Bitches. Hoes. Blunts. Dubs. Spinners. Bling. These words, so often used in hip-hop, aren't going to end up in a fourth-grade teacher's lesson plan anytime soon. They paint pictures of an adult world with adult themes and adult situations. Even so, the youth market captured by hip-hop's widespread net is substantial. And every day the forces that sculpt the hip-hop landscape seek an even larger market share. No longer content to extract the disposable dollars from the wallets of pimpled teens, they've focused their laser-honed gaze on the money in Mommy's purse.
This isn't a terrible thing. Your prepubes need to be entertained, after all -- why should portly puppeteer Lou Pearlman be allowed to monopolize the market? In rap's past, attempts to capture youth coin made us jump with Kriss Kross, bounce with Lil' Bow Wow and coo for Lil' Romeo. These artists set a precedent made of platinum. The youth market was bulletproof, unscathed by critics or such adult concerns as authenticity and talent. Kids enjoy this kind of stuff because it speaks to them on their level.
Enter Woodlands rapper Kayla Carmona, a.k.a. the Youngest Ballerette. She and her father, Richard, may not just be out to pluck your hard-earned cash, but as of their recent signing to Sucka Free/ Sony Records, they've nonetheless become a part of rap's branch of youth-tooled supply and demand.
The ten-year-old Collins Intermediate student began rapping at the age of six. Richard used to get quite annoyed by how long his youngster took in the shower. One day, instead of yelling for her to hurry up, he took time to listen.
"I noticed she was rapping in there," he says, "and not only that, I noticed she was really good."
Richard, himself involved in the music industry to a degree (he co-founded the Los Magnificos Car Show), excitedly asked his daughter to rap outside the cozy confines of the soapy shower. To his delight, Kayla, showing quite a knack for flow, could rap easily with all the hits on the radio.
The proud father asked his daughter if she'd like to come up with a few of her own ditties and rap them at the upcoming show.
Kayla was game.
The six-year-old took the stage and rhymed about staying in school, being positive and not letting people get you down. The crowd of mostly adults ate it up.
Among those in the throng was Sucka Free Records CEO Humpty Hump, who had worked with Richard for years, helping him to secure artists for the show. As a man who doesn't wear the title of CEO lightly, he realized the earning potential that someone so young, Latina and female could garner. The best market is a market untapped.
Now, at the ripe age of ten, the hard work Kayla's been putting into her budding career is gaining momentum. The warm glow of lights from center stage -- not side stage -- warm her face.
For the past three months, Kayla has been on the road with the likes of the Black Eyed Peas, Fat Joe, Scarface and Juvenile on a tour through Central and South America, where she performed in Panama, Colombia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Chile and Brazil. After returning to Space City, she'll hop on a plane to Europe to join Nelly and P. Diddy on stage. Around that time, her debut album will drop, and we'll see if this child sinks or swims in the deep end.
Kayla's recent trip to an elementary school on the north side to preview some songs brought interesting results. Students in Mr. Oliver's third-grade class thought the words to "Wreck This Party" were too fast and muddled, and the Spanglish-tinged call and response "Where U At" failed to enthuse as well.
The most effective tune, according to the kids, was "Here We Go Again." While Kayla's other tracks parrot Dirty South rep-your-city posturing, "Here We Go Again" is what you might expect a ten-year-old's rap song to sound like: a backing track to a Nickelodeon game show with a hard-to-shake hook.
Oddly enough, well-known longtime Houston lyricist MC Kwam of Freedom Sold agrees with the kids' opinion, if not their analysis.
"It's a little odd to hear a ten-year-old rap about 'wrecking a party.' As a listener, I have a hard time buying the fact that she cares about what side of town people live on. Those songs hint at a bit of Svengali-ism. I believe 'Here We Go Again' because it's the only song on the album where you can definitely say, 'Yeah, that's a little girl.' "
Father Richard is proud of his daughter. He should be. She's succeeding in a grown-up world and keeping it positive.
During a recent sit-down at barbecue house Hickory Hollow, the Youngest Ballerette was at times timid and painfully shy. Her dad chimed in to answer most questions. It was easy to start believing that he had come down with a nasty case of stage-dad-itis.
That is, until the pictures came out. There Kayla was, all of ten years old, on stage in front of happy thousands, bobbing their heads and smiling. She brightened up quickly. When pictures of her posing with Beyoncé, George Clinton and Jesse Jackson appeared, she enthusiastically told stories of their meetings. This must be every elementary kid's dream (okay, maybe not meeting George Clinton or Jesse Jackson, but you know).
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When the subject of school came up, she clammed up again. Although she loves math and science, talk of school doesn't make her glow like her career does.
But it's the science of rap and the math of counting money that she'll be concentrating on for the next few years. If the album fails to take off and her opportunities opening for the biggest names in rap dry up, no worries. Kayla is a straight-A student who plans to become a doctor.
And when her career as a microphone doctor flatlines?
A chipper Kayla can deal. "I'm young. Young people shouldn't let things get them down, because we're the future."