Rap video challenge enlists youth to fight pandemic apathy 

A teen smiles in front of a colorful mural
North High School junior Monaea Upton, 16, made a rap video about living during the pandemic for the COVID-19 rap challenge. She says her video is about how she's able to strive and be creative even when things are tough.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

The young rappers recorded their videos in kitchens, laundry rooms, garages, bedrooms and outdoors. 

With beats and rhymes, the teens open a window into their lives during the pandemic. Some videos are somber. Others take a lighter approach. But the underlying theme that comes through is that COVID-19 is no joke.

The contest was organized by the African American Community Response Team and the Best Buy Teen Tech Center at Summit Academy OIC.  African Americans in Minneapolis and in Minnesota have been infected with the virus at rates higher than their proportion of the population. And organizers want young people to play a role in helping to curb the spread.

North High School junior Monaea Upton, 16, is one of seven siblings living under the same roof. So, she made her video in the family’s garage.

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“First week, I’m happy, I’m living it up. Doing TikToks, challenges, you know what’s up,” raps Upton. “Second week, I’m kind of down from being alone, tired of hearing the same news on and off my phone.”

Staying at home all the time is getting old, Upton laments. She raps about taking naps and doing yoga to help her pass the time when she's not doing school work remotely — which is also not easy. Upton said her advanced placement classes have kept her busy. 

“A lot of my classes are pretty much AP, so they do give you a lot of work,” she said. “And we have AP exams coming up. So, it’s a lot to focus on while you’re at home.”

Upton keeps in touch with her friends electronically and occasionally in person while maintaining a safe distance. 

Some of her peers aren’t taking the virus as seriously as they should, she said. While young people can become infected with COVID-19, the virus poses a higher risk to older adults. Upton said young people who don’t follow social distancing rules or wear masks in public aren’t thinking about how they risk spreading the virus to people who are more vulnerable to it.

“Most of the kids that do take it seriously only do because their parents do,” she said. “And I don’t blame them. And I honestly wouldn’t know how to encourage them unless I told them to put themselves in an older person’s shoes.”

The rap challenge is organized by recording artist Brynne Crockett, also known as rapper BdotCroc. 

Crockett has been rapping since she was 8 years old. She’s a coordinator at the Best Buy Teen Tech Center based at Summit Academy OIC in north Minneapolis. The center is a place where teens can use audio visual equipment, computers and other tech gadgets for free.

“I thought it would be good to use the rap challenge for young people to vocalize their experience in a way that’s not only expressive, but also liberating for them,” said Crockett, adding that she’s particularly glad to see the majority of entries come in from young women because, “those voices being uplifted is important.”

Given the disproportionate toll COVID-19 is taking on the black community, Crockett said it’s especially important for African Americans to help spread the word on how to stay safe.

Upton, who is a fan of Crockett’s music, said she and other young people are eager to help the cause. And she believes that a spirit of helpfulness will spread to others.  

“We need to be there for each other,” she said. “We need to be able to do something positive for ourselves and for our communities so others can see it’s OK.”

Prizes will be awarded for the top three videos. And all the videos will appear on Black Music America's cable TV channel available on Comcast.