GUESS WHAT, BITCH? Coronavirus!” Cardi B’s shriek echoes until it resembles a siren. A hi-hat-heavy beat comes in on the rapper’s frantic warning: “Shit is real!” The words are from a 46-second video Cardi B posted on Instagram in March, broadcast to a shellshocked nation. But it was DJ iMarkkeyz who turned them into a cheeky club banger with visuals to match every beat drop—Childish Gambino, Beyoncé, Future, Elmo, and Bugs Bunny all get crunk as an animated coronavirus molecule floats by with a toothy smile like the alien villain in a kids’ cartoon.
The year looked bleak until iMarkkeyz (real name Brandon Markell Davidson) remixed it. “It’s a lot of wild nonsense going on,” says the 30-year-old producer-editor from behind his computer screen in East New York; he’s wearing rectangular Clark Kent glasses, a du-rag, and a plain black face mask with an iM printed on it. (Even in non-covid times, the mask is his signature look.) “But somebody’s gotta make people not live in fear.” Along with “Coronavirus,” he created joyful musical interludes for 2020’s other distressing news cycles. “Lose Yo Job,” centered on a viral clip of a Black woman being detained by a security guard, became a national anti-police-brutality protest anthem, making it all the way to a Saturday Night Live cold open featuring Jim Carrey and Maya Rudolph. In November, his tongue-in-cheek remix of Donald Trump’s spiritual adviser repeating the words I hear a sound of victory arrived right as many Americans needed to hear it.
Before the pandemic, iMarkkeyz DJ-ed parties around New York City and in nearby cities—until December of last year, when he landed in the hospital with an abscess in his lower back. “I was going through a depressive phase because I thought it was it,” he recalls. “January, February, I was still in recovery mode. I wasn’t going anywhere, so I didn’t really do nothing but make remixes.” In March, just when he was getting back on his feet, “Coronavirus” made it to No. 9 on the iTunes hip-hop chart within hours of its release, and it hit No. 1 in several countries. A packed club in Rio blasted it unironically. The track now has tens of millions of views across YouTube.
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