Old-School hip hop was characterized by the nursery-rhyme-like lyrical magic of Run-DMC’s “Peter Piper,” the education entertainment of Stetsasonic’s “A.F.R.I.C.A.” and the wild, technicolor tales of De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising. Somewhere along the way, though, hip-hop got lost. West Coast crews started glamorizing the pimp life, rapping about shootin’ guns and killin’ cops. De La Soul became jaded, and on De La Soul is Dead, mocked hip hop’s violent turn. Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay got caught in the crossfire. Today, some feel a mainstream rapper ain’t legit ‘til he’s been shot—nine times.
No matter how eloquently the defenders of Fiddy and his followers present their cases, the art form once seen as giddily creative has become oppressively lackluster—that is, if all you listen to are the thugmeisters. But the real fearless rappers are in the underground—artists like Prince Paul, the 3 Feet High producer and former member of Stetsasonic who recently worked with experimental wiz-kid Dan “the Automator” Nakamura; Chali Zna, founding member of Jurassic 5 and the Latin hip-hop band Ozomatli: Ladybug Mecca, diva poet of jazz-hop trio Digable Planets; freestyler Wordsworth, who has shared grooves with Black Star and A Tribe Called Quest; and human beatbox Scratch, formerly of The Roots.
These are the artists responsible for Baby Loves Hip-Hop Presents: The Dino-5, a rap album ostensibly for children, but one whose music, rhymes and concept are mch more ambitious than the Schoolhouse Rock series of the 70’s. This is hip-hop without a warning label, hip-hop you’ll respect even as you listen to it with your kids.
It’s a simple concept: each artist plays a dinosaur character in a modern day children’s story set in a pre-historic schoolyard. Chali Zna is MC T-Rex, whose large size and gruff voice make him seem scary to the other children dinosaurs. Wordsworth plays Billy Brontosaurus, the diplomat of the schoolyard gang, who reaches out to Rex and learns he’s really a gentle giant. The group eventually welcomes Rex into its new hip -hop group, which consists of leader Tracy Triceratops (Ladybug), dino-beatbox Teo Pterodactyl (Scratch) and DJ Stegosaurus (Prince Paul).
Like much of old-school hip-hop, the Dino-5 instills hope and pride, using the power of language and the appeal of popular culture to teach as well as entertain. Go ahead Mom and Dad, enjoy it. We won’t tell Fiddy you’re soft.