Washington — Rolling Stone magazine gave it four stars and called it “the summer's final truly great jam.” It has spawned a viral video with more than 2 million hits on YouTube. And nobody on it is older than 12.
“Hot Cheetos and Takis,” credited to the Y.N.RichKids, might sound like a bunch of kids singing about trademarked snack foods. But it has put the spotlight on a remarkable after-school program in Minneapolis. The North Community YMCA sponsors Beats and Rhymes, which gives kids the chance to create music about the world they live in.
“The purpose of the program is to create opportunities for young people to express themselves through music,” said Beats and Rhymes founder Alicia Johnson. In 2006, Johnson approached two professional engineers from the local Minneapolis hip-hop scene and found them surprisingly eager to help. “We have a studio, and we provide two professional producer-engineers. They get in the room together [with the kids], bounce ideas off of each other, goof off. Sometimes out of that process of just being kids, they get really amazing things.”
In the six years since the program started, Beats and Rhymes has put out eight albums of material by an ever-changing roster of young performers. All of the music and lyrics come from the children. “They’re just talking about issues that affect young people today from their perspective, which provides a very insightful lens,” said Johnson. And although “Hot Cheetos and Takis” simply celebrates the joys of favorite snacks, other Beats and Rhymes artists address issues such as community pride and the problem of bullies in schools.
In addition to the creative outlet, Beats and Rhymes gives children hands-on training in the recording studio as they work on their songs. “They get to learn the technical side, which is huge, because that’s a very marketable skill. Some kids have learned that as much as they like to sing and rap, they want to be behind the scenes. They want to be the engineers.”
"Hot Cheetos and Takis" can be viewed on YouTube.