Clean Hip Hop Songs: Introducing Hip Hop to Kids

clean hip hop songs

I am a hip hop head through and through. I grew up in the 90’s when hip-hop exploded in popularity and I was hooked on the bass lines and rhythm. I was memorized by the smooth voices telling stories in poetry style verses. My first two cd’s were Biggies Ready to Die and Ice Cubes The Chronic. Two completely different styles of cadence and bass form opposite coasts. I knew all the words, however I admit at 13 I didn’t understand all the words. Some topics and themes of the albums were foreign to me but I was hooked on the delivery style mixed with funk, soul and R&B samples, painting such vivid pictures of people, places and lifestyles that had never been shared in music or on a platform this large.

Skip ahead 20 years and hip hop music is the most popular genre in the United States, holding down 22% of sales with pop following with 20%, Rock with 14% and R&B with 11%. Latin, Country, EDM, Religious, Jazz and 5 other categories fill in the rest of the list with all less than 10%  each of total record sales in the U.S. Obviously, hip-hop is not going anywhere.

Today most music can be streamed with services like Spotify and Tidal. However I still like to throw on old cd’s and be transported to high school dances, college road trips, nights dancing in the club. Recently I came across a few old cd books that took me down memory lane. I brought them over to my friends house to share. My girlfriend and I laughed and reminisced on the albums and the memories that surrounded them. Her two boys had only heard of a few of the artists that we considered classics. As we flipped through the cd books we pulled out our favorites and artists we thought the kids should know. One of her boys is a 6th grader, the other a recent high school grad. As we went through the volumes we remembered some of the songs were a little more hard core and we started getting a little more picky about which ones to share.

Clean Hip Hop Songs for Kids

I don’t have kids, yet I play the“auntie” roll to many of my friends kids.  Even though they have access to any music on youtube, this had me considering what was ok for them to listen to around me, or in the car while we hang out. I didn’t know if I wanted them listening to some of the tracks from “Ready to Die” or “The Chronic”.  Are they old enough to understand? Do they really need to be hearing that language?

I had never asked their mothers about the do’s and don’ts of music. Two mothers have history with me going to hip-hop concerts and dancing at clubs together before the kids were born. Still today when we are in the car as adults heading out for a ladies night on the town, all of  our cars have rap and hip-hop coming through the speakers. I asked both moms what they thought was appropriate and at what age.

My friends provided me with suggestions that made their “appropriate for kids” list that included their faves and some new music I should check out suggested by their kids. Some of my favorite hip hop did not make the list as appropriate for kiddos, however, I remembered many other hip hop artists who share conscious stories to great beats without parental advisory stickers on the covers. These are a great introduction into hip hop that can be shared with all ages and generations. Below are a few of the hip-hop artists of past and present that made the list. I enjoyed the trip down memory lane and being introduced to new artists.  I hope you do, too.

A Tribe Called Quest

A Tribe Called Quest are regarded as the pioneers of alternative hip hop music.  They are one of the most intelligent, artistic rap groups of all time and they’ve done it by producing music that isn’t offensive, disgraceful or inappropriate.  The Hip Hop Mgazine, The Source, gave the group’s debut album, “People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm”, a perfect rating of five ‘mics,’ the first time the magazine gave out this rating. On the mic, Q-Tip’s unmistakably smooth voice is one of the most instantly recognizable in rap. Phife’s hyped yet grounded presence delivers the raw punch lines. A Tribe Called Quest hold a special spot in the history of hip hop both musically but culturally. A few of their classic songs and my favorites are “Can I Kick It”, “Bonita Applebum” and “Scenario”. Tribe’s music is smooth, smart, witty and lyrics are PG-13. All young hip-hop lovers need to know where the music began and Tribe’s music cannot be skipped in knowing the complete history.

Album recommendation:

People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm (1990)

Check them out:

Eryka Badu

Erykah Badu is a singer-songwriter and record producer and my favorite on this list. I can put on her albums or live concerts and listen all the way through. They  just put me in the perfect mood, zone, vibe.

Badu’s career began after opening a show for D’Angelo in 1994. Her first album, Baduizm, came out in 1997. This CD was on repeat on my roadtrips to and from college and holds a special place in my heart.  The tracks “On & On”, “Next Lifetime” and “Otherside of the Game” are a great place to start to understand her flow.  The album was certified triple Platinum.

Badu became associated with the neo soul subgenre in the 1990s and is considered a queen in hip hop music. Her voice is distinctive and has been compared to jazz singer Billie Holiday. Badu has won many Grammys on her own and through collaborations with other hip hop giants such as The Roots, Eve and Common.

