The mysterious new singer Orville Peck refuses to tell anyone his real name or show his face. He is never seen without a cowboy hat and black-leather Lone Ranger mask covered in fringe, a look that’s old-school country mixed with a hint of S&M. Like Lil Nas X, he identifies as a gay man and is rewriting the rules of country music. So, to celebrate Pride, he picked the perfect song to cover for his entry in the Spotify Singles series: Bronski Beat’s eternal gay anthem “Smalltown Boy.”
Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.
As a rule, rappers don’t do covers. Sure, they might karaoke a beloved Biggie verse every now and again, but you almost never see them record a regular, honest-to-goodness cover. They honor their influences through sampling and remixing, which, given that they generally can’t sing, works better for most of them.
Enter Buck 65. The Tom Waits of hip-hop, this Canadian cult hero is anything but an ordinary rapper and he does covers on the regular. And not even covers of other rap songs, but covers of pop and folk that blend seamlessly into his albums. Though no one could question his encyclopedic knowledge of hip-hop history, Buck (aka Richard Terfry) draws from folk and blues regularly, giving his work a grit more Robert Johnson than Tupac. Below, we sample five choice reimaginings as a primer on how rappers can do covers right.
Quickies rounds up new can’t-miss covers. Download ‘em below.
• French songwriter Émilie Simon hasn’t released an album in two years, but she just premiered a new cover over at FILTER. It strips Bronski Beat’s 1984 hit “Smalltown Boy” down to piano and, more importantly, Simon’s incredibly rich vocals.
MP3: Émilie Simon – Smalltown Boy (Bronski Beat cover)