In Search of Kids’ Hip Hop
It’s cliché to say that parenting changes the way you look at the world around you, but I had no idea how fundamentally it would change the way I listened to the music around me. (This is part one of two posts on music and parenting.)
Our house has always been filled with music – CD’s spinning, iTunes pumping, Pandora streaming. This is probably why, when my two-year old son get’s up in the morning he usually runs over to our stereo and shouts “Moooo-zik!” He knows how to turn on the receiver, eject the CD player and how to turn the volume up. Luckily he seems to be adopting a musical palate as broad as his parents. He’s as happy boogying to bluegrass as he is bopping to hip hop.
However, listening to our music collection through his ears, has made we newly conscious of the lyrics in the songs we play. I’m not just talking about the colorful language, but about the stories our music tells, the lives it chronicles, and the lessons it teaches. The majority of the music we own is fairly innocuous, but some of it has sent me reaching for the volume knob or the power button.
This has been especially true with hip hop – which my son calls “bop bop”. Kanye West and Common sound very different in a car with a two year old. As he nods his head in the back seat I cringe at some of the songs that so delight him. Once I spent a whole afternoon flipping through my iPod looking for some kid-friendly hip hop: A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Beastie Boys, Eric B. and Rakim, Black Eyed Peas, Blue Scholars, Common Market, Boom Bap Project, The Fugees, Jurassic 5, Jay-Z, you name it… nothing seemed to work.
So I went on a hunt for kids’ hip hop and kid-friendly hop hop. The distinction is an important one. Kid-friendly hip hop is not made with kids in mind, but tends to be positive and “safe.” Kids’ hip hop is made for kids, with themes that relate to kid’s everyday lives and often employes their language. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo (see below) calls this Kid Hop, which I also like. He writes, “What is KID HOP you ask? That’s where kids meet hip hop without compromising either one. This is accomplished through full respect for both the traditions of hip hop and the magical world of childhood.”
Here is what I found for Kids’ Hip Hop:
Baby Loves Hip Hop and Dino 5 – Baby Loves Hip Hop is part of the “Baby Loves” series and Dino 5 is the first album put out under this umbrella. Driven by longtime hip-hop producer Prince Paul – Dino 5 combines the talents of Chali 2na from Jurassic 5, Scratch from The Roots, and Wordsworth and Lady Bug Mecca from Digable Planets. The entire album is fantastic (though some songs get a bit repetitive – good for the kids, a bit tough on the adults) and it has a companion audio book and cartoon. Check them out at dino5.com and babyloveshiphop.com.
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo – This one is probably my favorite. Based out of Asheville NC and rooted in early 90‘s hip hop Secret Agent 23 Skidoo brings a wide array of musical influences to bear. The album reminds me most of the obscure Burlington, VT hip hop band Belizbeha, merging hip hop, soul, dance, and jazz rhythms and riffs. Skidoo describes his own mix this way “a rollicking gumbo of sounds, bringing funk, bluegrass, reggae and classical together with classic breaks and club worthy drums. Then this landscape is lyrically populated by robots, aliens, dragons, mermaids, and flying fish, living side by side with positive party rhymes written to bump up both the volume and the self esteem.” Check it out at secretagent23skidoo.com
The Figureheads – This one came to me via Twitter and I am still getting to know their music. They come with a strong social justice background and powerful lyrics about history and social movements. Not your ordinary kids’ music fare. Here is how they describe themselves: “The Figureheads is an award-winning musical act turned non-profit organization using original positive hip-hop music to engage youth and educators, from pre-kindergarten through high-school, in order to develop critical thinking and collaborative skills that result in a greater desire to learn and relate.” I will say – their Social Justice song (a video of which is posted on their site) is excellent. Sample lyric: “There is no doubt that the path to a new beginning is trailblazed by amazing women.” In addition to the music they make they also do a ton of education, workshops and other projects. Here is the link: figureheadsinc.org
Hip Hop Kidz – In exploring this genre I found a lot of really bad kids’ hip hop music – most of it designed to sell instructional dance DVDs or some other gimmick. This group definitely focuses on merchandising – it was started 18 years ago by a fitness instructor – but there was one element that stuck out and made me add them to the list. I probably wouldn’t buy the CD, but this is also the only group of young people making music for other young people, which I liked a lot. The raps are not as meaningful or rich as some of these others and the beats are pretty simplistic, but the focus here is less on the message and more on creating something danceable, and it does that. Here is a link to their site: h2kz.com
Finally, a suggestion for this book came in via Facebook: “Hip Hop Speaks to Children” by Nikki Giovani and I include it here because it comes with a great looking CD.
In terms of kid-friendly hip hop, I got a lot of great suggestions on Facebook and Twitter, many of which I had in my library but had forgotten about: Arrested Development, Digable Planets, Us3, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and to some extent Will Smith’s solo stuff. There are definitely other tracks from other artists that fit the bill, but I was most interested in full albums you can put on shuffle or play start to finish.
I’m sure there are others. Add your favorites in the comments section and check back for part two of this post on kids, music and parenting.