She has wisdom and life lessons woven into her songs. She is beyond woke yet she also is very playful with comedic skits thrown in on some tracks and expressed through her eccentric style. Throw on any album and be taken on a journey as only she can do. Badu is appropriate for all ages.


Album recommendations:

Baduizm (1997)

Mama’s Gun (2000)

Worldwide Underground (2003)

Check her out:

De La Soul

De La Soul is a hip hop trio formed in 1987 out of Long Island, New York. They are the closest thing to a hippie rap group in the game and preach message of peace and love. Their album “3 Feet High and Rising” is a classic and has been called a hip hop masterpiece. They created innovative and eclectic sampling, playful lyrics and wordplay and witty skits. They were influential in the early stages of many woke rappers careers.  Their classic song “Me, Myself and I” is a great intro into their musical sound and lyrical flow. This is music that can be thrown on at a BBQ and listened to with friends and family of all ages.

Album recommendations:

3 Feet High and Rising (1989)

Links:

Queen Latifah

Dana Elaine Owens, known professionally by her stage name Queen Latifah, is one of the first female rap artists to be taken seriously by peer and the industry in general. She is a multi-talented singer, songwriter, rapper, actress, model, television producer, record producer, comedian, and talk show host.  

She is an icon of black female excellence. She is a role model for young women to look up to and this began with her music. She remains the gold standard to whom other lyricists are compared. Her late 1980s classic tracks “Ladies First” and “U.N.I.T.Y.” preach messages of empowerment and equality. Many of today’s female rappers have images, bodies and lyrics that will make parents blush.

Queen Latifah offers a safe alternative for young women to listen to and look up to. She is a confident, intelligent, successful woman who can sing as well as she raps. Check out her varied styles from rap to Broadway musical. She always bring a soulful performance.

Album recommendation:

All Hail the Queen (1989)

Links:

Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill is a singer-songwriter, rapper and record producer. She began her career as a member of Fugees with Pras Michel and Wycleaf Jean. Their grammy award wining album “The Score” was released in 1996 and is a classic. The three rappers play off each other beautifully while tackling social issues and lacing the album with skits between tracks. The track “Killing Me Softly” is a beautiful soulful song that helped launch Hill as it showcased her vocals.

Hill’s only solo album came in 1998, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill “.  This one is very dear to me as it was the year I graduated high school. I played this CD on repeat my freshman year of college. She spoke to young women on this record about life, relationships and heartache. She came with vocals and spit rhymes with  neo soul vibe.

The album debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 and sold approximately eight million copies. She also earned 5 grammy for this effort.

Recently Hill performed in Portland, Oregon and I was fortunate enough to catch the show. She was outstanding live! She performed with high energy “The Miseducation” tracks with some new arrangements from the band. She also took a moment in the show for pause and asked the audience to be aware of the energy they bring to life every day. She took me to church that night. I felt so blessed to have caught the show.

Lauryn Hill’s work continues to inspire young artists and has been sampled often, such as Cardi B’s “Be Careful”, Drake’s “Nice for what”, and A$AP Rocky’s “Purity”. Both her work with The Fugees and as a solo artist are albums you can put on and let run all the way through with all generations of the family.

Album recommendations:

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill 1998

The Score – The Fugees 1996

Links:

Talib Kweli & Mos Def aka Black Star

Talib Kweli Greene is a rapper, entrepreneur, and activist from Brooklyn, New York. Kweli is a masterful lyricist and takes pride in his music. Instead of rapping about material things like money and cars, he rhymes about deeper societal issues. He was inspired by conscious rappers like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest.

Kweli and fellow Brooklyn rapper Mos Def along with producer Hi-Tek put out a special album in 1998’s “Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star.” The album was a major player in the late ’90s renaissance of conscious, Afrocentric hip hop. Kweli also has a close relationship with comedian Dave Chappelle. Chappelle appears on one of Kweli’s albums and Kweli made a total of three performances on the Chappelle Show. This was a huge audience and introduced Kweli to many viewers across America as Dave’s show was at the height of its popularity.

Kweli partnered with Mos Def, as Black Star, for the finale of the show’s first season on April 9, 2003. Kweli also performed at Dave Chappelle’s Block Party both as a solo act and as one half of Black Star and he was later featured in the film and soundtrack. These are some of my favorite live performances of all time. The energy at the moment in history and the collaboration was perfect.  

