Developing, writing and recording an album is no easy feat, but sometimes, when the environment is just right, one new idea can set off a creative chain reaction — one strong enough to pull a musician out of retirement. That’s the case with Detroit emcee and rapper Miz Korona who released her latest EP “The Virus” in April. A clear riff off of the similarities between her own name and that of the novel coronavirus pandemic, when it became apparent that the U.S. might end up seeing COVID-19 at home, many of Korona’s friends and followers urged her to create music about it. She wasn’t sure at first, but, once she put pen to paper, Korona said “it seemed like it was meant to happen.” In just under two weeks, “The Virus” EP was written, produced and released.
“The Virus” is Korona’s first musical creative work in over four years, and she said that she had to push personal boundaries to make that happen. Now, months into a global pandemic and removed from the initial release, Korona caught up with Between The Lines to share how she used the record to fight personal demons of self-doubt, why she chose this EP to talk about politics on one of her songs for the first time in her career and how she was able to turn a production flub into marketing magic for “The Virus.”
What inspired you to write this album?
I had been seeing news coverage about the virus taking over overseas but not knowing where it was. So, once it hit the United States, a lot of people started contacting me — just making little jokes, being funny — like, “Hey, you need to come out of retirement because a whole virus is named after you.” But I was already thinking about it. I was already reaching out to people like, “Hey, it’s this thing, it’s this virus that’s called the coronavirus,” and not really thinking about the severity because I never saw that until later. And a lot of the people that surround me and have been supportive of me, they really were pushing me to do it and, I don’t know, I’m a very spiritual person and it was just like, I felt like it was time.
Did you have any doubts when you released it?
I think maybe a week before I posted it online digitally I was rethinking it, because that’s when they started talking about it on the news and the media the amount of deaths that were happening. And then on social media, my whole social media circle, a few entertainer friends, a few friends, family members, both my parents were diagnosed with COVID-19 — but not the severe stage where they needed to be hospitalized, which I was grateful for. So, I started thinking, “Well, should I release this? Because now people are dying and people are being intubated and on ventilators and I don’t want it to be triggering to people.” I even thought about changing my name, and I made this post about it online — not that I didn’t feel proud about the project. But because I honestly felt like God was telling me that this was what I needed to do, and I felt like every step of the way it was like another being that was inside of me. I wrote that project in four days. That’s the fastest that I’ve ever created a project. It was something that clicked in my brain, and I was on autopilot and then I knew I wanted to do six songs, I knew that I wanted to work with specific people, and that was that.
Now that it’s been a couple of months since you first put out the tracks, have any of the songs on the EP changed meaning for you?
I don’t necessarily think that they changed meaning to me, but I believe that they changed meaning to people who were a little skeptical about the project just based off of the name in general. I did have some folks who were offended — some who were familiar with who I am as an artist and some who had never heard of me and thought that I was just trolling. But then people actually went back and listened to the project and they were just like, “Wow.” Especially around the time the protests started happening and some of the subliminal messages that the president was sending over the media airwaves. People went back to listen to that “45” song and [they’d say], “This song is amazing, and it’s really touching on everything that’s happening right now.” And it was already things that happened in the past, but I never thought it would reoccur again. That song has been on rotation with “Shade 45” with DJ Premier, who is a legendary DJ for a couple of weeks, so it’s resonated with more and more folks. So, when I pressed up the vinyl, it seemed as though a lot more people who were unaware of the project has even come out started taking notice, and now it’s got a whole new set of legs.
How did you get the name Miz Korona?
Many, many, moons ago, there was a guy who was one of the most popular rappers in my aunt’s neighborhood, and he worked at a liquor store, so I went in there looking for the guy. He worked in the back cooler and we were freestyling and he was like, “You’re not for real, I don’t believe you’re freestyling,” so we started naming off things in the cooler. And I said a line, and this is one of the only freestyles that I remember because it’s how I got my name, but I said, “My rhymes intoxicate minds like Coronas” as I was pointing to the bottle. But then I started looking up the definition because my mentor at the time, Big Proof, who was a part of D12, he kept trying to push me to change my old rap name, because he felt like it was going to hinder me and hold back. And he was right, but I didn’t want to believe him (laugh). It was Pimpette. I’m so glad that I changed it, and I believe everyone is also.
And now, years later, that name change led to this EP.
I don’t know, honestly, Eve, everything about this EP seems like it was meant to be, from the album cover and how it was shot to create it. I sent the graphics designer a few photos, and I didn’t really care for the direction he was going in — it didn’t really come across the way that I wanted it to. I wanted it to represent the album title and also as a return, “This is her coming out of retirement. She means business and needs to look serious.” So, when we shot the photos with our photographer Lamar Landers, we went downtown, and it was the same day that the governor did the shelter-in-place announcement, so when we went downtown it was this dead man’s zone. It was the perfect backdrop. We were in the heart of downtown and there was no traffic, we literally saw three people in the timeframe of the hour shooting and five cars, which is unheard of. Even the situation with the vinyl pressing, it was a little mishap with that, but I ended up being able to flip it and make it make sense.
Really? What happened?
When the press plant pressed my record, they pressed it at the wrong speed. So the speed of a 12-inch record is supposed to be 33 RPM, a seven-inch record is supposed to be pressed at 45 speed. And so, I get the records back and people were calling me, ‘Hey, something’s wrong with my record, it’s not playing right. You sound like you’re dragging.’ There’s a style of music in the South called chopped and screwed, and people said, “You sound chopped and screwed.” So I come up with this idea. I have this song called “45,” I can create a postcard and drop it inside the vinyl that says, “Warning: This record has a virus and must be played at 45 speed.” So I had my friend, his name is Evan, he’s a graphic designer. I called him up and had him do me a sketch of like the president or something that I can put on this postcard. We created it and dropped it in there and everybody’s looking like, “Oh my God, this is genius.” So, people didn’t even know that it was done by mistake (laughs).
What’s something you want people to think about as they listen to this EP?
I just really want people to know that as an independent artist, it’s always a struggle to have or maintain a successful career, so stepping back into the arena of hip-hop after a 4 ½-year time span of not writing, not recording and doing a project of this magnitude — like I said, there was a lot of resistance from folks, but to still push through [is hard]. The title of the album wasn’t to make fun of or downplay the seriousness of the virus or what’s happening and the pandemic, but it’s hard as a woman in the hip-hop industry, and it’s twice as hard as a lesbian woman in the hip-hop industry. So I really just used that as a metaphor of me not defeating myself, me not allowing the virus of insecurity and self-doubt and people not being supportive of me saying, “I can be this. I can defeat myself.”
Listen to “The Virus” here.