August 6, 2012. Five years ago, the world was introduced to what would become the Greatest Ever Kid-Rap Jam.
I’m gonna go ahead and assume that you’re one of the over 15 million people who’s seen the video for “Hot Cheetos and Takis” before. If you’re not, you’re welcome.
This song’s vocal recording, beat-production quality, extreme cuteness, overwhelming unhealthiness, and the posse’s dancing and lip-syncing in the video are all top-notch work whether you’re a 10-year-old or a veteran rapper. It’s all in there!
But let’s back it up for a moment and talk about why you should care about what you just watched and why you should feel proud to share a world with these rappers.
Community Youth Arts Programs Make an Enormous Impact
This unprecedented hit was written and recorded by a group of talented youngsters called YNRichKids (a play on the YMCA’s “Why Enrich Kids?“) with mentorship and assistance from a Minneapolis-based after-school arts program called Beats & Rhymes. In order of lyrical appearance, the artists in the video are: Dame Jones (age 13), Nasir (11), Fly Guy (11), G-6 (12), Frizzy Free (10), Ben 10 (10), Lady J (10), and Chips (14), who produced the “HCAT” beat.
This wasn’t the first track created by this North Minneapolis program aimed to give school-age kids first-hand experience producing music that they, themselves, can relate to, but it was the first to reach an audience outside the state, let alone internationally.
The first rap group to form within the program in 2007 was a group of students from the Nellie Stone Johnson Community School called The NSJ Crew.
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Expanded through partnerships with local North Minneapolis YMCA branches, community schools, local businesses, and even a grant from Best Buy’s Children’s Foundation, Beats & Rhymes quickly started to make an impact on the city’s youth, exposing and championing a wealth of creativity the community didn’t know it had.
To be totally honest, this program embodies everything that we stand for at Soundfly. In order to participate in this after-school program, kids simply need to be able to complete homework assignments; it’s free if they’re willing to work hard.
Alongside the DIY, hands-on creation of a track from beat to vocals to video and teaching kids to use pro-level studio equipment, Beats & Rhymes makes a point to impart the soft arts of studio etiquette, stage presence, and music-industry awareness. Attention to details like these might actually help kids their age tenfold in navigating their careers as artists in the long run. (We’ll come back to this later.)
Just listen to the positivity and pride contained in these lyrics from The NSJ Crew’s “We Go Ham” above.
We like Jeezy and Kanye / amazin’, hot, blazin’ / and every time I come into the studio / I use my imagination / this album… yeah we made it! / I hope you like it, it’s OUR creation.
With so much proven success, the mission for Beats & Rhymes now goes beyond accessibility. The program also advises schools and community centers on developing their own hands-on curriculums and programs.
Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems
With over 15 million plays on YouTube alone, there’s got to be some cash flow, right? As of 2013, the kids of YNRichKids had not seen a penny of any of the revenue generated from download sales and streaming of “HCAT.” That was four years ago when the YouTube video for the song was at a mere 5.3 million views.
Obviously, as the track was put together in a classroom and the video produced on a budget, nobody expected the song to blow up like it did, so from a legal standpoint, there are no contracts properly allocating the owners and rights-holders of the music. Whether the YMCA was receiving payments on the group’s behalf or not is up for speculation.
But another caveat of this saga is a bit more certain. The video for “HCAT” was produced by Richard Peterson of 13TwentyThree and uploaded to his YouTube channel. Peterson claims full ownership of the video, citing that no documents exist to prove otherwise. According to Minneapolis-based journalist Chris Riemenschneider, in 2013, Peterson did not plan to hand over any of the money earned.
We can assume he has made a significant amount of money off the content. And none of his other music videos have even come close to reaching the level of popularity that “HCAT” has achieved. You’ll notice that since this episode, the YNRichKids have uploaded all of their other videos via the Beats & Rhymes channel directly.
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Is There a Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow?
In the same article that exposed these money issues, Riemenschneider also reported that while the YNRichKids hope to one day make money doing what they love, everyone in their camp agrees that, “The negativity over money should not detract from the KIDS’ positive achievements.”
Perhaps that sentiment is best reflected in the YNRichKids’ 2014 single, “The Business.”
Yeah, they’re a bit older, and maybe not as cute as they used to be, but here’s that critical second verse again, reinforcing their hard-won values and positive outlook.
Yea, see I can rap all day / ’bout how I’m spittin’ rhymes swagged out and gettin’ money / but my mama don’t care, cuz she won’t think it’s funny / if I got bad grades my days would not be sunny / she send me to my room and tell me she ain’t raise no dummy / yeah and so I chose to do my homework / getting straight A’s is a priority, yeah it comes first / you looking at me like that, man you ain’t gotta hate / you can be about your business and study / and you can get straight A’s.
So, like many artists, the YNRichKids (now known as Da Rich Kidzz) have had to battle through money squabbles and legalese in order to protect their work — only they had to do it before many of them were even teenagers.
The group has since signed a licensing endorsement deal with retailer Kmart and are in conversations about doing more work together. They signed with a management and A&R team, headed by superstar manager Alonzo Jackson, called ALK Entertainment Group. (Jackson is perhaps best known for producing a young girls group called Destiny’s Child.)
Da Rich Kidzz even made a hip-hop track about climate change for a 2014 HBO documentary on how kids can help protect the environment and secure their futures.
Despite some risky situations caused by overnight fame in artists who are unprepared to deal with its arrival, it seems like this story has unfolded pretty positively. Without speculating too much, the mentorship and pro-level training that these kids accessed at a critical developmental time in their lives, both as artists and citizens in their community, has supplanted them with the courage to make responsible decisions and remain grounded. The Beats & Rhymes program is largely to thank for that.
Art and commerce are always intertwined — these days, learning to navigate the industry is just as important as learning to strum a chord or whack out a sick beat.
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