I have also seen Kweli perform live in Portland, Oregon. He comes with great energy and stage presence. He raps clearly and has great sound quality. His fans are loyal followers, care about his music and bring amazing energy. Kweli had mainstream success in collaborations with producers and rappers Kanye West, Just Blaze, and Pharrell Williams.

Kweli’s music is fine for all ages however the lyrics may not resonate with the younger kids. Teens and adults could come together in conversations over social issues touched on his lyrics. Pg-13 appropriate. Here are a few of my favorite songs if you are new to Talib Kweli, “The Blast” Get By” “Say Something” “Hot Thing” “Ms. Hill” “Never Been In Love Before” and “The Nature”.

Album recommendation:

The Beautiful Struggle (2004)

Eardrum (2007)

Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star (1998)

Links:

Lupe Fiasco

Lupe Fiasco is an intelligent artist who has been credited as a pioneer of the conscious hip hop movement. Fiasco had a highly cultured upbringing and has described his mother as “very intellectual” and his father as a “Renaissance man”.  

Jay Z helped produce his album “ Food & Liquor”. This album focuses on social issues including absent parents, terrorism, Islam and religion, war, depressions and prostitution.  This is one of my favorite albums to throw on and let run on a road trip.

The song “Kick Push” is a childhood love story laid over an infectious beat.  There is profanity in some songs, the impact of messages override the impact of curse words for me. He rejects the misogyny common in hip hop, which he discusses in the song “Hurt Me Soul“. The song “Bitch Bad” is another track that I kept on repeat when it dropped. In it, he addresses the way the word bitch is used in society today. On one hand it still holds negative power. On the other, young women have started referring to themselves as a bad bitch as a compliment, as she’s fine.

He continues to explore conscious issues in his later works and albums. This is one for your teenagers. Could also spark woke conversations between parents and teens on today’s social issues.

Links:

Album recommendation:

2006  Food & Liquor

2009–11  Lasers

Common

Common has a smooth distinctive voice and is an expert rhyme spitter without all the cuss words and exploitative lyrics. He focuses on soulful hip-hop that’s political, conscious and lyrically witty. His albums “Like Water for Chocolate”, “Can I Borrow a Dollar?” and “Be”are classics that I pull out and listen all the way though.

Recently on NPR’s “Tiny Desk” concert series, he performs an amazing set at the White House.  He also teams up with Yolanda Adams for a moving rendition of “Glory” for a BET special hosted by the Obamas that gives me chills every time I listen.

Beyond the music, Common is an activist on so many levels and platforms that are trying to make positive changes across the nation. Common’s music is good for all ages. Two of my favorite songs by Common are “The Light” and “Be”. Common is a woke, educated, intelligent artist who paints stories with his poetry.

Album recommendations:

Can I Borrow a Dollar? (1992)

Like Water for Chocolate (2000)

Electric Circus (2002)

Be (2005)

Links:

Will & Jaden Smith

Will Smith just turned 50 and is still participating in the music business.  He also passed on the entertainment genes to his kids. His daughter, Willow, and son Jaden preformed at this years famed Coachella. Will also took the stage with Jaden at Coachella with a guest spot on“Icon” a hot release off Jaden’s album ‘Syre’.

The Smith family is a great choice of hip hop to share with your kids. While Jaden’s work may appeal more to your teens due to his topics and beats, parents should take a listen as he is woke, intelligent young man making moves.

Will’s albums from the past contain fun summer anthems that are kid friendly and infectious for pop up dance parties with the kids. A few of Wills early songs to check out are “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” “A Nightmare on My Street,” “Summertime” and “Boom! Shake the Room.”

Many of the movies Will has starred in have featured songs or soundtracks that he rapped on as well. The movies “Men in Black” and “Bad Boys” both had Will in the movie and in the scores. Other songs that I have guilty pleasures for are “Miami” and “Getting Jiggy With it,” which are both kiddo appropriate.

Album recommendations:

He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper (1988)

Big Willie Style (1997)

Syre (2018)

Links:

Chamillionare

Hakeem Seriki , better known by his stage name Chamillionaire is a rapper, entrepreneur, and investor from Houston, Texas. His career began with local releases in 2002 which he put out independently, which is no small task in market flooded with artists trying to make it with commercial backing.

His early sound is referred to as “chopped and screwed”. It was a new sound at the time and came from southern Texas. The beat is“chopped” up, remixed and slowed down. I loved this sound in my early 20’s. It banged in the car. It was kind of niche that not many knew about where I lived on the west coast.

