I hate children's music, but are my kids ready for Hip Hop?...by dough

Children's music is universally atrocious.   It is trite and tedious. An endless sea of monotony that crushes ones humanity with unrelenting waves of banal tedium.  At first it laps gently at the shores of your sanity. It is a barely felt current, swathing your new baby in passivity and lulling him to sleep.  Slowly it seeps into diaper changes and car rides, please touch museums and toy stores.  It's suddenly everywhere and you are caught in the swell of its undertow.  You gasp for Nas, Mos Def, Kanye, but it's too late, your lungs are already saturated with Three Blind Mice, Itsy Bitsy Spider and something called "Raffi". Children's music is devious.  It's born of platitudes and gentle hell fire.  It's boring and insidious.  It is the incarnate soul of the devil.

Perhaps I've tipped my toe into hyperbole but while some hazards of parenthood are often discussed: the lack of sleep, the constant worrying, the lack of free time - no one ever talks about the terrible and omnipresent music. Car rides, play time, diaper changes, bath time, museums, stores - all come with the regular and insistent jack hammering of fairy tales and nursery rhymes and dead eyed automatons soullessly numbing your humanity and sapping your will to fight back. But not entirely.

Any music lover thusly assaulted, will, after some time, come to rebel against this aural malaise and ultimately arrive at the same cure:  Either find children's music by artists you can tolerate (in my case nearly impossible) or introduce your children to the music you love.  I wanted my kids to know Hip Hop (and all the music I love) but, for me, there were two key drivers.  On the one hand, Hip Hop is such a looming and significant part of my life that it is important to me to introduce my kids to the culture and the music that I immerse myself in daily (or at least I used to).  On the other hand, I can't listen to "Wheels on the bus" another damn time.  So I made up my mind, but that's where the trouble started.

My first thought was: "Just turn on the radio, dummy! The radio has good music and it's censored. It's a win-win". Actually, it's a lose-lose as I was wrong on both accounts.  Here are the top five most played songs on Hot 97 (the local Hip-Hop & R&B station) for the week of December 27th 2011:
1.     Dance (Ass) - Big Sean featuring Nicki Minaj
o    This track must have the record for the most times "Ass" is said in a single song.  
2.     Ni**as in Paris - Jay-Z & Kanye West
o    This song is awesome but it seems like they're actively trying to do the worst censoring job they can.
3.     She Will - Lil Wayne featuring Drake
o    There is nothing redeeming about this song.
4.     Work Out - J. Cole
o    Same old "shake that ass girl" garbage that reminded me why I don't listen to the radio any more.
5.     Make me proud  - Drake featuring Nicki Minaj
o    This passes for positive. *sigh*
One good song in the top 5?  And none I want my kids to hear?  Radio is not the move.  For the record, the Pop and Rock stations are just as unacceptable.  That said, I don't want to begrudge any adult from listening to whatever they want.  Even on the radio.  I don't even care if they play uncensored screaming on the radio.  Just have a way to warn me and let me shield my kids from it.  And you can make judgments about what's appropriate for your kids. That said, I still want to listen to *my* songs and while I want to expose my kids to the music that I love, I'm wary of them getting over-exposed.  So it occurred to me that maybe I should think through exactly what my criteria are for songs I want my kids to hear.  I came up with what I thought were two reasonable rules:

1.     No words I didn't want to hear repeated at Grandma's house
2.     No phrases or concepts I didn't want to explain

At first blush these seem reasonable and should leave me with a huge selection.  I think of myself as a *real* Hip Hop fan.  I love the golden age, backpack, underground, modern classics etc.  I hate "Bitches & Bling", "Da Club" and all the crap that goes with that (with some exceptions).  Surely it should be easy to find some tracks that meet my criteria.  In truth, it's possible but it requires some serious leg work.  Here are some classics I thought would obviously work until I re-listened to them with an ear to the above rules.  Note that my kids are 2.5 and 6 months so my criteria might ease up in a few years:
  • Don't Curse - Various Artists
    • How could this possibly offend? Kool G Rap: "Even made a record on how I'm doing on my B-I-T-C-H-es"
  • I can - Nas
    • Great message but lots of drug and other references
  • Definition - Black Star
    • "Mos Def & Kweli just, make a pussy freeze up, thinking of it, ease up"
  • They Reminisce Over You - Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth
    • "We laughed all night about the hookers at the party"
  • Me, Myself & I - De La Soul
    • Cool message until problems are resolved with violence: "I'll calmly punch them in the 4th day of July"
  • Jesus Walks - Kanye West
    • Hell no
  • My Philosophy - Boogie Down Productions
    • Great until: "How many MCs must get dissed, before somebody says 'Don't fuck with Kris'"
  • Woo-Ha!! I got you all in check - Busta Rhymes
    • The chorus is: "I got that head nod shit to make you break your neck"
  • Cha Cha Cha - MC Lyte
    • "Well Well Well, I'll be damned"
  • It Takes Two - Rob Base & DJ Easy Rock
    • "I like the whopper, fuck the big mac"
  • Public Enemy #1 - Public Enemy
    • "I'll show you my gun; my Uzi weighs a ton"
  • Case of the P.T.A. - Leaders of the New School
    • "What the Hell's going on"
Even a song called "Don't Curse" fails the criteria? Wow.  In all honesty though, some of these are not really that bad.  The censoring in "It Takes Two" is pretty blatant but I don't think that's really a deal breaker and "Case of the P.T.A." and "Cha Cha Cha" are even more of a stretch.  That kind of stuff I think I can probably let slide.  What hurts more is songs like "I Can" which I think have a good message but too much other content that I'm not ready for my kids to start grappling with. 

