Largely thanks to asinine reality shows, kids now-a-days want to grow up and be "famous" as if that's an actual occupation. Few understand that, for the most part, actual work goes into becoming any type of celebrity. If you want to be a comedian you'll take improv classes for years before even landing a gig in a commercial. As an aspiring rapper, there's undoubtedly a "struggle" period when you don't quite know how to record a song properly. That's where Beats and Rhymes comes in. A Minneapolis-based after-school program, Beats and Rhymes teaches kids how to create and record hip-hop music at an early age so they don't have to be a struggle rapper.
You may have heard of the program from the 2012 track "Hot Cheetos & Takis," which featured a group Beats and Rhymes students, the Y.N.RichKids, rapping about their favorite snacks. The video blew up the Internet, and the Y.N.RichKids were even offered a record deal. Although they didn't sign with any label, the students in the program haven't stopped making music. Just two weeks ago the Y.N.RichKids released "The Granddaddy," a hilarious song and video that pokes fun at old people's dancing expertise, or lack thereof.
We e-mailed one of the Beats and Rhymes program directors, J.T. Evans, to talk about their new video, how the program works and its future.
Interview by Brian Padilla (@NYCbros)
When was Beats & Rhymes founded and what was the concept behind the program?
Beats and Rhymes was founded by Alicia D. Johnson in 2007 at the Nellie Stone Johnson Beacons Center in Minneapolis. The concept was to give kids a glimpse into the music industry and the work it would take to make it. Raphael Jones and I began to run the class in 2009, it was then we realized that we could pair our skills and resources and put out actual music in the form of CD’s and mixtapes. This allowed us to show the kids how to work collaboratively on a project from start to finish.
We naturally expanded the program to include music videos by using our personal connections with video directors outside the program, hence the next level of beats and rhymes was born.
How would you define Beats & Rhymes? Is it a management company or strictly an after-school program?
Beats and Rhymes is a movement of young people moved by music. Beyond that it's strictly an after-school program and not a record label or management company. The instructors of the program have knowledge and connections in the industry, but the focus is on the educational and personal development of the kids in the program right now.
The program, or leadership of the program, is not interested in capitalizing off the students by making a famous kid group or making the next hit song. We spend our focus on the development of 60 plus kids. It's a lot more than the few kids that may appear in any one video.
Teachers and schools in the past have been really hesitant in bringing rap music into an educational environment, but we believe there is much to be offered with rap and hip-hop if it is done right.
What's the main thing you try to teach these kids about the music industry?
That music is not a lottery ticket or free ride. You have to work hard to succeed in anything. We teach them about wanting to chase their passion of music and art and not a desire for fame. We also teach them to understand how writing raps and spoken word is like the poetry and writings they may do in their English or Literature class. Many times kids will tell us they’ve been able to write school papers with a new found ease. We focus on performance art, helping kids build their self-esteem and confidence. A lot of kids break out of their shell and overcome shyness by expressing their passion through art.
Do the kids write and produce these songs on their own?
Some of the more experienced ones can write a whole verse themselves with no outside assistance. With the beginners, we tend to let them kick off an idea and then we help them with rhyme options, structure, etc. until they get the hang of it. We also use the more experience members to assist the beginners with writing or kicking off an idea for them and they start writing from that. A few of the kids can make beats fairly well, too.
It looks like there are a few different groups that have been formed under the program.
Y.N.RichKids is the music made under the YMCA program at the Harold Mezile North Community YMCA Youth & Teen Enrichment Center. The NSJ Crew is the music made under the after-school Beacons program at Nellie Stone Johnson Elementary School. Both are located in North Minneapolis. It is pretty much the same thing, just different locations, and an extra way for us to allow more kids to be involved and participate.
Who came up with the idea for "The Granddaddy" video?
The song describes a dance that mimics how young people see old people move (bad back, cane, etc.). Hence we like the dance and thought it would be cool to bring some older people on board for the video and have a good time with the kids.
None of the older people were ticked off?
No, they were family and friends of the kids and staff. They were really supportive and enjoyed themselves. They were ecstatic to be a part of the video, and actually kept asking us like every day when the video was coming out. It was cool for them to get there shine on I think. They usually are really supportive of the kids, and it was a nice change for them to be apart of the lime light as well.
What do you see in the future for Beats & Rhymes?
In the near future, we would love to see many more programs like ours pop up in after-school programs and to get kids more excited about school and after-school, etc. Teachers and schools in the past have been really hesitant in bringing rap music into an educational environment, but we believe there is much to be offered with rap and hip-hop if it is done right. You can engage kids in ways no other school activity can do, especially in at-risk communities. We think our model could eventually be used in regular school music programs during the day, and not just be an extracurricular, after-school activity.