Ian Gilliam of Deep Purple once wrote a little note that explains why Y.N.RichKids are so remarkable right now. The note is printed on the back cover of an album by an obscure ’70s Brit-metal band called Jerusalem, a record produced by Gilliam. It reads:
…I believe that, whenever possible, the work of writers and players in their formative stages should be recorded; before inhibition and self-consciousness set in, before fire and aggression die down, and while they are still absorbing influences and doing things which others might consider ‘uncool’. Most important though, before they might develop that self-imposed rigidity which afflicts so many. I hope none of these things happen to Jerusalem, we’ll have to wait and see. This album is just in case.
Y.N.RichKids (“why enrich kids?” not “young and rich kids”) are a rap crew of tweens and teens from the North Community YMCA Youth & Teen Enrichment Center in Minneapolis, MN. After school, if they’ve done all their homework (seriously), they get together and write songs with the help of the Beats & Rhymes program. If I were I a grizzled rap promoter, I would put this whole crew toe to toe with any rapper getting airtime on Hot97 or signed to YMCMB or MMG. Their moxie ranks these kids champs in the welterweight bracket, and at least underdogs with the heavyweights.
Y.N.Rich Kids are right there in the wheelhouse of Gilliam’s note. They aren’t signed to a record label. Most of them aren’t even signed up for driver’s ed. None of them were alive when Illmatic came out, and only a few were cooing and crawling when Stankonia hit the shelves. They’ve put out three unfadable singles in the past year that not only step to, but eclipse most of what’s on MTV these days. This isn’t Kidz Bop: Trap-A-Holics edition.
The combination of community programs that foster young talent and the accessibility of the internet rap revolution gave these Minnesota rappers an old-fashioned start the new-fashioned way.
Last August, the group released their first music video for “Hot Cheetos and Takis”. Because of its precocious charm and high production values, it quickly picked up steam across the internet, going viral after the video was put up on YouTube. The thought process to watching “Hot Cheetos and Takis” for the first time usually goes something like this:
1. I’m not exactly sure what Takis are but that beat just made me fall out of my damn desk chair.
2. Oh my god they’re all tiny rappers! That is adorable. Chatting my friends right now to see if they’ve seen the kids rapping about the Cheetos.
4. Okay they’re actually pretty good. That Dame Jones kid is on point. This other kid [Nasir] kind of apes Jay-Z’s cadence perfectly? And thanks to the girl [Jasiona] I’m gonna say “snacks on snacks on snacks” for the rest of the year or maybe my life.
5. Oh my god who is this kid that sounds like mini-Mystikal? [he's Ben 10]
6. Okay these kids just went pro outta middle school. That’s what’s up, LeBron.
Though the details vary, you invariably end up at the final conclusion which is: this is a legit rap group with individual voices and skills that are beyond nascent but are still unguarded, unfettered, and unbeholden to the tropes of the industry. They are talented enough to have begun absorbing influences from their favorite rappers, but focus on what’s around them (snacks, school, bikes). The youthful outlook is a refreshing one. Suddenly, all that’s negative or hurtful is pretty stupid. From a “big kid” perspective, the Y.N.RichKids subvert tired rap tropes by injecting a genuinely positive spin. It’s not in that Christian version of “Thrift Shop” sort of way, but in a way that makes 2 Chainz look like a chump. Look at Nasir’s verse:
I’m on point like a elbow
Hands red like elmo
My mama said “have you had enough?”
I looked and I said “no ma’am”
I go HAM, in the grocery store…
He breaks the rhyme structure and says “no ma’am” when you’d expect him to say “hell no” because it’s something our ears have become accustomed to hearing. There’s hardly another rapper alive who would clown the idea of saying “hell no” and get away with it without being called corny, but that’s exactly what Nasir and the rest of these kids do. They get away with being “uncool” partly because so far they have avoided the pitfall of direct parody (e.g. Christian version of “Thrift Shop”), and partly because rap audiences are starting to, as Q-Tip once said, get in the zone of positivity, not negativity.
