24 Jul
So then, is Hip Hop really Child's Play?


Using kid’s television theme songs, games, nursery rhymes, playground chants and, yes, actual children’s choruses has been a staple in hip-hop for almost as long as the genre has existed. Whether it’s Method Man proclaiming he’s “rubber” and “whatever you say rubs off me sticks to you” on “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin to F**k Wit”, Nas using children on the hook of “I Can”, Pharoahe Monch referencing “Simon Says” or Black Sheep flipping a way of choosing sides in games into the most famous part of “Choice is Yours”, hip-hop has long used nostalgia and childhood familiarity as the backbone of many of its classic songs.

Rapper Jim Jones has recently upped (or lowered depending on how you look at it) the ante with the recently released “Na Na Na Nana Na” which flips the time-honored childhood taunt into a boast about gettin’ money. Catchy or inane, it inspired us to look back at some hip-hop tracks that delved into the world of children’s songs —be they television, video games, musicals or low-hanging testicle humor. Take out your notebooks, history class is in session…

Hit the Jump for a our resident hip hop professor Leonard Small’s (last seen chasing Lee Perry all over Jamaica) rundown of nursery rhyme-influenced hip hop songs from everyone from Cocoa Brovaz to Jay-Z…

Jim Jones‘ “Na Na Na Nana Na”

Doug E. Fresh featuring Slick Rick – “The Show” (Inspector Gadget)

If not the earliest, then certainly the most famous children’s show sample, beatboxer extraordinaire Doug E. Fresh gets some help from Slick Rick (then known as MC Ricky D) in flipping the “Inspector Gadget” theme song into a hip-hop classic. After getting screwed over by some shady record exec types when first coming up, a then-17-year-old Fresh independently produced this track and its B-side, the equally classic “La-Di-Da-Di” with help from then-unknown producer Teddy Riley. 20 years later, Fresh would improbably perform the track with “American Idol”’s Blake Lewis on the show’s Season Six finale, perhaps out of financial necessity. The rapper was recently reported to owe $3.5 million in unpaid mortgages on his Harlem homes in addition to hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit car debt and tax liens. Ouch. With a generic title like “The Show,” surely some international conglomerate can find some reason to license this again, right?

Doug E. Fresh “The Show”

Inspector Gadget (you’ll have to hear this intro in German, as the America suits keep censoring their version)

Cocoa Brovaz – “Super Brooklyn” (Mario Bros.)

Video games have long been a source of inspiration for hip-hop, but this 2000 track ranks among the best. Rappers Tek and Steele started as Smif-n-Wessun before a certain gun company decided that hip-hop may be bad for its Republican-white NRA image and sent the duo a cease and desist, forcing them to change their name to Cocoa Brovaz (the group got its name back in 2005). Smif-n-Wessun made an all-time hip-hop classic in 1995’s Dah Shinin’, but after their follow-up The Rude Awakening went wood, they got dropped by their label, Priority Records. “Super Brooklyn” originally stayed on the low due to the less-than-legal use of the source material, but eventually found an official home on the otherwise pointless 2000 compilation Game Over. Props to the also otherwise pointless Lil Flip for mixing the Mario Bros sample with Pac-Man on the “Game Over (remix).”

Super Brooklyn

The real Super Mario

Lil Flip’s “Game Over (remix)”

Jibbs – “Chain Hang Low” (Turkey in the Straw)

Where to begin on this one? Jibbs is an 18-year-old rapper from St. Louis who flipped the 19th century standard “Turkey in the Straw”, aka the “Do your balls hang low?” song from elementary school, into “Chain Hang Low.” The guy gets a point added for consistency, using the original melody for both the music and chorus, but gets points deducted for, well, everything else. Judging by the video, Jibbs tried to start a new fashion trend by wearing giant mezuzahs that went down to his knees. Shockingly, it didn’t catch on except for a few highly progressive synagogues. Sure, the chorus is pathologically catchy, but there’s a reason we stopped singing this in fifth grade. But hey, if your target market is 10-year olds, Jibbs, my good man, you have created a new schoolyard classic! Oh yeah, and his album is called Jibbs Featuring Jibbs. Thank god this didn’t start a trend of rappers imitating schoolyard anthe… oh wait… Lil Mama made pretty much the exact same song with the “Wheels on the Bus” melody in 2007’s “G-Slide.” Sigh.


Turkey in the Straw

Do your balls hang low


Jay-Z – “Hard Knock Life” (Annie)

The flip side of Jibbs, this is how to take an improbable sample, namely the 1977 Broadway musical Annie, and make it one of the biggest anthems of the decade. Produced by The 45 King, this 1998 single off Vol. 2…Hard Knock Life became one of the rapper’s most popular and successful singles in his perpetually retiring career. This unfortunately did not initiate any “Broadway sampling” phase of hip-hop (M.O.P. flipping “My Fair Lady” is a classic waiting to happen), but did help Mike Myers begin his slow descent into irrelevancy with Dr. Evil’s awkwardly unfunny parody of the Jay-Z track in 2002’s forgettable Goldmember. It’s like watching your dad try to rap but, somehow, less funny.




