Princess Superstar: From "Bad Babysitter" to Good Teacher

Princess Superstar (right) and Carina Zimmerman Kick Hip-Hop Truth to the Youth
Princess Superstar (right) and Carina Zimmerman Kick Hip-Hop Truth to the Youth
Carina Zimmerman

Hip-hop is a youth culture, but Saturdays in June at Brooklyn's Rough Trade are seeing hip-hop culture inform the youth. Indie hip-hop favorite Princess Superstar is spending her Saturday afternoons this month teaching a hip-hop class for children ages 1-8 titled Princess Superstar's Playskool: Hip-Hop For Kids. Last week's inaugural class saw the tykes, including Superstar's own daughter Siren (who can impressively rap "Rappers Delight" at the age of three better than most I've seen with 10 times the experience), come up with rap names, learn breakdance moves, use markers to graffiti on posterboard, and be introduced to the basics of rap.

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While there's been plenty of attempts to spoon-feed hip-hop academia at much older levels, Superstar's presentation gets things absolutely right. Even the most jaded of rap purists would be satisfied to learn that one of the first topics discussed in the class is DJ Kool Herc. That particular section, which was co-taught by TLB Music's Carina Zimmerman who helped develop the class, explained the infamous 1973 party that became hip-hop's event horizon as a bunch of friends wanting to throw one last summer party before they had to go back to school. That particular choice of words in such a setting, while also an effective way to communicate hip-hop's beginnings to a youngster, really served as a reminder that this worldwide multi-billion dollar industry and cultural phenomenon truly stemmed from a bunch of kids looking to have a good time.

The class included a beatboxing demonstration where all the kids got a chance to make their first moments of vocal percussion (described as making a fart sound with your mouth) and getting to rock the mic by performing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb" over the beats for Dem Franchise Boyz's "Lean With It, Rock With It" and Freeway's "Flipside." In addition, the kids were also introduced to sampling, using the example Jay-Z's "Hard Knock Life" lifting its chorus from Annie, as well as featuring the kids getting the chance to play Blondie's "Rapture" on mini-xylophones and shaking bells in rhythm to "Rappers Delight" as Zimmerman re-created the bassline on her violin. The children also learned the first four bars to Eric B. and Rakim's "I Know You Got Soul" and ended the day with a dance party.

Not bad for an impressionable mind's first taste of hip-hop.

We spoke to Superstar about putting the class together as well as her forthcoming Firecracker EP, her first official release since 2005.  

Princess Superstar Guides a Youngster Through His First Beatbox
Princess Superstar Guides a Youngster Through His First Beatbox
Carina Zimmerman

Prior to this class, did you ever have any teaching aspirations? Well, not really. I always admired teachers, but my only real aspirations were in music. When I had my kid, it came natural because I really found this love of children buried deep inside me that wasn't going on until I had my own kid. It was a natural thing, I loved hip-hop, I loved kids, how could I put this together?

What about hip-hop was most important for you to present in the class to kids? I really definitely wanted to teach them about rapping because I think it's so incredible. Rapping to me is next to Shakespeare, the ability to rhyme words, that really can help cognitive development. Also, just the history of hip-hop too because a lot of that is lost these days. I hate to sound like a grandma but a lot of music these days is about getting wasted in the club and that kind of thing. That's not really what the first hip-hop was all about. It was definitely about having a party, but it wasn't centered around bottles and models and molly.

What made you decide which songs you wanted share? I picked the songs that were the most fun to me that kids would naturally respond to. Some songs are no brainers, like "Apache." It just came intuitively to me. Then, I kind of had fun with it too. Carina told me to break down a nursery rhyme, so I picked something that made me laugh like "Lean With It, Rock With It."

What has the response from the parents been like? They really liked it. They were loving it. I try to make it very fun for both parents and the kids and, as a Mom myself, a lot of those music classes for kids are snoozeville. I want to create a fun experience for everyone.

Has that had an effect on the new record, The Firecracker EP? Oh, definitely. I'm so excited about this new record. It's really the best music I've ever done. Parts of it are really kid-friendly, parts of it aren't, but it's the most universal record I've ever done.

You're putting this out on a label, correct? I'm really excited because I'm working with Instant Records and it's [Blondie and Go-Gos producer and "My Boyfriend's Back" writer] Richard Gottehrer, who is really a genius because he started a digital music distribution company The Orchard in the 90s, which is really successful because he had that sort of vision. Instant Records was around in the 70s with Blondie and now he's bringing it back with only female artists and I'm on there. Richard also helped produced by album. I'd say it's closer to my more hip-hop work.

I started working on it so long ago. Literally in 2008, and I just finished it up a couple months ago. It chronicled me growing up as an artist and me being a Mom. It's still funny, it's still raunchy but in a more grown-up way.

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64 N. 9th St.
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