A summer of Black Lives Matter protests and a call for increased diversity is leading content creators to an unlikely source of inspiration: rap. Historically a Black-dominated, politically fuelled musical genre, rap has traditionally skewed older and a bit more explicit. Yet the kidified genre lends itself well to highlighting diverse voices, as well as connecting with families since many millennial parents likely grew up listening to rap music in the ’90s and ’00s.
Rap has come to dominate musical listening in recent years, ranking as the fifth most popular genre worldwide in 2018, according to music industry analyst IFPI. The massive popularity means kids as young as preschoolers are being exposed to the tunes through their parents and popular media. A 2017 report from South Carolina’s Claflin University noted that preschoolers were singing popular rap songs in class. Its creativity and cultural relevance makes it a powerful vehicle for kids self-expression, early literacy and cognitive development, the report’s author concluded.
Some of the biggest kids entertainment companies have branched into kids rap in a big way, most recently with Nickelodeon teaming up with 13-year-old rapper That Girl Lay Lay to make new content and consumer products. Northern Pictures’ Hardball, meanwhile, features a rap theme song.
As growth in the space takes off, kidcos such as Kidoodle.TV, CBC and Monkey are tuning into the market demand with new content to better reach a co-viewing audience, open up new consumer products opportunities and stand out from other music-focused fare.
Kidoodle.TV drops a beat
Unlike a lot of kids music, rap can appeal to both kids and adults globally, says Kidoodle.TV’s chief content officer Brenda Bisner. Brands like KIDZ BOP have shown the viability of rap for kids over the years, and the genre offers a unique escape to kids at a time when they really need it, she adds.
Rap’s historically explicit origins means it hasn’t been a genre that kids programming was baking into soundtracks, but that’s changing as kid-friendly content emerges.
“We’ve seen that kids rap content gets them dancing and engaged because it’s a different and exciting genre,” says Bisner. With its melodic beats and clever lyrics, rap can be much easier for parents to listen to than the repetitive earworms kids are used to hearing, she adds. “No matter how old you are, there’s something in [rap] content that can connect with families.
With a focus on kid-friendly content that captures a co-viewing audience, music is particularly adept at resonating across demographics and regions, making it a good fit for Kidoodle.TV.
It was this insight that prompted the Calgary, Canada-based AVOD to lean into rap with its first original series StoryRaps. The musical live-actioner features musician Wes Tank rapping classic story books such as Three Little Pigs and Goldielocks and the Three Bears.
Bisner wants to expand the AVOD’s kids rap offerings in the future because the content has had a global appeal with customers.
CBC Kids ups the volume
Canadian pubcaster CBC, meanwhile, likes the genre because it feels timely; and kid-friendly rap videos are easy and quick to turn around, says Lisa Wisniewski, senior producer for CBC Kids.
No stranger to kids rap content, CBC Kids has been making music videos since 2017 as part of its mission to represent all cultures in its content. The pubcaster produces them in house for preschool-skewing The Studio K Show. Once the writing is done for the song, CBC Kids can produce a video in the span of a few hours to a day, says Wisniewski.
While other genres can, and do, connect with kids, the upbeat tonality of most kid-focused rap is particularly effective at getting kids engaged and moving; and the genre is also a bit less saccharine than pop hits, which helps keep parents in the mix.
CBC Kids launched its latest video—a back-to-school rap—on August 24, and the broadcaster has no plans to drop the mic anytime soon, says Wisniewski. Its videos evolved from a rap battle format where hosts discussed what foods were better (“Hot Dog vs Hamburger”) to teaching kids about holidays and cultural events like Eid and Indigenous History Month, which aren’t often tackled in kids programming. And given that rap is an inherently political genre, it also gives CBC Kids a good vehicle for tackling trending topics and events.
Monkeying around the mic
NBCUniversal-owned prodco Monkey doesn’t want to make songs that sound like stereotypical kids music (think “Baby Shark” with its really simple lyrics and repeated sounds). And rap offers a built-in differentiator to achieve that goal, says David Granger, the studio’s creative director. Granger has seen a number of other companies get into the kids rap space lately, but Monkey’s experience producing Don’t Hate the Playaz taught his team that the content can stand out better when it features a bit of mischief and jokes.
UK-based Monkey, which specializes in live-action unscripted shows for teens and adults (including rap competition series Don’t Hate the Playaz), inked a co-development deal with YouTube musician MC Grammar (2,900 subscribers) this summer to make original animated and live-action content for younger audiences. MC Grammar (real name Jacob Mitchell) is an elementary school teacher based in London who produces educational videos about the English language featuring rhymes and rap.
Making kid-friendly rap gives Monkey a path to reach kids without speaking down to them, since it feels like a genre for older children because of its adult-skewing history, says Granger.
The popularity of rap for kids probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and the prodco is confident that the high-quality sound of its content will help it stand out, adds Nick Withers, Monkey’s head of development.
“We know kids are rapping with each other in the playground, and that they’re listening to music, but what isn’t there is content that educates them,” says Withers. “Our approach is an authentic process where we’re working with someone who has been doing this in classrooms for years, can write music, and also knows what kids need to learn.”
Image: CBC Kids’ Lunar New Year rap video. Courtesy of CBC.