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Tight Rhymes For Tykes And Triceratops

I dance all through the house, we rhyme it together, while I'm cooking, while we're cleaning. Oh yeah, every day. It's not a joke.

Imagine Raffi was a hot disco DJ, and he was spinning live at Studio 54. The event could be called "Baby Loves Disco" — like the hugely successful traveling dance party that pulls preschoolers and their parents onto nightclub dance floors around the world.

Music entrepreneur Andy Hurwitz got those parties started three years ago as part of his Baby Loves Music series. The project also features quality albums made by top-shelf artists for children across genres including disco, jazz — and now, hip-hop.

Baby Loves Hip Hop is all about helping preschoolers get their prehistoric party on. The concept album tells the story — in words and song — of five kid dinosaurs who form a rap group called The Dino-5.

Of T-Rex and Triceratops

To create the Dino-5, Hurwitz assembled an group of well-respected hip-hop veterans. The group Digable Planets took home a Grammy in 1994 for a song called "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)". Their female MC, Ladybug Mecca, is on the record as Tracy Triceratops. She remembers when Hurwitz asked her to come onboard.

"I was with it right away," she says. "I've always been wanting to make a kids album. I have kids of my own. So it was great because I could use them as my test guides."

And could the children of a rap pioneer actually get down to some Baby Loves Hip Hop?

"What, are you kidding?" she says. "I dance all through the house, we rhyme it together, while I'm cooking, while we're cleaning. Oh yeah, every day. It's not a joke."

Hurwitz has kids, too — ages 4 and 6 — and says the album is child-tested.

"They totally loved it," he says. "I knew it was on when they started randomly rapping the words out of nowhere."

Hurwitz called on famed producer Prince Paul to help put the music together. Paul has been making power moves in the rap world since hip-hop itself was preschool age. He has produced for De La Soul, the RZA and Living Color guitarist Vernon Reid.

"[Prince] Paul can span genres from jazz to funk to hip-hop," Hurwitz says. "And so if you say 'kids!' it's not a problem for him. And after working with him, you get the idea that he's just a big kid anyway, so I think that comes natural."

Baby Loves Hip Hop packs more than musical weight. Slam poetry superstar Ursula Rucker narrates the story line. She plays a mother reading the Dino-5 bedtime story to her little girl.

The Listening Party

But before passing this disc its full props, there was still one question I had to answer: Could the Dino-5's Jurassic jams lock in the attention of a group of preschoolers?

I talked my fellow producer Kenya Young into hosting a listening party at her apartment near Los Angeles. She has a couple of very energetic little boys, and she invited about half a dozen of their friends over. I came through with the string cheese and juice boxes — you know, to get the party started right.

After a little climbing on the furniture, on me, and on each other, everyone settled down. It was go time for The Dino-5.

Instant madness. The kids went berserk. Kenya's living room became part mosh pit, part kiddy krump session. Elbows and legs went flying. Some of the smaller kids became casualties of the high-energy dance-off.

Then, as quickly as the party got started, it was over. After only about three minutes, they'd moved on.

But before he left the living room, 4-year-old Anthony grabbed the microphone to make his case. "It's too long! It's too long!" he yelled.

The mothers assented to that. They explained that their kids liked the music and would have stuck around if it was all just songs. But mother Sarita Sharpe said it was all the talking that lost them.

"If it had caught them they would have stuck around," Sharpe says, "but they were lost like, kids'll tell you, 'If you don't catch me in the first couple of minutes, I'm out!' "

It could be that Baby Loves Hip Hop was built more for the family car than the family room. Kids maybe have to sit and listen when they're in the ride.

Plus, Hurwitz says that's where you get to feel the beats that make this a certified hip-hop album.

"I had it in my car and I was listening to that song 'What about 10,' " he says. "It was, like, bumping — my whole car was vibrating."

There's only one way to really know: Bump Baby Loves Hip Hop for your preschooler, and see how he or she gets down.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Christopher Johnson