Rapping in public service announcements and kids shows: why always old-school?

Hey, Straight Dopers, gonna’ ask of you
About this ill thing they always do
In public service announcements on the TV
If they rap it sounds like nineteen eighty three
It’s the same thing if there’s kids rapping too
Only it sounds like it’s from nineteen eighty two
Uh huh huh huh huh huh huh YO
I’m chillin’, I’m illin’, I’m wonderin’ why
In this context this style of rappin’ continues to fly
Uh huh huh huh huh huh huh YO don’t do drugs
(scratch sctratch scratch sctratchscratch sctratchscratch scratch)

Because most of the people who make PSAs and kids’ shows are middle-aged white people who have no idea what contemporary rap sounds like?

That’d be my guess too. Also, old school is a lot easer to pull off. Also old school seems less scary.

I think a lot of the old school rap was profanity free too.

It’s for the same reason that, any time a video game is featured in a TV show or movie, it’s using sound effects from Pac-Man and the actors randomly push buttons and move the controllers around a lot.

This is a great question. You would think it would be more difficult to remember what 1983-style rap sounded like; easier to simply imitate what’s around now. Especially since rapping is much more ubiquitous now than it was then. It’s like there’s actual hip-hop culture which has evolved and then there’s this alternate hip-hop culture on PSAs & kids’ TV that has not evolved and references only itself. In other words, these PSA rap producers only listen to rap made by other PSA producers (or kids’ TV producers). Incidentally, when football players rap they tend to emulate this style.

Ohhhh man these are my pet peeve! I first remember hearing them in the mid nineties, for everything from milk to stranger danger PSAs. They were trying to get down with the kids. And WAG, old school rap was somewhat less violent and complicated, rhythmically. Lots of being here to say, waving hands in the air, that sort of thing. You can pretty much plug the word or product into the gaps.

The funny thing is, I noticed this phenomenon back in about 1985, when the rapping was only slightly out of date.

I think it’s

  1. innocent

  2. simple

  3. kitch

  4. iconic

Just like how “playing rock” would be easier pulled off by playing the riff to smoke on the water rather than playing Tool’s Lateralus. Just seems more universal.

Great posts, all.

I thought it might be that, but I would also think that those producing PSAs would be a bit more culturally savvy.

It’s about the style, though, not the content. I can’t imagine PSAs urging viewers to drink forties, kill cops, and stop snitchin’. There’s more upbeat West Coast/contemporary rap that’s out there which could be emulated.

You’re right about the football players rapping in the old style. It’s not just the Bears Shufflin’ Crew (from 1985); here’s a more recent example.

I can understand kids rapping in that classic style, because it’s easy and fun, compared to West Coast-style rap and hip hop. The PSAs in that old school East Coast style, though … well, when I was in my adolescent years, popular music that was 25 to 30 years old would be big band, standards and very early rock; not really culturally relevant to we early Generation Xers. I can’t imagine some Bing Crosby-type telling me in a gentle, melodic bass to drink milk or befriend kids in wheelchairs.

Be glad it’s not the early 90s fast rap style represented by Fu-Schnickens and Das EFX.

Hijack: Not 100% true. In “Shaun of the Dead,” Shaun and Ed play an actual video game (TimeSplitters 2), and the only inaccurate thing is that a voiceover is added for comic effect: “Player 2 has entered the game.” “Don’t you have work?” “Player 2 has left the game.”

Another example of this type of thing is having the bully/drug takers/bad kids dress in a punk rock style. It isn’t representative of any time or place in history. It just shows how out of touch the people who make these shows really are.

I am sure there are plenty more examples.

Rap PSAs need more auto-tune.

I genuinely think that modern rap (even for the most commercial acts) has evolved so much from its simple on-the-beat poetry recitation that it has become too rhythmically difficult for scriptwriters, copywriters, and Christian rap groups* to fake.
*Christian Side Hug - hee hee hee hee hee.