I think what it comes down to is that I was hoping for an easy solution.  Unfortunately, like everything else with kids,  I needed to step up and be a parent first.  It's not easy to vet a ton of songs from my library but if I want to listen to them with my kids then it's something I've got to do.  Of course, once I put in that initial work it's not so bad.  I ended up making a playlist of songs that I thought were appropriate.  It started out small (mostly instrumentals) and when I found time I added a song here and a song there.  At this point it's well over 2000 songs of both children's music and songs I like.  It fits on my phone, so I can bring the list on car rides or play it during dinner time and I don't have to worry about what might come up next or hearing the same awful tune over and over.  Much like the children it's intended for, the process was a huge pain in the ass but ultimately I think it's worth it.


  1. i am SO happy to see a post about this...my twice-daily car rides are a synthesis of all of these thoughts. my cop-out is to just plug in a thomas dvd and forget music. but...damn...i really do miss hip hop. thank you for putting this into words...


  2. I think media and politicians have done quite a brain-bleaching job on us 30-something parents...finding fault with De La Soul's "Me Myself & I?" I have no reservations on teaching my kid to knuckle up...long as it's not pre-emptive, there's no harm in such a life lesson.

    Another often-forgotten genre that satisfies the blog post's desire is by raising the babies on the ROOTS of hiphop, particularly if hypersensitive/hypocritical/v-chip parenting overrides the well-cultivated and fun-sounding childhoods of today's parents...think of the rollerskating classics and b-boy anthems that made 1970s/1980s NYC the most magical place on Earth.

    So each time I get in my car, I have the pleasure of plugging in my iPod, pressing PLAY and warping off back in time with my 3 year old son to the sounds of my early childhood via James Brown's "Funky President"...Jimmy Castor Bunch's "It's Just Begun"...Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache" to name a select few. Of course I'm naming some usual suspects but these classics and so much more require little to no explanation and instantly brings kool-aid smiles and some serious head-nodding to my son's realm.

    So how's that for a compromise...hiphop cravings are kept in check while the babies are blessed with lively instrumentation...dig it.

  3. Ever heard of the kindie movement? (Kids +Indie). Check out Secret Agent 23 Skiddoo for some Hip-Hop for kids. No. Really.
    Then check out Zooglobble, Stefan Shepherd's excellent blog on all things kindie.

  4. like Spictorious, i vote for going back to the roots. you're much more dedicated to hip hop than i am, but i hope to raise my kid on a lot of the music that informed hip hop in the first place. go back to blues, soul, and r&b. move up to jazz, disco, and then you'll have a base for whenever's right to introduce some of your favorite tracks.

    personally, i think most modern popular hip hop is unlistenable. i don't care to hear about a gross sense of entitlement, inconsiderate consumerism, and substance abuse. does that make me an old fart? maybe… for the most part, i don't care what people have to say in pop songs. it's been said before, and most likely more eloquently or authentically.

    my kid doesn't need to know all the bebop musicians had problems with drugs and alcohol to appreciate the music. sure, james brown tried to run down some cops while high on speed. it's catchy, fun music without bad lyrics, though. miles davis' heroin habit? we can discuss that when he's ready to understand. i'm okay with all that.

    now sarah will have to comb through her indie stash to find the best choices there.

  5. i think spictorious' approach makes the most sense in terms of keeping your sanity while teaching your children to appreciate music.

    however, i think that parents should be careful not to shelter their children from the content of the music that fills their worlds. should they be judicious with what is shared? absolutely. but making the "forbidden fruit" so inaccessible also makes it more desirable. to prevent kids from blindly following the behaviors glorified in music, they have to be trained to think critically about them. what are the REAL consequences for women doing what nicki minaj just talked about? what really happens when its "1-8-7 on the undercover cop"? those are not easy things to talk about, but kid's exposure to sex and violence in popular culture is going to happen whether parents are ready or not. why not get in front of it by creating good intellectual habits?

  6. Nate, jayare20k and I have said it all.

    It doesn't hurt to note that I've brought these impromptu lessons in music appreciation to life for my son by having him front and center with me at every old school summer park jam the 5 boroughs has to offer.

    Will my son eventually find his own way to the ear-cancer that is HOT 97 and Power 105? Perhaps. But it will bore him to death because people who listen to Drake, Rick Ross or Rihanna don't know how to clap their hands and stomp their feet to "Give It Up Or Turn It Loose."

  7. I completely get this. It's like the time I heard my 8 year old niece singing WORD FOR WORD Lady Gaga's Poker Face. No bueno.


  8. Really great post! You probably wouldn't like our music then. ;) But I think it's great to listen to music that you like and to listen to all sorts. We don't listen to kids music all the time - thankfully! I really like having them listen to 'real' music too =) There is a tonne of variety on all those iTunes radio stations but you making a playlist of 2000 that you can all agree on is Amazing!!


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