Last Spring, Idris Elba was one of the first celebrities to announce that he tested positive for COVID-19. Following his bout with the virus, Elba released a freestyle speaking on his harrowing experience. He left a verse open for anyone interested in jumping on the song with him. Little did Elba know that his challenge would spark a future collaboration and friendship with another actor: burgeoning MC and former child star Connor Price.
The 26-year-old Canadian lyricist wowed Elba when he posted his response to his freestyle on Instagram. After requesting his followers to tag Elba’s page to check out his rap, Price woke up the following morning to dozens of notifications, including a follow from The Wire star. The two men chatted on Instagram’s direct messenger and forged a relationship based on music and acting.
Price entered the movie industry when he was six years old, and played the eldest son of Russell Crowe’s character in the Oscar-nominated biopic Cinderella Man. Since his 2005 appearance, Price landed roles in several movies and TV shows, but he wanted to try his hand at music full-time. His nimble lyricism and passion for hip-hop intrigued Elba enough to collaborate with him. The end-product is their hooky anthem “Courteney Cox,” an ode to the famed actress and Friends star.
“What intrigued me was that he’s a dude that’s taken up music recently and was like, ‘Hey man, I’m really into this,’ Elba tells Billboard. “I’ve been doing music for a while, and I love [it]. It’s not my first gig, but I really felt his passion.”
Not only did Price and Elba string together a catchy record, but they also reeled in Cox for a cameo in the song’s video. Cox even deftly pens four bars, jokingly jabbing at Price and Elba, bringing the collaboration to a full-circle. “That skit at the end and rap was entirely her idea,” adds Price. “We originally came to her and was unsure how she’d react.”
Billboard spoke to Elba and Price about making “Courteney Cox,” jumping into music without trepidation, and how acting better prepared them to enter the rap game.
Idris, what first intrigued you about Connor’s response verse regarding your experience with Covid?
IE: It’s so interesting that you’re taking me back to the beginning — with being in lockdown, being able to write music and put stuff out. Connor was one of the handful of artists that decided to work with me. He took the time out to edit himself. He took the instrumental and did his own thing. What he had to say was really poignant. I was really brain-vomiting some thoughts about what was going on with my situation, and he [dovetailed with] that beautifully. Lyrically, I just thought it was really precise, deep and well thought out. There were no lost lines.
Connor, you also started out acting and then jumped into hip-hop. How were you able to develop such a lyrical ability so quickly?
CP: I’ve always been a fan of hip-hop. Ever since I was young, I shared a room with my older brother. He was such a big fan of Lupe Fiasco and MF Doom and these artists that were very lyrically driven. As a kid, I was always consuming storytelling-driven songs, lyrical, songs and I just fell in love with it. As I got older, the acting thing was always happening, but in the back of my head I was always like, “At some point, I wanna try rap.” I kept putting it off — but in 2018, I put out my first EP, and it got such a great response. So I just kept going and here we are.
Connor, what was your initial response when Idris commented on your freestyle and followed you on Instagram?
CP: I was following Idris and I saw his freestyle. It said that the third verse was open. So I’m like, “OK. I see you. That’s an invite.” That same night I took the mp3 of the instrumental, looped it and recorded it myself. I mixed it, filmed it and put it on Instagram that same night.
Usually, I don’t work that quick, and it takes me a little longer — but I felt inspired. I put it out there and told everybody to tag Idris to get his attention. I didn’t think much of it. I went to sleep and it was the first notification I saw [when I woke up]. It said, “Idris followed you. Idris commented. Idris DM’d you.” I was like, “What is happening?” I had to check myself, like I was still dreaming or something.
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Idris, it’s one thing liking someone’s song, but it’s another deciding to do a record with them. What made you decide to ultimately work with Connor?
IE: Part of it is I’m always a big advocate for opportunity. I always say talent is everywhere, opportunity isn’t. When someone meets that intersection between taking the opportunity and having the talent, that’s rare. A lot of people have the talent, but don’t have the opportunity and a lot of people have the opportunity, but don’t take it. So for me, the guy is nice with it. Secondly, he’s serious. From my perspective, I left [the verse] open. It could have been anyone on that third verse, but [Connor] came in and did the work. He took the opportunity and his talent and hit that.
Also, this is why it pays to be a nice person — because when I met the dude, he was just a cool little dude [laughs]. He was also really well-versed on my history as an actor that has been doing music. We bonded on that. It’s a trepidatious ground to be an actor that does music. It’s kind of one of those places people don’t have tolerance for — but he and I really bonded on that point. That led for our creativity to be a lot more pure, or at least as dedicated as possible, which I think we’re both of that.
It’s just been a real healthy relationship. We’ve done a few demos, but “Courteney Cox” was one that he already had. As soon as I heard it, I said, “This is a banger. Let’s go.”
Connor, do you remember when you first developed your crush for Courteney Cox? Was it from an episode of Friends or from watching Scream?
