escape. It was a must that I got this out, regardless of all that’s happening, because I promised myself I would be consistent this year, and I’m sticking to it.”
We also fell in love with Yxng Bane’s quarantine-inspired video for his song “Table 4 Two”, with online personality Zeze Millz posing as his lockdown love interest via FaceTime. Lockdown also brought the best out of DJs across the profession; on the list of iconic quarantine moments, wedding DJs playing on rooftops to hundreds of isolating flats was up there for sure. We partied with the likes of Michelle Obama and Rihanna in the comment section of D-NICE’s ten-hour DJ set, and if you thought that was a lot, we were then blessed with a 24-hour live session from UKG icon DJ EZ in conjunction with My Kind Deed, to promote ‘togetherness’ and bring ‘hope’ during isolation. The set reached 40 million people worldwide and #StayHomeWithDJEZ trended for days online. Birmingham’s Continental GT also became the people’s champ for his weekly house and garage sets on IG Live, which had everyone from Skepta and Chip to Maya Jama tuned in.
The most unexpected but exciting moment of not only this lockdown but the year so far, was the resurgence of unapologetically Black radio. No Signal, an online radio station founded by Jojo Sonubi and his brother David, dominated online conversations for weeks with their music battle show #NS10v10, which always trends on Twitter as hosts rep their artists in a 10-track clash. The most notorious battle to date—Wizkid vs Popcaan—had over 88,000 people tuned in, while their other shows deliver pure tuneage, intense dramas and a sense of community. The team consists of several online personalities and music lovers, most notable the enigmatic Henrie Kwushue who heads up production at the station and often hosts herself.
In a PG-friendly use of IG Live, comedian Mo Gilligan hosted nightly ‘Quarantine Games’ where people across the country tuned in to win prizes. It often ended up in countless laughs between Gilligan and contestants, and was a warm way to end evenings of lockdown anxiety. The online dominance of Black content could not be contained and it was only a matter of time before we started to see Black talent reach the screen. Inspired by Gilligan’s digital game-show, Channel 4 commissioned his production company, Momo G, to produce Mo Gilligan’s All-Star Happy Hour to bring the joy of his Instagram Live to our TV screens. The show brings celebrities and the general public together for games and also sprinkles in characters from classic Mo The Comedian skits that we all know and love.
Munya Chawawa is another one creating LOL-inducing content. His hilarious ‘carnival-ready quarantine workout’ went viral for his impersonation of Jamie Oliver’s fictional-but-equally-as-culturally-appropriating cousin, Johnny Oliver, who teaches the nation how to get fit for carnival at home. Munya’s sketch as Craig Covid singing “Staying In”, a parody of Craig David’s “Fill Me In”, spread like wildfire, lifting lockdown blues and even received praise from Craig David himself. “As a creator, this lockdown has pushed me to my creative limits but has also massively rewarded me for it,” Munya told me over email. “The lockdown has given people the chance to fully focus and engage with content. When things go back to normal, people might be less inclined to watch me daggering my carpet! But until then, it’s the best time for all creators to showcase what makes them awesome.”
Food & Fitness
Made my little brothers favourite breakfast for his birthday - McDonald’s (inspired) Sausage and Egg McMuffin pic.twitter.com/JabuOMdPBh— IG: Msjoycek (@IamJoyceK) April 3, 2020
Black content creators not only nourished our souls with great music and entertainment during isolation, they also nourished our bodies with food and fitness content. From Sprinkle Cakes to McDonald’s McMuffins, there were no dishes we couldn’t make ourselves or order in from Black creatives. Biloko Supper Club founder and foodie Joyce Kudia racked up 16,000 new followers on Instagram after she went viral for her re-creation of the McMuffin. “The quarantine period has been an emotional rollercoaster,” she tells me over Twitter DM, “but creating content has really helped to shift the focus from the constant bad news, uncertainty and anxious thoughts.” The talented Kudia went on to receive a message of approval from McDonald’s on Twitter.
When gyms were closed, Black fitness influencers turned their IG into personalised classes to help us shake off lockdown lethargicness. One of the people doing this is Christina Okenla—a personal trainer/fitness instructor from London. “Quarantine has been hard but also a blessing as I have been able to share my passion with so many,” Okenla tells me over email. “We have come together to uplift our spirits and come out of lockdown snatched!” For six days a week, Okenla has been guiding keen people through workouts and giving them something to look forward to when the days get monotonous. Her animated personality and lively soca playlists make the upbeat workouts more bearable.
As we pass the peak of the virus and the government begins to ease us out of strict lockdown—telling people to “stay alert” rather than “stay indoors”—we can all look back at the socially distant but shared moments with fondness. The hilarious and informative moments that kept us afloat during these unprecedented times will stay buried in our collective memory bank and become a part of Black music and culture history.