How Rappers and Record Studios Are Coping With the Pandemic

From Airbnb workarounds to clandestine masked sessions, the music world is pressing on

Keith Nelson Jr
LEVEL
Published in
6 min readApr 9, 2020

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Isaac Hayes at Doppler Studios in Atlanta, Georgia.
Isaac Hayes at Doppler Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo: Prince Williams/Getty Images

Update 6/7/22: Level has a new home. You can read this article and other new articles by visiting LEVELMAN.com.

InIn January 2019, J. Cole hosted his 10-day Dreamville Sessions at Atlanta’s Tree Sounds Studios. Not only had the studio played a role in minting indelible sonic legacies from the likes of TLC and Keith Sweat, but its 20,000 square feet also made it perfect for holding Dreamville’s collaborative rap camp, with artists coming from all over the country to record together in its five recording rooms.

Now Tree Sounds stands empty. Four weeks ago, chief operating officer Malissa “Mali” Hunter had the foresight to shut down the studio in the face of the growing coronavirus pandemic — nearly a full month before Georgia Governor Brian Kemp issued a statewide stay-at-home order on April 2. “We’ve lost 100% of our business,” Hunter says. “You can’t sustain yourself when there’s no money coming in.”

Over the past decade, Black artists have been keeping recording studios in business. Last year alone saw 52% of the 100 most streamed songs coming from hip-hop/R&B. Rapper Lil Baby reached 9 billion career streams a mere three years after he learned how to rap. But the coronavirus has put the recording studio’s essentiality into question.

“Trippie Redd coughed a few times and scared everyone in the room.”

“The electricity bill is $4,000 a month. It’s $3,000 right now when no one’s working because you have to keep the equipment on,” Hunter says. “We have tape vaults that are heat- and cooling-oriented in order to keep Keith Sweat and TLC’s [old tapes intact]. We have a vault that holds the music for over 30 years, and we have to keep that cooled.”

Tree Sounds acted early and decisively, but as mayors and governors across the United States issued orders for nonessential businesses to close, other studios tried to adjust before ultimately shutting down completely. One Los Angeles-area studio, where Young Thug has recorded the vast majority of his music over the past few years, limited attendance…

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Keith Nelson Jr
LEVEL
Writer for

Writer by fate, journalist by passion. Bylines at: REVOLT, Grammys.com, Discogs, Vibe Magazine, Okayplayer, REVERB, LEVEL Mag https://linktr.ee/KeithNelsonJr