Last week, Willow Smith — the 9-year-old daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith — dropped the video for her first single, the infectious jam “Whip My Hair.” Precocious as Willow is, she’s far from the first prepubescent rapper. In fact, there’s a fairly long history of up-and-comers who aren’t old enough to drink, vote, or drive. From the 1980s on, rappers, like gymnasts, start really early; they’re usually making beats before they are out of diapers. We present to you a brief, incomplete history of hip-hop artists under 18, after the jump.
LL Cool J
Growing up in Queens, James Todd Smith (his name comes from Ladies Love Cool James) began rapping when he was 9 to escape a troubled home life. He bought a turntable from Sears, and when he was 16, he produced and distributed a series of demos, landing a spot on Def Jam’s roster and dropping out of high school to record his first solo album. LL has been on the rap radar ever since, moving to a fairly successful acting career in the 2000s.
“I’m kind of young/but my tongue speaks maturity,” raps Special Ed in his 1989 breakout track “I Got it Made,” and he goes on to prove it with clever wordplay and beats to spare. Ed was 16 when this song was released — unusually young for the time. His rapping career was short lived, petering out by his 18th birthday, but not before influencing some big shots: both Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg count Special Ed as one of their role models.
Kriss Kross, comprised of Chris “Mac Daddy” Kelly and Chris “Daddy Mac” Smith, is most famous for their early nineties single “Jump” (and, yes, responsible for the virulence of the phrase “wiggety wiggety wiggety wack”). Kelly and Smith were 11 and 12 years old respectively when baby-faced 17-year-old Jermaine Dupri discovered them. They made three albums in the mid-nineties before disappearing, presumably to live their 20s in peace. There have, however, been rumors of a reunion tour. We can only hope.
Brooklyn native Foxy Brown began rapping at a young age, releasing her first record with Def Jam when she was 17 years old. Foxy has managed to keep that momentum going, dropping albums throughout the 1990s and 2000s with various levels of success. Her stints in prison have delayed her career somewhat, though it’s rumored that she’s getting ready to release her fourth solo album sometime next year.
The Hot Boys was a group of scrappy young teenage rappers who would later become big names on the Billboard charts — a 15-year-old Lil Wayne was the youngest member of the crew, followed by Young Turk, B.G., and Juvenile in their later teens. Their second album, Guerilla Warfaer, reached number one, and foretold the group’s break-up due to financial disagreements. Lil Wayne has claimed that a Hot Boys reunion is in the works. A double bill with Kriss Kross, in an ideal world.
Certainly the youngest quasi-rapper ever, Jordy was four years old when he and his parents released the song “Dur Dur D’etre Bebe” (“It’s hard to be a baby”) in 1992. It became an instant novelty hit in Europe, though he was later banned from the airwaves over concerns that his parents were exploiting him. He’s currently laying low, playing songs in a pop band called “Jordy and the Dixies.”
Lil Bow Wow
Bow-Wow, given his stage name by his mentor Snoop Dogg, recorded his first album when he was 13, though he had been rapping since age 11. He kept the “Lil” in front of his name until his third solo album, when he dropped it for simply “Bow Wow.” His solo work continued throughout the 2000s, and now he’s working on a new album set for release early next year. Bow Wow’s also been busy on the acting front, appearing in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift as well landing a stint on Entourage.
At the age of 16, Soulja Boy became the youngest person to write, perform, and produce a number one song on Billboard’s Hot 100 list. He began getting into rap from the age of 6 and started recording when he was 14. There’s no end in sight for Soulja, either — his new single has been dominating the charts just as surely as “Soulja Boy (Crank That)” did in 2007.
Hailing from Jackson Mississippi, Lil Noo Noo just celebrated her 10th birthday party — with a huge festival of people doing the “Noo Noo” dance all at once. She released her debut single on her Dad’s record label, and has been a force in local radio airplay in the Southeast for the last six months. Plus, she can act and dance. Willow Smith better watch out.
You might know P-Star from the PBS documentary about her struggle to break into the world of hip-hop, P-Star Rising. P-Star — or Priscilla Diaz — is 15 now, but she began hitting the clubs with her songs at the age of 9. She’s polished, her songs are catchy, and her dance moves are old school. If you live in New York, watch out for one of her performances, where you can watch groups of 10 year olds in freestyle battles and breakdancing competitions. (According to the movie, anyway.)