You’ve probably seen this video of the Y.N. Rich Kids singing about their favorite snacks as part of the North Community YMCA Beats and Rhymes Program in Minneapolis, MN. (See more of their creations here).
The first time I watched it my jaw dropped open and I gaped a bit–okay, a lot. By the end, though, I was hopping around singing right along with the clever lyrics and the rather cute little rappers. Should I have been so easily won over? There are — of course — two sides:
Why am I harping on a bunch of little kids singing about Cheetos? It’s harmless, right? Maybe, but there is something more than a little disturbing about seeing kids likely under the age of ten acting like gangster rappers–hanging with their “crew”, heads bobbing, hands around their groins, adoring fans circled around them…definitely called to mind a few less than appealing rap videos I’ve seen. If I squinted, one of the kids even looked like a smaller, much younger Jay-Z strutting around on the playground. Let’s just say he’s not exactly someone I would want my kids or students looking up to.
Sure, this video is the product of an after school group singing about a rather innocuous–albeit unhealthy–topic. But what about in a few years when they hit middle school and puberty? If they’re copying the body language and mannerisms of stereotypical African American male rappers now in order to appear cool, what’s to stop them from copying their lyrics and subject matter in videos made on their own time? Something tells me that seeing some of these same kids rap about drugs, violence, or misogyny in five years would come across as a whole lot less adorable and certainly wouldn’t be seen as harmless. Although catchy and cute, videos like this one seem to flirt with the line between enabling kids to express themselves and preventing them from living out enduring stereotypes.
1. Access to technology. I know first hand that inner city schools are strapped for cash (I teach in the Bronx). As a result, kids aren’t exposed to as much technology as they need to be to keep up with the ever-growing digital world. These kids were likely involved in the shooting, producing, directing, editing, and publishing (posting) processes and all the technology that goes with each of those steps. This exposure will give them a leg up in high school, extracurricular activities, college, and–hopefully–even in their future careers.
2. Creative writing and expression. These kids came up with some pretty awesome lyrics. They are smart, quippy, snappy, and catchy–I’ve definitely woken up in the wee hours singing “Hot Cheetos and Takis” on more than one occasion. With increasing focus on standardized tests, it’s refreshing to see kids flex their English Language Arts muscles a little outside of the box–and enjoy themselves while doing it. It would be great to see them write fun, clever lyrics for academic videos, similar to what another Beats and Rhymes group,the NSJ Crew, has done with the old School House Rock songs from the 1970s and 80s. They would definitely spice up my lessons.
3. Self confidence. Although I object to the “gangsta” element of this video, these kids definitely have swagger. Hopefully the adults working with them can coach them into harnessing that confidence in order to develop the healthy self esteem they will need to navigate the bullying and peer pressure associated with middle and high school.
At this point I’m leaning toward the “awesome” end of the spectrum, but how about you?
What do you think?
Read more: African American male, bullying, drugs, English Language Arts, Hot Cheetos and Takis, inner-city, Jay-Z, misogyny, North Community YMCA Beats and Rhymes Program, rap, School House Rock, standardized tests, violence, Y.N. Rich Kids
Photo Credit: popturf.com via Flickr
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