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After-School Program's Snack Food Song Strikes a Chord

For six years, the kids in north Minneapolis behind the now-viral "Hot Cheetos and Takis" video have been gathering after school to record music and learn about the music industry through a YMCA program, the brainchild of Y employee Alicia Johnson.

She'd asked students years ago what they wanted to be when they grew up. There were some typical answers: teachers, lawyers, judges. And some really typical answers: celebrity, singer, rap star.

"The kids have no idea what that would entail," said Johnson. They think "I wrote a song. I have a video. I'm instantly famous."

Hold that thought.

Johnson created the North Community YMCA Beats and Rhymes Program and secured a little grant money to buy some basic recording equipment. She wanted to teach the students the work that goes into song writing and recording—and that it takes money to make music. Ever since, the Y.N.Rich Kids have produced several CDs, mostly, Johnson said, for themselves and their families. The program has about 60 kids in kindergarten through 12th grades at any given time and the name comes from the two locations of the program—the Y, the only one in the country exclusively for kids, and Nellie Stone Johnson Elementary.

The kids' songs reference all facets of their lives: violence, bullying, their mentors, teen pregnancy, and sometimes even, food.

Then this year, the Y.N.Rich Kids decided to make a video for one of their songs with the help of a local videographer, Johnson said. They worked on the song for two or three days and the video was shot in about four hours one day in July. It was posted online earlier this month.

In just two weeks, "Hot Cheetos and Takis" boasts more than 1.1 million views on YouTube.

The kids' reasoning behind the song was simple, Johnson said. "Let's do this crazy song about our two favorite snacks."

(Though they may be unfamiliar to you, Takis, mini rolled corn tortilla chips, are defined as the greatest snack on the planet by Urban Dictionary.)

They learned a lesson there, too, Johnson said: Critics can be brutal. A fair number of the comments criticize the subject of the students' ode, a pair of fried snack foods. The message runs counter to current messages about the childhood obesity epidemic and healthful eating habits coming from as high up as the White House.

"We could have rapped about broccoli and cauliflower," Johnson said. "It wasn't real to them. Not everybody eats healthy 1000 percent of the time. Everybody needs a snack."

Damien, G6, Glenntrel, Naz, Frizzy Free, Jay, Ben 10, and Chips—the rappers who worked on the song, all ages 8 to 12—haven't heard from Frito-Lay, which makes Hot Cheetos, or the maker of Takis, but that's OK, Johnson said.

"We did it for fun, not expecting anything in return," she said, "for the young people to get together and celebrate their music."

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