CP: [Laughs.] All of the above. Mostly Friends. So my mom was a superfan of Friends. Growing up, it was always on TV. Who didn’t have a crush on Courteney Cox? I’d say Friends, definitely.
Let’s talk about how Courteney Cox actually ended up on the record and video. How did you guys pull that off?
CP: I kind of thought Idris was joking when he was like, “Hey. If we ever do this music video, we gotta get Courteney Cox.” Then, surely enough, he’s Idris Elba. I thought, “He can probably make that happen” [laughs]. Idris’s publicist and someone from her team made that connection. We each sent her a one-minute video introducing ourselves, which was awkward to do.
IE: It was very awkward [laughs]. I was like, “Try again, man. Send her another one.”
CP: There were [about] 100 takes on the camera roll. We pretty much said who we were and sent her the song. We said, “There’s no disrespect towards you, we love you, and we’d love for you to hear the song and be involved in any way you want.” She came back and liked it. With what you heard, that skit at the end and rap was entirely her idea. We originally came to her and was unsure how she’d react.
IE: She looped the instrumental herself. She got a musical background and a musical family. She plays the piano and stuff. She looped that, wrote that and we were like, “D–n, OK.” It was funny, man.
There’s a line in the song where you guys both reference being an independent thinker. What do you guys think makes an independent thinker a great one, especially in this day in age?
IE: For me, more than ever, there’s so much influence left and right. There’s so many opinions battering you every single day, man. It’s hard for anyone who doesn’t have a direction or focus not to just be spinning around from the left and right coming in. To have that clear focus, like, “Hey. These are my goals in life and here’s where I’m going,” that’s so important these days.
It’s kind of fundamental to life at this moment — that you have a direction, that you are independently thinking and even though you can take all this noise, you don’t have to live your life by it. I think that’s super important. It was one of the strands that we spoke about. When I heard his verse, in the heart of it, he’s just talking about being one person. He’s an independent artist and the independence gives him his freedom. It gives me my freedom.
With you both starting in acting, how long did it take to get comfortable with pursuing hip-hop knowing criticism may come your way?
CP: Great question. I would love to hear what you think, Idris. When did you put out that first song when you introduced yourself as, “I’m doing music now”?
IE: When I was in The Wire 20 years ago, me, Wood Harris, Hassan Johnson, and bunch of the cast were all just writing darts. It was something that we all used to sit and do. Wood Harris was one of the nicest freestylers off the dome that I’ve ever met. You say “iPad,” and he’ll give you seven rhymes off that. We used to cipher and just bulls–t. I remember that juncture I was OK. I came from a DJ background. I was into beats.
Me and Hassan made a bunch of records. I made the beats and he and I would jump on the verses, but we never put anything out. Over a time period, when I started DJing post-The Wire, I started putting out mixtapes. Me and DJ Shogun used to put out all these mixtapes in New York. Every now and then I would sneak a verse on one, and it was fun. By the way, nobody really was paying attention those times.
Fast forward, 2010-2011, I put out The Big Man EP. It essentially was my first jump into it. It was four tracks. I worked with these producers out in London. It was just one of these things that I wanted to do. It was one of those things that I could do to a certain level. I just dived in. I never thought about the intersection between acting and music, because at that time, acting was my bread and butter — and is still my bread and butter. No one was paying attention to the music. I was doing it out of love. I wasn’t doing it for commerce, streaming wasn’t big and social media wasn’t as big. So I did it for the love. And once you have a passion for something, bro, you just gotta do it.
Is there anything that you guys learned from acting that you’ve incorporated into the music over the years?
CP: Good question, because I started acting when I was six. So I don’t know anything other than being an actor. I’m curious if my music would be different if I didn’t act. That’s a great question — because I’m just not sure. I think there’s a level of confidence that performing has given me. Confidence is so important, especially in hip-hop. I feel like it probably gave me a level of confidence that allowed me to have the courage to pursue it.
IE: The more I do music, the more I want to back my music with my visuals. That for me is a sweet spot, you know what I’m saying? If there’s one thing like Connor, all I’ve ever done was acted. This video for us, we did this completely on lockdown. Everything I shot was on an iPhone. We were smashing and grabbing shots everywhere. Connor edited that bad boy with all the graphics. Also, we were grabbing apps and putting pieces to together. If I told Connor, “Let’s do a a big wide [shot] somewhere,” he’s going to find the mount and the ladder to get the wide. [laughs].
That mentality as filmmakers is that it’s a can-do mentality. It don’t matter if it’s on an IPhone or a red camera, get the shot. That’s why I loved working with him because our ambition for the video was getting bigger and bigger. When I sent him my stuff, he was like, “Ah Ok!” [laughs]. He was strapping cameras to skateboards and s–t.
CP: I was doing everything I could, man. I had to catch up with you. You were shirtless. How can I top that? [Laughs.] I think the performing aspect definitely does bring a new level of creativity for the visuals. Us doing that skit with Courteney at the end was all scripted. We were performing. We probably did three different takes of that, tried different things and then cut it down to the one minute that you see in the video, but that was a great point. The acting definitely influences the visuals.