Choo Choo Soul is a children’s entertainment act composed of singer Genevieve Goings as a hip-hop train conductor and her partner, Constantine “DC” Abramson, a dancer and beatboxer dressed as a railroad engineer.–Wikipedia
Does any of that make any sense to you?
Watching the Disney Channel the other day (new regiment) with Ellison and we’re dusting off another episode of “Mickey Mouse Club House,” out of breath from doing the Hot Dog Dance, if you know what I mean. And when I say “we’re,” I mean “I’m.” Ellison begins walking away (which is how she lets you know you’re fun, just not that fun). I turn to follow her when, over my shoulder, I hear this faint echoing sound that actually resembles the genre formerly known as hip hop. It has the rhythmic quality, spoken vocals. I swear I heard someone beatboxing (spit-drumming). I look back toward the television to see kids dancing like their being tased, some dude hovering his hands above two circular devices that look somewhat like turntables, but they’re not (we’d call that “working the ‘ones’ and ‘twos'” back in the day) and some girl in this sort of goofy flight attendant uniform urging the kids to dance, jump, do the robot. Get down.
I’m perplexed. Struck. A little bummed.
“Choo Choo Soul,” at face value, is a harmless, fun, two-and-a-half-minute-dance-like-a-monkey green-screen extravaganza. If you blinked, you might miss it. It’s filler for a hugely successful Disney Channel who has little missteps and that, I’ve found, sticks to a fairly proven format of programming. Non-offensive, kid-tested, mommy-approved, educational, G-rated.
“Choo Choo Soul,” to an old hip hop head, represents something else. It’s like taking hip hop and diluting it, adding heaping cups of sugar, dressing it up in funny costumes and Wal-Marting the content to ensure that there’s nothing objectionable, nothing real about the end product. Let’s say that hip hop didn’t start in the seedy streets of Queens or the Bronx. No, let’s say that hip hop was born in romper rooms and pre-school classrooms. It erases 30 years of recorded history and just act like hip hop fell out of the sky overnight and got shoehorned into Disney Channel programming like a long-form commercial. See also Boogiemporium’s review of “School Bus Rap.”
But is it really necessary to be so possessive of hip hop? Like I’m the “realness police” that has to qualify everything on its level of authenticity. I mean does it really need to represent a realness? Should I shame them for misrepresentin’? Does Mickey misrepresent mice? Does Jiminy misrepresent bugs? Does Simba misrepresent lions? Who cares, really? That’s what you do with the world, I suppose. You edit your own speech around kiddos. Does that mean you’re misrepresenting yourself?
So that brings us back to “Choo-Choo Soul” on the Disney Channel, where graffiti is apparently permissible, trains dance and where you don’t call it “rap,” you call it “hip hop” mainly because we never called it “gangsta hip hop,” it was “gangsta rap” and, since then, “rap” is bad and “hip hop” is conscious. As in, it’s not “Christian rap”, it’s “Christian hip hop” which probably why “School Bus Rap” didn’t succeed. Had L.Hood called it “School Bus Hip Hop,” he’d be happily retired now. What’s in a name? Everything. In fact, just call it “soul” because “hip hop” is still a little edgy for kids and toddlers. “Soul” implies wholesomeness, goodness and avoids completely that weird grey matter we call “hip hop.” Choo-Choo Soul.
I was annoyed, a little irritated by what I saw at first. Probably the same thing foreigners go through at Epcot Center. Genevieve bounces around popping collars and dusting shoulders off while laughing moronically. She’s like if Tinkerbell and Fergie were one. That’s nightmarish. And Constantine, the chiseled grinning conductor of the train, achieves new levels of uncomfortable fake DJ where he fake-scratches on fake-tables with no crossfader while beatboxing like Justin Timberlake, who practically patented the “smiling beatbox.” See if you’re not completely hypnotized by this.
As I spent a week, waking up Ellison, getting her dressed, making our way to the living room for a little Mickey Mouse Club House followed by Choo-Choo Soul and spent four days on the Choo-Choo Soultrain everyday before heading off to work, I found there to be some endearing qualities to the show. Genevieve became less annoying and even slightly entertaining. I’d find myself audibly responding to her with things like, “Well, good morning, Genevieve!” or “Yeah, let’s dance!” Even if, at times, a little sarcastic and superficial, my dialogue would increase throughout the week. Constantine “DC,” however, became like some ninja, samurai, sorcerer or warlock that I couldn’t keep my eyes off of. That dude puts in two and a half minutes of absolute dynamite into ever episode. He’s the new hardest working man in show biz. His skills are freaking impeccable. I would marvel at him as he’d beatbox, backspin and then break out into some hawdcore pop-and-lock action seamlessly from one move to the next and never leaving that million dollar smile behind. His accomplishments in each field of hip hop studies are impressive. It’s obvious he’s put in work. Don’t believe me? Check out this nastiness. Dude puts in work.
The transformation that has taken place over this week within me is quite remarkable. I think, like little Ellison, I’m a little standoffish (which apparently is a word because spellcheck ignored it) at first, but it doesn’t take long to open yourself up to the experience. For me, Choo-Choo Soul is an unfortunate rule of the game. Toys are annoying. Shows are annoying. Lullabies are annoying. You even feel like punching Mickey somedays. But once you choose to accept that this is what you’re given to play with, it’s not that bad. And once you learn to dance to it, you can enjoy it. I could sit around and continue to evaluate all children’s programming on my unfair grading scale which holds all hip hop derivatives to a gold standard of Public Enemy, De La Soul and EPMD or I could just learn to appreciate them for what they are…fun for Ellison and daddy.
You can see where it’d be hard to fall into “I’m absolutely annoyed with all this stupid sing-and-dance crap, I’m tired, I’m pissed, I had a bad day and just leave me alone” routine. Disney Channel is always at level ten. There’s no Disney after hours. They’re always dancing like idiots. It’s a change of pace for a 34 year old who had enjoyed things his way (or, well, his wife’s way) for the last ten or so years. You want so badly to impose your taste on your child, but you quickly learn that your music is not as entertaining as Mickey’s.
Daddy dancing is a gas, though.