Child's Play
Gone are the days when parents had to hope for a meeting with a record label to get their rapping kid a chance at fame. Through social media, moms and dads have leveled the playing field so that even preschoolers go viral for their rhymes.
Interview: Luke Fox
Editor’s Note: This story appears in the Spring 2024 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.

Like Wu-Tang, algorithms are now for the children. A growing sector of child rap acts are stacking likes, piling retweets and watching their stars burst into the stratosphere through the power of the repost and digital word of mouth. Most notable as of late is 5-year-old Instagram and TikTok rap phenom Van Van, who has over 600,000 followers between the two apps.

Widespread accessibility to marketing and recording tools has enabled a new wave of playground rappers. Not since that 1990’s spurt of major-label acts like Kris Kross, Another Bad Creation, Illegal, Da Youngstas and Shyheim a.k.a The Rugged Child has so many prepubescent voices blasted out of speakers. And, of course, there was Lil Bow Wow in the 2000s. Who doesn’t love a cute kid with natural talent and a catchy hook? Still, in the case of Van Van and others, their popularity has been born organically from charisma and rhythm, a preternatural dedication to the craft, the power of social media and a dose of good luck.

“It was never a strategy, man,” Savannah a.k.a. Van Van’s proud dad Reggie McConneaughey maintains. “The amount of love and the things coming her way, and the recognition, all the famous people that reach out, it’s just unreal. You really don’t know who sees you because of the algorithms.”

Reggie, a high-school African-American history and photography teacher, and wife Tikenjna McConneaughey, have always been quick to snap pictures, record Van Van dancing in videos and post them publicly. That hobby became more frequent during the Covid pandemic lockdown. Reggie would post Van Van singing and dancing to her favorite Disney and Nickelodeon movies on social media. Tikenjna sensed Van Van had that “it” factor when people told the mom that her daughter resembled a Gerber baby. However, once Van Van rapping her song, “Playing Outside Everyday,” hit TikTok in 2023, her fame soared like a rocket. From Facebook to Instagram and everything in between, Van Van was seen all over the internet. Initially, just a social media clip was shown of the young star doing her signature “Van Van shuffle” while rapping the bars, “My name is Van Van, I ain’t come to play, playing outside everyday.”

“She practices her craft,” explains Reggie, who insists Van Van does the hooks while he and his wife develop song concepts. “When we’re in the studio, Van Van can hear something that me and the engineer don’t hear, and she’s like, ‘I got to do that part over.’ That’s amazing to me for a [then-]4-year-old. And the engineer’s like, ‘Man, I worked with a bunch of kids before, but I’ve never worked with a kid like that before, that’s able to tell you where they messed up and go back in the booth and redo it.’”

Between school and bedtime, the McConneaugheys spend three or four hours daily on Van Van’s career. Last December, she even performed at the Kennedy Center to honor Queen Latifah. Together with Yo-Yo, MC Lyte and Monie Love, they did Latifah’s 1993 hit “U.N.I.T.Y.” Movie cameos have been filmed and Van Van’s self-titled debut EP is coming soon. “Well, when I have to do the videos, and I’m, like, in the mood, I just tell Daddy, ‘Oh, yeah, I can do that,’” Van Van says.

Van Van isn’t the only kid rapper trying to make a name for themselves in hip-hop on a major level. Consequence’s son, Caiden the Crownholder, has been spitting bars since he was a toddler. DMX’s daughter, Sonovah Hillman Jr., is not only rapping, but leaning on her social media following to raise funds to produce a docuseries about the impact the fentanyl and opioid crisis has had on families. The tatted-up Lil 50 is linking up with Lil Tjay. And last October, Drake’s 6-year-old son and For All the Dogs cover artist Adonis followed in his dad’s footsteps by releasing his debut music video, “My Man (Freestyle).”

KD Da Kid dropped his “Stay Fresh” music video this past December to the delight of his 1.79 million YouTube subscribers, yet Lani Love has 340,000 more followers. Both are a baby step behind Van Van’s favorite rapper, That Girl Lay Lay. The 17-year-old Houston sensation has grown to 2.27 million YouTube subscribers and 1.8 million Instagram followers. She’s also broken into the mainstream with a self-titled TV show that ran for two seasons on Nickelodeon.

Lay Lay’s lighthearted 2020 tracks, like “Slumber Party” featuring Tha Slay Gang and 2021’s “Tik Tok,” or the confidence she shows on the 2024 song “Forreal” featuring T.I., are playing now on an iPad in the back seat of a minivan.

The journey for a kid to become a rap star can be challenging. Unlike Van Van’s parents, who are more naive to the music business, Consequence comes at his son Caiden’s career from a place of experience. The Queens, N.Y. MC is balancing the roles of father, life coach, manager and producer.

“The thing with social media is obviously it empowers you to self-start, right?” Consequence expresses. “So, you know, what would have been a situation like prior, maybe I guess in the ’90s, in the early 2000s, where more so you was going through a casting agency or whatever the case is, you can now kinda bystep that part of it, and create your content to show what you feel your kid’s look or talent is. So, I think that’s a good thing.”

Cons stresses that forcing children into an early career isn’t the way to go. They have to want it. “I don’t think kids wanna feel like a cash cow, you know what I’m sayin’?” Consequence adds. “And I think it’s important for them not to feel that way. I think with me and Caiden, it started organically. It started with him just wanting to essentially tag along and come with Daddy to work. And then it turned into, ‘Daddy, I can do that, too.’”

With the power of social media, proud parents like Caiden’s and Van Van’s are seeing what rap heights are possible for their youngsters, but at the same time, they must keep them grounded.

“I mean, Lay Lay didn’t start ’til she was 11; Vanna’s [5]!” Reggie exclaims. “I can just imagine when she’s like 11 or 12, it’s going to be out of this world. God granted, you know. If God continues to let us be on this path and He continues to let us do this, then I can only imagine what the limit is.”

No kidding.

Read the ways in which kid rappers are thriving thanks to social media in the Spring 2024 issue of XXL Magazine, on newsstands now. The new issue also includes the cover story with Gunna and conversations with Metro BoominDanny BrownTeezo Touchdown42 DuggJim Jones and Maino a.k.a. Lobby Boyz, DruskiThat Mexican OT41BabyDrillRapsody, actress La La AnthonyBigXthaPlugRob49Reuben Vincent, singer Tyla, actress La La Anthony and producer Tate Kobang. There's also a look at how social networking has a chokehold on rappers' feelings and how hip-hop in 2024 is experiencing more wins than losses.

See Photos of Gunna's XXL Magazine Spring 2024 Issue Cover Story

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