Check this out: Alphabet Rockers – The Playground Zone

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Every day another tragic story of intolerance gets added to the pile. The future of our country and the world at large looks pretty bleak—if you believe we are powerless. But I can’t go there. I have to believe that we can DO something. That we can make some change happen. Otherwise, why not just give up and live in bunkers underground?

Thinking about change on a large scale—nationally and internationally—is a tall order. How can we move the needle even just a hair? Can we lean on music to work some magic here?

Letting Go of the Baggage

When my daughter Emily was around three years old, an African American girl sat down next to us at the library. Emily pointed to the girl’s arm and asked, “Why is your skin brown?” The girl’s response was striking. “Because my mom and dad are like that. My brother said it doesn’t come off.” That last part hit me hard.

I went on to explain to Emily that friends are all different colors and come from different places. The diversity of the people in our everyday lives allows us to have a uniquely dynamic social experience. I’ll admit the topic was uncomfortable for me, only because I have already been exposed to the heaviness of how skin color can define you.

Emily wasn’t fazed. She didn’t have the baggage. This year when her first grade class studied Martin Luther King, Jr., she and her classmates were stunned that not so long ago they wouldn’t have been allowed to sit together at lunch because of their skin color. To them, this idea was ridiculous. And their reaction shook me awake. Kids are not inherently biased. Skin color means nothing until someone or something gives it meaning.

If there is going to be change and acceptance and tolerance in our future, kids are where we need to start. It’s not a new idea. But it’s an idea that can’t wait anymore.

This is where music fits in. It becomes the voice inside your head. It reinforces messages in a way that is direct and relatable. Music can empower children with the fuel and fire to move forward with the desire for change, peace, acceptance, and a more inclusive world.

Starting the Conversation with Our Kids

Oakland-based Alphabet Rockers deliver hip-hop music infused with positive messages. This seems simple but the work of Kaitlin McGaw and Tommy Shepherd, Jr. goes deep.

Their latest release, The Playground Zone, is a different album for the Alphabet Rockers. It boldly steps into a more social, personal light. Produced while at the Oakland Zoo Labs Music Residency, McGaw and Shepherd created a powerful album that shines a light on timely issues related to race, ethnicity, neuro-diversity and the strength found in community.

These topics may not be obvious dinner table discussions and for sure they aren’t always comfortable to initiate. But we have a responsibility to guide our children—and to help shape their perception of themselves and the world. How children process and integrate words, ideas, fears and beliefs are what drive their thoughts and actions. This is where change is going to happen. 

McGaw and Shepherd are passionate about putting their craft to work and helping parents and educators engage and connect with young children. The music plants seeds of acceptance that can grow to empowerment and knowledge that can ultimately change the world. As a parent, the songs offer a roadmap for questions like: How do I get the conversation started? How do I keep it age appropriate and simple? How do I talk about acceptance in a way that won’t be misconstrued or create more anxiety about what goes on in the world?

As a group, the Alphabet Rockers are stepping forward and putting out the call—for all of us to step up. Change is not going to happen just because it’s the right thing. Or with two hip-hop artists on a stage. We are all responsible. In “Change the World” McGaw and Shepherd emphasize that it’s time to make the changes that we suggest to others. It’s time to recognize the power in numbers and walk together.

Wishing for the day where we don’t have to hide – who we are, how we pray, how we love – it’s all right
Everyone gets the chance to speak their mind
And people stand up – stand up for what’s right
How about you – would you make that change?
How about me – will I do the same?
Wishing for a time when the world’s safe for all
And no matter who it is there’s help when we fall
No one feels alone – love is the call
And people feel safe without borders, or walls
How about you – would you make that change?
How about me – will I do the same?

The brilliance of The Playground Zone’s foundation is that it’s built around the playground—a familiar place where kids get to be kids. It’s a testing ground for negotiation, a lab in itself for divisions and collaboration. It’s where you find who you are and who you want to be with. As serious as this may sound, play is at the heart of if all. The playground is meant for all children to find a place to coexist together. To feel confident that the ground they are standing on belongs as much to them as to their best friend or the kids climbing monkey bars and playing tag next to them. This self-evident truth is the subtext for The Playground Zone.

We Are Not All Created Equally. That’s a Beautiful Thing.

Children start off with a clean slate, able to see equality across differences. In fact, without other influences, labels don’t even emerge for a good portion of their little lives. Differences are curiosities but easily embraced. As children grow and outside influences seep in, they become aware that not only are they different from their peers, but those differences mean something. In songs like “Oddball,” the Alphabet Rockers welcome the idea that we are all different.

This song goes out to all the brains of the world
We all got them, they all work differently
You feel like you don’t fit in? Well…

In “Gimme Some Skin,” Alphabet Rockers take a familiar gesture and turn it into an opportunity for connection between races, highlighting the magnificence of different skin tones coming together. The symbolism of something so basic and familiar is electrifying when spoken through Shepherd’s voice.

Skin color is a spectrum we know that fact
Highlight its beauty through high five contact
Human is human we have the same parts
Skin tones are different but not too far apart
Every high five is special because we are
The colors, together they raise the bar
Bringing us together, dropping that guard

The Lyrical Flow—Conversation is Key

Through lyrically poetic verses, hip-hop and rap speak out and communicate to others who can relate. McGaw and Shepherd passionately and confidently begin timely conversations carried along by their own self-expression with heartfelt lyrics and rhymes articulated over infectious DJ beats. Their technique is solid and clear. Their quest to encourage inclusion, tolerance and equality is felt in every syllable.

