Hip-Hop Power

February 16, 2004

February 16, 2004

At first, Leslie, Christopher and D.J. thought their dad was a little wacky.

It's not that the Printis kids of Fort Washington, MD were unfamiliar with his musical antics. After all, he was the president and CEO of a growing record company called De-U Records. But when he started creating educational CDs in 2000, they wondered why he was so excited about something called "Multiplication Hip-Hop."

"I got them involved sometimes. I'd make a track and bring it home and try to get their approval," recalls David Printis. "But when it's something that their mom and dad are doing, they don't really take to it as well as something somebody else is doing."

Despite his kids' initial lack of interest, he kept at it. Growing up, he had listened to catchy songs like Schoolhouse Rock's "Conjunction Junction, What's Your Function?" and those lessons stuck with him. But he wanted to find a way to tap into contemporary kids' love of raps and rhymes, while also helping them learn.

Click here for a sample track from "Multiplication Hip-Hop."

The result: A CD filled with high-pitched Chris Rock-ish sounding voices singing encouragements like, "It's party time! 10 times 4 equals 40. 10 times 5 equals 50. I see you dancing. Let's do it, hip-hop style!"

A superhero called Grammar Man has been on a similar journey.

Chuck Herring, the director of the Pennsylvania-based Millennium Education Company of America, knows Grammar Man inside and out—though they've never been seen together. Kids know Herring simply as Mr. Cee, but whenever Mr. Cee is around, Grammar Man seems to appear soon after. (Kind of like Clark Kent and Superman.)

A few years ago, Herring was an assistant vice principal of an elementary school. He was interested in finding a way to combine musical entertainment with learning, so he started experimenting with writing educational hip-hop music. He felt that some of the music available in record stores was definitely not what parents wanted their kids to hear. But he also knew that many kids loved its beat and melodies.

"Hip-hop today is what Motown was a generation ago," says Herring. "It has kids from all socioeconomic, racial, religious backgrounds listening—it's the music of today's youth."

Utilizing strong hip-hop beats, he started recording songs with lessons on history, spelling, math and more. For instance, one CD creation called "Black History is Not Just a Month" contains songs about black heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr. and modern entrepreneurs like Oprah Winfrey.

In 2000, he decided to test the response to his material by substitute teaching in local school districts. Kids—in both suburban and urban areas—loved it. Soon after, Grammar Man was born, recording flashy songs about nouns, adverbs and adjectives.

"He's their hip-hop superhero—I mean, what kids don't like superheroes?" laughs Herring. "I think what they really like about him is that they can relate to the music and it's fun. They're learning, but they don't feel like it's like a structured school environment."

Good Ingredients
Can kids really learn when they're so busy singing, laughing, and performing?

It turns out that the repetitive hip-hop-inspired raps, rhymes, and performances are actually beneficial tools in getting kids to remember facts like 2 times 4 equals 8 or how to spell h-a-r-v-e-s-t with a bit of sassy style.

Many studies have found that music plays an important role in helping kids learn and recall new information. Music also helps focus attention and provides a motivating environment for learning. And scientific research confirms that people retain information better when it's presented in an interesting and meaningful way.

"People tend to learn based on melodies—the advertising world really knows this," says Herring. "Like if I say to you "Rice-a-Roni," if you're old enough to remember, you think, "the San Francisco treat." People have been teaching us through melodies for years. But, it seems like once we get past kindergarten, we stop being encouraged to learn in school through music, and I don't understand why—A lot of people can learn more easily if you put a melody behind the lesson."

Michelle Lazar, the director of Coast Music Therapy, a San Diego-based agency focused on providing a creative approach to learning through music, tells teachers that they can take a few steps to help ensure that music activities do not detract from academic time.

"The music activities [should] directly carry the curriculum content that the student is to learn," says Lazar in a report titled "Interactive Strategies for Using Music in the Academic Curriculum." "For example, if the student is to add single digit numbers, the lyrics to the educational song or chant [should] deal directly with that target skill."

Harry Hanna, a fourth grade teacher from Mt. Airy, MD, thinks that hip-hop resources are a good idea. He's used the Multiplication Hip-Hop CD in his classroom this year to help his students enhance their math skills. "Kids are naturally drawn to the music—they learn better this way, and even get involved physically by moving with the beat."

Multiplication Hip Hop - Children's Learning ToolOverwhelming Response
Since summer 2003, when the Washington Post featured the efforts of hip-hop educators including Printis and Herring, both men have seen an increased demand for their services.

Grammar Man, who appears on local TV shows and can be hired to perform for school assemblies, is developing a fan base.

"One time I was at Wal-mart and this little girl just stopped in front of me and she just lost her breath," remembers Herring. "She was like, 'Mommy, mommy, mommy, it's him, it's him, it's him, it's Grammar Man!'"

Herring reminded the girl that he's actually Mr. Cee, but also let her know that he's a good friend of Grammar Man.

Printis' client base now stands at 35,000. While he had to borrow from his 401K to create the initial "Multiplication Hip-Hop," the profits from the CDs now fund 90 percent of De-U Records' operations.

Since "Multiplication Hip-Hop" has become so popular, De-U Records has released three more CDs, called "It's Elementary," "Addition and Subtraction" and "Science and Geography."

Grammar Man signs a few autographs.
Grammar Man signs a few autographs.

Fine-Tuning for the Future
Herring explains that Grammar Man still records new hip-hop songs like his ode to conjunctions called "We're the Hookups." But he also offers teaching guides for parents and teachers based on his songs, and he's doing more and more live rapping performances.

Grammar Man gave a presentation at Herring's youngest daughter's school about a month ago.

"Afterwards, she was the most popular kid on campus," says Herring. "The kids really got into it."

For Printis, strong sales of the hip-hop CDs he produces have convinced him he's on the right path. "It has confirmed my vision," he says. "These CD's are for everybody and the need for them is national."

Later in 2004 he plans to release another CD based on division, in response to requests from parents and teachers. De-U Records is also looking for a national distributor in an attempt to get the CDs out to a larger audience.

So, what do the Printis kids think of their dad's idea today?

D.J., who has graduated from high school, now helps produce and sell the CDs. He can often be found helping out as part of sales teams on the streets of downtown Washington, DC, piquing the curiosity of passers by who happen to hear the infectious chants of "One times one equals one" over and over from his van's speakers and subwoofers.

And it didn't take long for D.J.'s younger siblings, Leslie, now 11, and Christopher, now 16, to realize that the CDs were "cool."

"As soon as they found out their classmates were jammin' to them, they changed their minds pretty quickly," laughs their dad. "Yes, they're the number one fans now."


Rob Capriccioso is a former staff writer for Connect for Kids.

Rob Capriccioso


<p>I&;m a fan of hip hop since a child and even wearing hip hop clothing when I go to school that would angry my teachers. And just like any student, I&;ve found it difficult to memorize things. My solution was to create a rap song with lyrics from my lessons. At first, i thought it was ridiculous and I&;ve changed the lyrics of Gin and Juice by Snoop Dog and replace them with Biology. It worked! Until now I still do it; altering the lyrics of a hip hop song to remember something important.</p>

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