Thug in the Time of Corona is a good example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. When the project arrived in my inbox, not going to lie, the first impression was that this would be another generically hard UK rap project with a heavy injection of Covid conspiracy. Neither turned out to be true. In fact, the title turns out to just be the who and the when and the LP doesn’t get bogged down in pseudo-politics and just focuses on fitting flows around various musical moulds.
With the golden era of gangsta rap now a quarter century ago, it’s not a controversial opinion that thug rap in the early 2020s is sounding more stale. With the dumbing down of mainstream US hip hop spiralling towards complete leaned-up incoherence and the tidal wave of Drill in the UK recycling predictable carbon copies of the same trap checklist… It’s strangely refreshing when you hear a hip hop driven project from new artists that brazenly claims thug but lyrically harks back to a time before things had descended into mumbles.
Before we get carried away… Kazz and Kanine aren’t reinventing any wheels. What they have done is studied how a bunch of different wheels turn and then cobbled together a vehicle for themselves that moves surprisingly smoothly on the half a dozen different cogs that keep it rolling. Hailing from Trinidad and Bury St Edmunds respectively, the cross Atlantic influences of each come into play. Beyond the contrasting tone, accents and flows of the two lyricists which keep things vocally varied, there’s a whole bunch of styles getting mashed into the 15 track LP. With heavy influences from Grime, American Hip-Hop, Trinidadian Hip hop, and UK Rap as well as echoes of Trap/Drill, the K&K ride swerves across the width of the rap spectrum from start to finish.
At its core though, it’s distinctly hip hop. For all the chaotic blending, from frequent Island soundclash stylings and regular accelerations to grimey pacing, the spirit that ties the project together feels closest to classic US Gangsta Rap. Kind of like they listened to a lot of Boot Camp Clik and mixed that ethos with the UK and Trinidad roots and a high dose of grime and new era sounds. Tracks like opening banger ‘King Kong’ or drilly instrumentals like ‘Raging Bull’ (which see Kazz and Kanine running circles around your average drill patterns) keep things current and heads nodding. Often though, even on the beats that sound the most current, there’s a clear old school approach to the verses. An influence that lurks on some tracks and pushes more to the forefront on others. At it’s most evident on moments like melodic number ‘Nothin’, the R-rated braggadocio of ‘Like Ali’ or when the ominous drone of “Better leave your night light on” on the hook of ‘Ambassador’ channels the essence of Rock of Heltah Skeltah. Even ‘Fresh P’s rough around the edges nod to the Fresh Prince adds to that feel.
By the time the project is drawing to a close, having already established what they’re about, Kazz and Kanine are just styling. Throwing out a couple final curveballs to hint that you probably don’t have them fully figured. ‘Fallin Back’ gets spacey and considered and sounds like it could have been produced by Phaelah. Final tune ‘Island Boy’ comically switches focus back to reminding the listener of the exact ridiculous time in history that the project was made in. Flipping the universally mocked hook from those two pineapples that spammed everyone’s feed into something that’s actually dope.
Thug in the Time of Corona is out now on all streaming platforms.