The COVID-19 crisis has hit a little too close to home for Adrian and Lucas Rezza, Niagara-on-the-Lake hip hop producers and artists.
This Friday, the duo known as 80 Empire releases a new single. Entitled Fit In, the track is a collaboration with Brooklyn’s Fred the Godson, Detroit native Lazarus, Italian rapper Max Il Nano and former Dr. Dre associate Bishop Lamont, from Carson, California. It also features longtime NOTL resident Catherine Marie Leniarsky performing the underlying vocal hook.
Fit In itself is not about the coronavirus, but eerily uncanny circumstances have unmistakably tied the song to the pandemic.
The brothers recorded the contribution from Frederick Thomas, the rapper known as Fred the Godson, last year, and then sat on the track for quite some time. Lucas recalls touching base with Fred just after the pandemic hit.
“We had plans to work on some more music with him. He and I were laughing a bit about quarantine life. Like Adrian and me, he has two kids. I asked him about New York, and he told me how crazy it was there.”
A couple of days passed, and Lucas reached out again. “Fred said, ‘I’m just dealing with some stuff, but I’m ready to go into the studio next week,’” says Lucas. “And then that Monday, I see him on Instagram with an oxygen mask on his face saying ‘I got hit with this COVID s**t, please keep me in y’all prayers.’”
Fred the Godson lost his battle with the virus on April 23, at 35 years of age. Tributes to the rising star from some of the biggest names in hip hop quickly filled social media.
The brothers are releasing the song this week, partly as a tribute to their friend and collaborator, and partly as a fundraiser for his wife LeeAnn Jemmott and their two children, both under 10 years old.
Lucas points out how eerie Fred’s verse is when looking back after his death. “There’s some lines in there, like ‘I thank the Lord I’m here now,’ and ‘they applaud I’m bowing out’, it kind of foreshadows what was to happen.”
The brothers contacted Fred’s management earlier this month to ensure that his camp would be okay with Fit In being released this week. They also wanted to offer all proceeds from the song to the late rapper’s family.
Fred’s death in itself would be enough to tie the song to the pandemic. But other links make it even more poignant.
The rapper from Detroit, Kamran Rashid Khan, known as Lazarus, also happens to be a physician. An associate of rapper Eminem and his D12 crew, Khan is currently working at a hospital in Las Vegas, where he has been enlisted for the fight against the virus. Though he began working on his contribution before the pandemic, his verse on Fit In reflects that struggle:
“Now I’m on the front lines fighting what could make you die,
Hearing families’ aches and cries,
Reusing the same supplies,
Risking my own self but I took an oath to saving lives,
As the world is shut down and everybody stay inside.”
“Laz was able to finish his verse, and it morphed into him talking about being a doctor on the front lines. He is one of the most relevant rappers right now,” says Adrian. Recent interviews that Khan has done, focusing on the balance between being a rapper and a doctor, would bear that out.
In addition, as Adrian points out, Italy is one of the countries that has been hardest hit by the pandemic. Max Il Nano, a member of the Italian hip hop crew Bari Jungle Brothers, with whom 80 Empire have collaborated in the past, delivers his verse in his native Bari Italian dialect.
Tying it all together is the ethereal vocal hook from Catherine Marie Leniarsky. Adrian describes how they connected with her. “We were working with another artist, Beatrice Love, who has a gritty voice,” he explains. “She needed someone with a more angelic sound, and I was on Instagram, and I stumbled on a video of her singing. I thought she looked familiar, and I remembered seeing her at The Pie Plate.”
They contacted her, and brought her in for that project. She ended up being perfect for the Fit In hook, and even earned a songwriting credit for her contribution. With her voice multi-tracked and treated with just enough reverb to enhance the spiritual quality of her sound, it’s a perfect foil to the grittiness of the other four contributors.
The brothers, whose most recent single, Cosa Nostra, a tribute to their Italian family and roots, recently passed over a million streams on Soundcloud, promise that a video will be put together soon.
Fit In hits Apple Music, iTunes, Deezer, Soundcloud, Spotify and all other digital platforms this Friday, May 22. All proceeds from the song will go to Fred the Godson’s family.