The Short-Lived Fame Of Pint-Sized Rap Stars

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This story is a production of Youth Radio.

Everyone has heard of those child performers whose uber-involved parents are convinced that their baby should be a star. YouTube is the perfect vehicle for that. Parents can just upload a video of the kid's act — the cuter the better.

Exhibit A: Lil P-Nut.

This 7-year-old rapper has the swagger of a teen heartthrob and the manners of a Southern gentleman.

He's been rapping, singing and dancing his way to millions of YouTube views, and recently made the leap to a daytime television cameo, performing on Ellen DeGeneres' talk show. He has more charisma in his baby teeth than most people could ever dream of.

But the challenge for young entertainers is sustaining a fan base that tends to outgrow them quickly. The careers of young rappers like Lil Bow Wow and Lil Romeo went downhill after they hit 16. Jeff Rabhan, chair of the Clive Davis School of Recording Music, describes the process.

"Historically, what happens is that the 12-year-old girls that love the 15-year-old boys, when they turn 15, they don't love the 18-year-old boys," he says. "They love the 22-year-old boys."

Adults aren't as fickle as kids. That means it's a safer bet for a musical youth to go straight for an adult audience.

Mini Daddy, age 9, specializes in reggaeton, a genre specifically engineered for shaking your booty on the dance floor.

In his music video for "El Nino Mas Bonito," he's outfitted with dark shades and platinum chains. He's even got two 8-year-old girls in cutoff shorts dancing behind him. And he's earned more than 4.5 million views on YouTube.

It's hard to tell what the kid's saying out of those chubby cheeks, but the shock value of watching him puts him right up there next to the chain-smoking toddler. But the flame of those viral videos is usually short-lived.

A word to aspiring musicians: Becoming a novelty almost guarantees that the next effort will flop. It's a laughing-at-you-not-with-you kind of a thing. Here, you're thinking you've arrived, and to your so-called fans, you're a spectacle. And when they stop laughing, your 15 minutes of fame are over.

People will look at anything on YouTube. But there needs to be a strategy in place to catapult an amazing talent. Actors Will and Jada Smith's 10-year-old daughter, Willow, due in large part to her inherited celebrity, is likely the only kid who has a reliable shot at longevity right now.

But Lil P-Nut and Mini Daddy have a foot in the door and more fans than they started with. Now, they just need to maintain the hustle that goes with that flow.

Brandon McFarland is a music journalist with Turnstyle, an online news service from Youth Radio, an organization that trains young journalists.



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