Masta Ace – “Spread It Out” (Simpsons)

Like Smif-n-Wessun, Masta Ace was another 90’s New York emcee who released a classic album (1993’s SlaughtaHouse) only to later stumble through the world of various underground hip-hop labels. After breaking up from his Masta Ace Incorporated crew, the rapper released a number of vinyl singles on as many labels ranging from hot to hot trash. This 2000 track, which flips one of the most famous soundtracks of the past 20 years, came from Yosumi Records, the label primarily known for, um, yeah, we don’t know either. This track is perilously similar to Busta Rhymes’ “Gimme Some More”, but Ace is a legend and gets a pass.

Masta Ace


“Gimme Some More”

De La Soul – “The Magic Number” (“Three is a Magic Number”)

De La Soul’s 1989’s debut album Three Feet High and Rising is a landmark in music for more reasons than this space will allow. Actually, a Ken Burns 19-part documentary might only begin to explain it. Among other things, though, it set a precedent for creative uses of sampling, showing the world that there’s a whole universe of available sound past “Funky Drummer”. On this track, the group, along with producer Prince Paul, reaches back to the educational series “Schoolhouse Rock” for this classic.

De La Soul

Schoolhouse Rock

Ludacris – “He Man” (He-Man)

While his albums have mostly been a hodgepodge of a few great songs and many more average ones, Luda transforms himself on mixtapes and remixes, often becoming the most intense and creative emcee on the track (See Nas’s “Made You Look” remix). Forget for a second that Hell Rell already sampled this on “Grand Finale” a few months before (mainly because nobody has ever cared what Hell Rell has done). This track is from 2006’s Pre-Release Therapy, the mixtape with Green Lantern released right before the rapper’s official, and far less compelling, Release Therapy album. Sticking with the theme, Skeletor, Battle Cat, Grayskull and She-Ra all make lyrical guest appearances (Does nothing rhyme with Orko, Luda?), but it’s the ridiculous blaring horn stabs that make you wonder why this was never sampled earlier.



“Made You Look”

“Grand Finale”

Timbaland and Magoo – “Here We Come” (Spider-Man)

Long before Timbaland went on production cruise control, he was the architect of some of the biggest (and most leftfield) hip-hop and R&B tracks of the 90’s and 00’s. Known for his synth-heavy, D&B hi-hat programmed, futuristic-sounding style, “Here We Come,” off the producer’s 1998 Tim’s Bio: Life From Da Basement, looks to 1967, flipping the original “Spider-Man” theme into a party anthem. With help from longtime collaborators Magoo and Missy Elliott (with a cameo by Aaliyah), the video for “Here We Come”, while creative, exemplifies why comic books shouldn’t be turned into videos. Get your pause button ready if you want to actually read the text, but Magoo’s weird S&M-fetishist-meets-Cabaret-singer getup is really all the visual you need.



Keak Da Sneak – “Alright Cool” (Pink Panther)

Oakland emcee Keak Da Sneak helped form, and coined the term, hyphy, a subgenre of hip-hop characterized by loud, party-driven beats and lyrics often called the West Coast version of crunk. The bass is loud. The synths heavy. And the emcees? Well, they make no mistake that they are here to party. A pioneer of the scene, the emcee has released 14 (?!) albums in the past decade, with this track, presumably, the only one to rock a Mancini score.

Keak da Sneak

Pink Panther


Doom – “Kookies” (Sesame Street)

It’s only appropriate to end where we started: with the king of children’s songs samples. As one-third of legendary hip-hop group KMD, Doom littered the group’s 1991 debut Mr. Hood with countless Sesame Street references and samples, our favorite being Bert and Ernie helping to teach the group humming in “Humrush”. Doom certainly isn’t the first to flip Sesame Street, but this track off 2004’s MM…Food is definitely the funkiest, taking the chugging rhythm of “Funky Chimes” (the ending theme), adding a drum beat and murdering it.


Sesame Street


Extra Credit Video: Roots Manuva – “Witness the Fitness”

OK, British rapper Roots Manuva doesn’t actually flip any children’s samples in this dub-influenced track, but this brilliant video sees the emcee going back to his elementary school and battling the current students in Field Day competitions like the Egg & Spoon Race, Obstacle Course and 3-Legged Race… and cheating his ass off. You can’t go wrong with a group of cute British children screaming. Enjoy.

Witness the Fitness

2 Responses to “The Lost History of Children’s Songs and Hip Hop”

  1. Terrific, that’s exactly what I was searching for! You just saved me alot of digging around

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