Whether KRS-1 was screaming “You Must Learn!”, Inspektah Deck admonishing us to “…speak the truth to the young black youth”, Slick Rick teaching lessons in “Hey Young World” or Nas encouraging the youth with “I Can”, hip-hop has always tried (to varying degrees of success) to incorporate the kids. I get asked all the time for hip-hop music and educational material, and have found it a harder to find the music than I expected.
A year ago I asked my social media friends to to give me their favorite rap songs I could play for 3rd graders, and it was even more discouraging. The list of songs I received were incredible, spanning classics and hidden gems from the great hip-hop albums (including De La Soul’s “Me Myself and I” that I actually use in the classroom now). The problem is, “family-friendly” in hip-hop is completely relative. In a genre not afraid of rhyming about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll (even raping corpses at times) the songs that are “soft” in comparison are still to “hard” for an 8 year-old. To that end, I have compiled a few of my most trusted hip-hop resources for kids. This list highlights simply great music that children can find entertaining, to full fledged curriculum with common-core tie in’s and ways to increase your young students knowledge. Here are 4 hip-hop resources 4 your kids.
1. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
“More Fraggles than Wiggles, more Soul Train than Thomas the Train, 23 Skidoo is equal parts Dr. Suess and Dr. Dre!”
This is great music for the emotional development of your young person. From his anthems dedicated to childhood favorite activities like “Pillow Fight” or dealing with childhood difficulties like moving to new communities and losing friends in “Chase the Rain”, Skidoo seems to remember what it’s like to be 9. The music and incredibly creative and fun videos offers his poetic insights to make adolescence all better. Secret Agent 23 Skidoo also teaches residencies and was nominated for a Grammy in 2015. With his live instrumentation, and being occasionally upstaged by his daughter MC Fireworks, Skidoo can best be described as hardcore sunshine. Check out his new project The Perfect Quirk and his most popular video “Gotta Be Me”.
2. Christylez Bacon
“Christylez Bacon offers well-written tales and observations about everyday life that flow smoothly over jazz-influenced tunes” – Curt Fields The Washington Post
Full disclosure, Christylez is my artistic brother. Year ago I would have called him my little brother, as I was one of his many mentors when he began his artistic journey years ago. One of my first teaching experiences was working with Tim Jones (aka Optimist) and the Crushed I.C.E. program at Martha’s Table, where a young Chris was one of our star pupils. I have seen him grow from a teenage lyrical phenomenon, to the unofficial hip-hop laureate of Washington D.C., and one of the most colorful and respected voices in hip-hop music. Whether jamming to his debut project Advanced Artistry, or his Grammy nominated project with Cathy and Marcy Banjo To Beatbox or his new solo EP Hip-Hop Unplugged, your children will be in musical bliss. For an even better multicultural experience, check out one of his Sound Museum events where he takes music from across cultures and mixes them with his unique blend of hip-hop. Christylez is dedicated to making songs that you can play for anyone, a dedication he points out in one of the highlights off of his new project “Children Album Gangsta”.
“As a former educator myself, I understand the importance of developing innovative ways to teach and to make a curriculum come alive for every student in the room. I commend you for all the work you’ve done to develop H.E.L.P and make it come alive in classrooms…” – Barack Obama
Now we are coming to the serious educational material. H.E.L.P. (Hip-Hop Educational Literacy Program) is a series of education workbooks based on classic hip-hop songs. The brain child of educator Gabriel Benn (known in the hip-hop world as Asheru form the Unspoken Heard and Boondocks theme song fame), H.E.L.P. is an educational tool that is quickly gaining popularity in the educational circles. Every educator will tell you that teaching their students is easier when they can make it fun and relative to their real life. H.E.L.P. does that on so many levels, using classic songs as conversation starters for subjects from business skills to creative writing. Breaking down the lyrics of hip-hop luminaries from Rakim, Lauryn Hill, KRS-1 and Ludacris can be fun and educational for all ages. The H.E.L.P. series of books makes this process incredibly easy to follow for any teacher, no matter how fluent you are in hip-hop. Check out their website for lesson plans and pricing. Take a look at Gabe explaining how the process works.
“Flocabulary is the single most compelling way to make students understand the power, magic, and musicality of words.” – Dana Kinsey, 11th & 12th grade teacher
Flocabulary is last on this list, but it is probably the most thorough resource of all the ones on here. Started by artist and educators, and updated on a regular basis, Flocabulary gives you music and study material on numerous subjects in every grade level. These lessons are written to make sure teachers cover important standards in ELA (English Language Arts) and math, but students will hardly notice how much learning they are doing as they keep up with the hip-hop energy and creative word play of their professional produced songs and videos. For those who don’t take our word for it when we explain how the arts are great for all educational settings, their work is thoroughly reviewed and scientifically vetted. It is truly an impressive program they are running at Flocabulary, let alone some amazing artistry. Whether you just use their site for their weekly “The Week in Rap” or their dozens of videos that explain all kinds of educational processes like their most popular online video “Five Things (Elements of a Short Story)“. My sons know many of their songs by heart, and use them when they want to remember all types of educational material. Check out one of their many great videos.
I hope you find these resources as helpful as I do. There are hundreds of artists and educators making music for and about our kids. I’ll keep introducing you to them as I come across them in my own artistic/education journey!