Y.N.RichKids just dropped a new track last Thursday called “My Bike” and it’s maybe the best posse cut this year right under A$AP Rocky’s “1 Train” and that’s without factoring in the handicap that these kids are totally DIY with a no-name producer who does some sort of screwed Dr. Dre beat that just leans so hard. It features most of the same crew from the “Takis” video with a few new faces, better rhymes, and cosigns from A-list Minneapolis rappers including Slug, Brother Ali, Mod Sun, Prof, and more.
A kid named Kid Nas goes kid Drake and starts singing his verse, Frizzy Free’s rhyme structure would make Rhymesayers nod their heads, and then there’s Ben 10. Ben 10 is the best. Ben 10 is the best because he is the pure essence of that Mystikal/ODB/Busta Rhymes style — at the heart of those seasoned rappers is a kid like Ben 10 who doesn’t give a frig about anything; he’s just that kid who maybe had one too many Hi-C’s at lunch. If you’re not “a lyrics guy” then Ben 10 is for you. I mean, he starts his verse like a Waka acolyte: “Bow bow bow!”
And in the same vein as “Takis”, “My Bike” continues to take down more rap tropes in favor of that kinder lifestyle.
Instead of pop that pussy, it’s pop that wheelie. Swerve literally means to swerve the handle bars on a bike. Instead of tellin’ these haters to get off my dick, Dame Jones breaks the rhyme scheme again and says “tellin’ these haters to get off my pegs.” On the track, G6 isn’t high as a kite, he’s fly as a kite. Pre-internet, pre-blog rap, these kind of quips wouldn’t have a peg to stand on, but then that was before Lil B made #based a lifestyle.
Confounding rap tropes is part of what makes rap interesting now. Take RiFF RAFF, Gunplay, or Lil B — three rappers whose brazen personalities have coined them as eccentric savants, self-aware enough to know how to carve out their own place, but with almost no inhibitions whatsoever. All three have cultivated their own sort of half-lifestyle, half-meme brand around their personality: RiFF RAFF was essentially an archetype for James Franco’s character in Spring Breakers, Gunplay’s hyperbole (“I’m a human LA Riot”) and absurdity (“Where’s your lobster, where’s your sea bass?”) makes cocaine seem kinda fun again, and Lil B is the leader of the new order of universal respect and love, the Based God.
Y.N.RichKids find the warp zone and end up riding right next to the grown-ups in this new pantheon of humorous, wacky, outsider rap. Take their companion song that was just released called “Khaki Pants” (which is technically by the NSJ Crew, the difference being this crew is only made up of kids who attend the Nellie Stone Johnson Community School, while Y.N.Rich Kids is made up of kids from the NSJ school and the community.) “Khaki Pants” is all about dealing with not being able to wear what you want to wear at school and making Dior outta Dockers. When life doesn’t go your way, just do a dance, man, it’s that simple. It’s all really silly, and fun, with the kind of juvenility and purity that most rappers can only dream of. The only force guiding these kids is their love for making music — and they make it really dang well.
How can we hang on to this? It feels like we trapped Y.N.RichKids like a mythical creature in a glass jar and we don’t know what to do with it, but we want to make sure it’s not exposed to the terrible, terrible world. It feels like we have to protect them — they can’t succumb to the fate of so many kids groups before them who tried to grow up and become stilted and develop that “self-imposed rigidity.”
They have arrived at a time when humor, positivity, eccentricity hold as much sway as street cred, posturing, and talent in rap. As Dame Jones and Ben 10 get older, they could blow up and sign major label deals or they could fade into the background of ’10s nostalgia. But the idea of Y.N.RichKids should go on — giving kids an opportunity to record themselves in their formative stages before they spend the rest of their lives trying to recapture it. Wu-Tang Clan is not only for the children, it’s by the children.
Jeremy D. Larson is the managing editor of Consequence of Sound. His work has appeared in VICE, Time, The Classical, Paste, Pigeons & Planes, and Twitter.com.