Q Brothers clean up the rhymes for their first kid-friendly hip-hop album
The Chicago hip-hop artists bring in their kids for tracks about lemonade, dinosaurs and other family-friendly topics on “Buggin.”
For 15 years, they’ve been a fixture at Lollapalooza’s Kidzapalooza fest-within-a-fest in Grant Park, where they’ve entertained and enlightened thousands of kids (and their parents) on the art of hip-hop.
And over those 15 seasons at Lolla, the Q Brothers hip-hop theater collective — GQ, JQ, Postell Pringle and Jackson Doran — learned a whole lot about making music from all the kid-friendly workshops, including the ability to utter not a single four-letter word.
“When you do that kind of event for eight hours a day for four days and not swear once, something pretty incredible happens to your mind,” said GQ with a hearty laugh during a recent chat.
That “pretty incredible” thing turned out to be the genesis for the Q Brothers’ most recent collaboration, their first full-on, kid-friendly hip-hop album, titled “Buggin.” Ariana Burks, The Hype and Maya Vinice make guest appearances on several tracks. (The album’s available for download on iTunes, Spotify, GooglePlay, Amazon and other streaming platforms.)
This is not dumbed-down-for-kids hip-hop; the brothers make it quite clear, this is bona fide old-school rap with all the style, flair and polish of any beat they’ve ever laid down. In fact, the first words you’ll hear are on the album are those of JQ’s three-year-old daughter, Cora: “This is real hip-hop.”
“We weren’t setting out to make kids music; we wanted music that our parents would be able to listen to, our nieces and nephews could listen to. Our kids to listen to,” GQ said. “In fact, kids became part of the project.”
Several of the group’s children are featured on various tracks. The album’s cover art was designed by 7-year-old Griffin Kubik of Edgewater, and 12-year-old Roman Berkowitz of West Town, who shot the music video for the track titled “Avocados.”
“[Ages] 2 to 10 is the sweet spot because of the material,” GQ added. “Here’s what kids are in touch with. But [JQ] has been producing hip-hop for two decades with various rappers and hip-hop crews, and in my opinion the beats he’s made for this album are the best he has ever made. If you play them on a system that can handle that kind of bass or a car with really good subwoofers, it’s the kind of music people will drive around the block and listen to.”
The topics for the songs were born from all those years at Kidzapalooza and at Austin City Limits’ Austin Kiddie Limits, just asking kids what topics interested them and making thousands of songs on-site that each child got to write and produce. So the album’s tracks, in addition to the title tune and the aforementioned “Avocados,” feature titles such as “Talkin Trash,” (“this chore we all hate the mostest/cuz takin’ out the trash/is totally the grossest”), “Groovin” (“it’s real and true/let’s get funky/like a purple unicorn or a three-headed monkey”) and “Micropachycephalosaurus,” (“dinosaur names can be complex/but most kids I ask just say T-Rex”) the latter an homage to dinosaur enthusiasts everywhere, courtesy of JQ’s son, JJ.
“We call it family hip-hop,” JQ said. “It’s a different genre. ... It’s not all lollipops and unicorns and yet it speaks to kids about things they’re interested in [such as] construction equipment or selling lemonade. So it speaks to them while we’re also speaking to the parents in double entendres and wordplay and all the sophisticated parts of ’90s hip-hop lyricism.”
Pringle and Doran contributed their real-life experiences with their own kids to the album’s content, most notably their frequent use of freestyle and improv to, for example, ingeniously distract the tiny tots while getting them to eat kale.
“When you’re born, the first stories you hear are simple rhymes,” JQ said. “Those are the first things you memorize as a kid, the first stories you know. And to me there’s something so special about that. We all love rhymes, and we grew up while hip-hop was something you had to seek out and find because hip-hop was a counterculture. It was not pop culture. It was not on the radio. Now hip-hop is all over the radio and so we want to unearth some of the original fun that hip-hop contained when it first came out because people were just geeking out on putting rhymes over a rhythm. It’s on that really childlike level that we want to be infectious to the actual kids out there, and to the inner child in everyone else out there.”
GQ and JQ, are Chicagoans at heart, born and raised here and graduates of Loyola Academy. Their work, specifically their theater work, put them on the map locally, most notably their annual hip-hop production of “Q Brothers Christmas Carol” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. They also wrote and co-starred in the Off Broadway hit, “The Bomb-itty of Errors,” one of many rap homages to Shakespeare in their repertoire.
Their critically acclaimed, lightning quick-rap on Shakespeare is their calling card, but the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered their theater gigs through the end of the year (though there is talk of bringing “Christmas Carol” to Chicago at a new venue).
So the brothers are focusing on their music — and television. They’ve just produced a pilot for an innovative take on a sitcom through their not-for-kids “acting wing,” The Rap Pack.
“It’s actually at 22-minute sketch comedy episode that’s all in rhyme,” GQ said. “It’s really fun and there’s nothing like it out there. It might be a little too ahead of its time.”