Unity and love are at the forefront of the Alphabet Rockers’ messages and with those guiding principles kids are encouraged to embrace their uniqueness, rock an ultimate high five with a friend and just get their wiggle jiggle on. A refreshing spectrum that has the possibility to make a significant, rippling impact.

Alphabet Rockers’ music presents their young audience with a fundamental shift in thinking—to see the world with more open and tolerant eyes than generations before. The Playground Zone gives parents a place to start conversations with kids and a place to let the music speak for itself uniting us with a vision of liberty and justice for all.


The Playground Zone is available through the official Alphabet Rockers store, iTunes, and Bandcamp.

More information on Alphabet Rockers can be found at their official site.

Stay in touch through Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram.

Check this out: Alastair Moock – All Kinds of You and Me

a1194426617_10“You’ve gotta be who you’ve gotta be, a dancing plant or a cat who skis // A boy in a dress, a girl in a tree, you be you, I’ll be me.”
– “It Takes All Kinds,” All Kinds of You and Me

Artists in the kids’ music genre frequently reference two classic albums that inspired them and whose music embodies their same values: Schoolhouse Rock and Free to Be…You and Me. No doubt that both are landmarks, and it’s easy to see why many artists making music for families aspire to carry on the legacy of these albums and uphold the same values and messages.

Understandably, creating a modern day version of such a notable and groundbreaking album like Marlo Thomas’ Free to Be would be quite a feat. However, if anyone were to approach this task, Alastair Moock is the man.  To take on such an epically classic album that has impacted so many people and challenged society’s view of our world takes courage and really the perfect amount of humor and swagger. And I don’t mean swagger like Jagger.  Well, maybe in that way, but we’re talking about the children’s music genre. Think G-rated swagger.

In Free to Be, Thomas very directly spoke to her 1970’s society, proclaiming equality across all conceivable categories. With his latest album, All Kinds of You and Me, Boston-based singer-songwriter Alastair Moock picks up where Thomas left off. Joined by a stellar group of musicians (Rani Arbo of Daisy Mayhem, singer-songwriter Jennifer Kimball, Debbie Lan of Grenadilla, singer-songwriter Samirah Evans and producer Anand Nayak who is also from Daisy Mayhem), Moock gently reminds kids (and adults!) that we should all be free to be who we want to be, without limitations or the borders of stereotypes, and that love is very much a force that drives acceptance. Love of ourselves as well as one another.

Moock is a modern day Woody Guthrie, mixed with a hint of Bob Dylan. You can hear it in his style, in the way he uses music as a guide for justice and most certainly in his clever wit. His gentle voice with its signature rasp lends itself nicely to the Americana sounds of his compositions. Like Dylan, there is poignancy in Moock’s approach but also a deep well of passion for social justice, equality and healing through music.  As with poetry, artists can eloquently articulate in music what might seem heavy-handed, too serious or too awkward in the written or spoken word – especially for a young audience.

Through clever repetition, “My Life is a lot Like Yours” speaks from a child’s perspective and illustrates the normalcy of family life with same-sex parents (two moms/two dads), reinforcing that families might look different but they can still be a solid unit and operate in similar ways to those with a mom and dad at the helm. “You Might Be A Girl” stomps on gender stereotypes by articulating the endless possibilities available to girls today; Samirah Evans’ voice adds so much strength to this empowering song. Like it was written for her (and in a way it was), this song tops my daughter Emily’s favorites list.

Taking on topics and conveying them without preaching is delicate. Moock meets the right criteria with poetically intricate lyrics that are impactful, delightful and accessible to a large audience. His 2014 Grammy-nominated album, Singing Our Way Through: Songs for the World’s Bravest Kids, for example, gave listeners insight into his ability to address sensitive subjects head on; each song reflects his family’s experiences during the time when his daughter Clio (now in remission!) was diagnosed with leukemia. Moock’s capacity is tremendous.

In “I Am Malala,” Moock sings: “I raise up my voice for an equal chance // To live and learn and grow // to be who I want to be and explore // The things I want to know.” Through these words, he reminds us that it takes courage to stand up for who we believe we are. But through that courage we grow and learn how to make a lasting impact.

As I was listening to this album and thinking about an angle for a review, the seemingly ever-present phrase Live Laugh Love came to mind. While I recognize the beauty in this motivational quote, it’s so overused that I typically write it off as just another “Hallmark” greeting.

The thing is, the effect is much more meaningful and profound when I think of the words one by one. Each one makes a bold statement, commanding me to remember to hold onto its important value as I move about my day – as a parent and just as me. All Kinds of You and Me offers the same relief. My personal favorite song, “All in a Day (featuring Anand Nayak),” inspired by Cynthia Rylant’s book of the same name, smoothly underscores this sentiment with encouraging words: “...live it well, make it count // fill it up with you // The day’s all yours, it’s waiting now… // See what you can do.”

Whether we directly speak to our children about justice, acceptance and global love, we prominently place a big Live Laugh Love sign in our homes or we let the music do the talking for us, it’s never too early to incorporate the values woven within All Kinds of You and Me. Just like Guthrie and Dylan, and many others who spoke out so freely and took a stand for change and love, Moock proudly joins the ranks, inspiring future generations to do the same “cuz every life’s a kind of prize.”

All Kinds of You and Me is available through Moock’s official store.

Check out Moock’s video for “It Takes All Kind,” illustrated by Key Wilde, for a visual treat.