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If your kid doesn’t get the classics no matter how much 96ROCK you blast, maybe it’s time to consider that it’s less their horrible taste and more your blissful ignorance. There’s a growing number of talented, clever musicians who College You would have raved about discovering — they just happen to sing songs about breakfast fruits.
At the forefront of the so-called “Kindie” movement are The Pop Ups, the Brooklyn-based duo of Jason Rabinowitz and Jacob Stein who cut their teeth in early childhood education and staged puppet musicals at Kennedy Center family nights before earning 2 Grammy nominations for Best Children’s Album. They don’t just understand what goes into kids’ music with dad appeal, they know who else is doing it in everything from bluegrass to hip hop.
“Children love music, they’ll listen to everything, so you don’t have to sacrifice anything musically if you know how to convey an idea without talking down to them,” says Rabinowitz.
Adds Stein, “We don’t want you to listen to our music because it’s ‘for kids.’ We want you to listen because you like the music, because it sounds like it deserves to be on the radio.” Here are 12 bands and artists who definitely fit that bill — someone call 96ROCK.
The Band: The Okee Dokee Brothers
The Song: “Can You Canoe?”
Why It Rocks: One of the keys to quality kids’ tunes, according to the Pop Ups, is appealing to kids’ sense of exploration. Well, these guys canoed down the Mississippi and wrote a Grammy-winning bluegrass album about it. Also, everyone loves bluegrass.
The Band: Recess Monkey
The Song: “Tiny Telephone”
Why It Rocks: Who better to teach your kids about sack lunches and punny, knock-knock joke-telling octopuses than a trio of former first grade teachers? Says Rabinowitz, “These guys were teaching before they had kids and now they all have kids, so they have great perspective with such levity and silliness.”
The Band: Mister G
The Song: “Siete Elefantes”
Why It Rocks: According to Stein, Latin Grammy winner Mister G is evidence of the growth of the Kindie scene. “There’s a big movement towards foreign languages; he’s doing a video in Cuba with Cuban kids in Spanish.” So you get to share awesome music and teach your kid about international politics.
The Band: Lucky Diaz And The Family Jam Band
The Song: “Piñata Attack”
Why It Rocks: Lucky and his band also won themselves a Latin Grammy for their sparkly indie pop. But honestly, “Piñata attack! Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack!” kind of sells itself.
The Band: The Not-Its
The Song: “Motorcycle Mom”
Why It Rocks: If your kid’s a little older, they’ll appreciate the themes and lines like “Cruising the neighborhood every day, tearing up the PTA.” If you’re of a certain age, you’ll appreciate the fact that you’re listening to a children’s group fronted by the former lead singer of a ’90s grunge/riot girl band. “They’re a really legit, really impressive rock band,” Rabinowitz says.
The Band: Secret Agent 23 SKidoo
The Song: “Bored Is A Bad Word”
Why It Rocks: Dude’s lyrics and flows are for real; he shared the stage with Run DMC and Mos Def before fatherhood inspired him to become “The King Of Kid-Hop.” Now he shares the stage with his daughter, aka MC Fireworks, and wife, aka Bootysattva, while rapping for kids about being themselves. “He’s the Hamilton of kids’ music,” Rabinowitz says. “On paper, it shouldn’t work at all. When you see it, you’re weeping. It’s genius.”
The Band: Mista Cookie Jar & The Chocolate Chips
The Song: “Inner Child Rock”
Why It Rocks: A hip-hop outfit that brings the funk with a live band vibe. This is the stuff your kid would come home singing if Jurassic 5 and Michael Franti ran a daycare center. Someone should probably make that happen.
The Band: Tim Kubart
The Song: “Breakfast Club”
Why It Rocks: The frontman of “Tim And The Space Cadets” has his own show on the Sprout Network, has played Lollapalooza, and just won the Grammy for Best Children’s Album. Oh, and he also occasionally tours as the third Pop Up. Whatever, bias or not, breakfast is still important. And delicious.
The Band: Caspar Babypants
The Song: “Creatures Under My Bed”
Why It Rocks: Remember that band, The Presidents Of The United States Of America, who wrote all those quirky indie rock songs about peaches and kitties and, uh, lumps? Now their lead singer writes quirky kindie songs about putting googly eyes on stuff and fleas that have dogs (and Beatles covers), which are pretty much universally loved by everyone in that world.
The Band: Justin Roberts
The Song: “Recess”
Why It Rocks: Rabinowitz calls Roberts, “The Paul McCartney of our scene” for his brilliant orchestral pop arrangements of songs about swing sets and truck-obsessed big brothers. Don’t forget, McCartney’s written a decent kids’ tune or 2 in his own right.
The Band: Gustafer Yellowgold
The Songs: “Toothloser“, “Secret Fox”
Why It Rocks: Gustafer Yellowgold is a picture book character brought to life on stage — his imaginative show has opened for the likes of Wilco and The Polyphonic Spree — so play this when you realize your kid has no idea what music videos are. “Kids respond to world-building,” Rabinowitz says. “In this genre, you can go as far as your imagination will take you.”
The Band: Todd Mchatton
The Song: “Sweet Bangs”
Why It Rocks: If you appreciate the reality-bending sound but would rather not see your kid end up slinging grilled cheeses in a parking lot, try this on for a happy medium. “It’s somewhere between Harry Nillson and Jefferson Airplane,” says Stein. “It’s crazy, it’s beautiful, it’s awesome.”
For all of the above, plus even more of the best music on the Kindie scene right now, check out The Pop Ups’ full playlist.