He and fellow southern artists Lil’ Flip, Paul Wall and Mike Jones often had features on each others tracks. His music before 2005 is more gritty and from the streets. Probably not what you want to share with the kiddos.  In 2005 he had a Grammy-winning hit “Ridin’” featuring Krayzie Bone of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. After performing “Ridin” to an audience of white kids and hearing them rap the n-word right along with him, Chamillionaire decided that he would no longer employ the controversial term in his songs.

His newer music is relatively PG-13. He released “Ultimate Victory” in 2007 which is considered a landmark album for its total lack of profanity as well as the “Parental Advisory” sticker that is common place on most hip hop albums of today. He is a great lyricist and able to switch up his style effortlessly.

Album recommendations:

2005: The Sound of Revenge

2007: Ultimate Victory

TBA: Poison

Links:

Lecrae

Lecrae Devaughn Moore, more commonly known as Lecrae , is a Christian hip hop artist, songwriter, record producer and actor. He is also the co-founder of Reach Records. Lecrae is not so much a Christian rapper as a rapper who happens to be Christian. His music doesn’t beat you over the head with theology but rather a message of how to live a good life.

His 2014 album “Anomaly” made history. It was the first record to top the Billboard Hot 200 and gospel charts at the same time. He does have a few songs that talk about drugs, violence, and other things most rappers talk about, but he views them all in a biblical sense.

My introduction to his music was the “Runners”. The theme was adultery and the message was how young men need to avoid lust and hold onto a good woman if they have one. His flow on runners is smart and the beat was on point. He will appeal to teens and is appropriate for them as well. I think parents wanting some new hip hop with fresh message will enjoy him too.

Album recommendation:

Anomaly (2014)

Let the Trap Say Amen (with Zaytoven) (2018)

Links:

NF

Nathan John Feuerstein, known by his stage name NF, is a Christian hip hop rapper, singer and songwriter, who has charted in both the Christian hip hop and mainstream hip hop markets. He released an extended play in 2014 titled NF. This was his breakthrough release on the Billboard charts.

NF cares about authenticity in life and lyrics. He never curses and raps about subjects that young men can relate to like ego, pride, defining success and mental issues. His sound can be compared to Eminem’s early work mixed with some Drake.

NF claims that Eminem was one of his major influences and he spits similar in cadence and flow. I was pleasantly surprised with his song “Why”. I could totally take it into a workout and push hard. The topics are geared more for teens than young kids and probably not the backyard BBQ vibe, however his message is real, the beats are good and with the lack of profanity his work  is pg-13 approved.

Album recommendation:

Mansion in 2015

Links:

Matisyahu

Matthew Paul Miller, also known by his Hebrew and stage name Matisyahu, is a Jewish reggae singer, rapper, beatboxer, and alternative rock musician. Matisyahu sound has  more reggae undertone. Smooth jams and gentle good vibes. However there are clear hip-hop influences in his music.

He practices Orthodox Judaism and speaks on these themes to a background of reggae and hip hop beats laced with some beatboxing.  Matisyahu’s 2005 single “King Without a Crown” was a Top 40 hit in the United States. This was my introduction to his music and it flowed with the typical happy upbeat yet laid back vibe that reggae brings while dropping positive religious message.

Since 2004, he has released five studio albums as well as two live albums, two remixCDs and two DVDs featuring live concerts. He has a happy mellow vibe and is family friendly.  The concerts are entertaining and the whole family can sit down enjoy together.

Album recommendation: 

Shake Off the Dust… Arise (2004)

Youth (2006)

Light (2009)

Links:

Busdriver

Regan Farquhar , better known by his stage name Busdriver, is a rapper and producer from Los Angeles, California. Busdriver is an underground artist who gained notoriety when his song “Imaginary Places” appeared on the Tony Hawk Underground video game a few years ago. This sound is a west coast underground skater niche.

He came up in the late 1990s as a member of Project Blowed, which pushed for experimentation and discouraged profanity. His lyrical dexterity is worth the listen.  He has collaborated with other rappers who are part of the LA underground music scene. Most of his music has been produced by Daedelus, Boom Bip, Daddy Kev, Loden, Paris Zax, Omid, and Nobody. He has also worked with D-Styles on two albums.

I understand why the skater teens of LA like his sound, it fits their style. It is raw and amped and his flow is super fast. He says a lot in each song and you will need to listen a few times through to catch it all.  He is an original and its refreshing to hear something different than most of the mainstream airplay of today. Pg-13 appropriate.

Album recommendation:

Temporary Forever (2002)

Perfect Hair (2014)

Electricity Is on Our Side (2018)

Links:

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